Dr. Abdul Al Lily is Saudi Arabia's first sex blogger to write in English. He says, "When you want to make a Saudi happy, make jokes about sex." But his blog is no laughing matter. Banned in Saudi Arabia, Sex and Beyond: Saudi Arabia has been read in 168 countries and translated into Ukrainian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and French (though, notably, not Arabic).
Abdul is not your typical sex blogger. A Saudi Arabia native who was educated at Oxford, he currently works as an assistant professor of sociology, education, and technology at King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia, and splits his time between Al-Hassa and Oxford. He addresses everything from "The Saudi Early Ejaculation" to "Sex and the Saudi Way of Defecating" through short ethnographic posts. These posts not only address the experiences of men and women living in Saudi Arabia, but also the lives of Saudis confronting Western sexuality while living abroad. In turn, the blog has become more than an encyclopedia of Abdul's observations—Sex and Beyond serves as an online community for Saudis and their lovers abroad. From his office in Al-Hasa, Abdul spoke with VICE about the inspiration behind the blog, Saudi Arabia's lack of sex education, and Sex and the City.
VICE: Hey Abdul. What inspired you to start Sex and Beyond?
Abdul: I wanted to help non-Saudi partners of Saudis, who must be short of information about the sexual habits of the Saudi, given that such habits are considered to be exceptionally private to the extent that they are not discussed in the Western media or even in the Saudi media. One of the most common keyword searches that lead to the blog is "My Saudi Boyfriend." I also wanted to help Saudis abroad, who, like any other Saudi, lack sex education, given that this kind of education does not actually exist in Saudi school and university curricula. To be honest, I learned from Sex and the City. I [was] inspired by the series: You write down your frustrations and your observations, and it's kind of like you have a voice.
Earlier this year, a Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, was imprisoned for writing about religion. Do you have any legal concerns about publishing Sex and Beyond under your real name?
I think in Saudi Arabia nowadays, it's okay to criticize the culture. As long as you don't go into politics, then you're OK. That's why I'm trying, in a way, not to go into politics.
But isn't your blog inherently political? You're writing about sex in a country that lacks sexual education.
There is no explicit political aim. My only aim is to enhance cultural exchange. There is a lack of information on this topic in the international community, so I'm trying to spread information. I'm constantly interviewing and observing; every single Saudi I see as data.
For example, one day I met a lady who got married when she was 14. Actually, she's my mom. I interviewed her, and she said, "You're the first person asking me about my experience getting married at the age of 14." I said to her, "Mom, your voice will be heard by the world." And she was really happy about that. She said, "My experience of getting married at the age of 14 is like fire inside my heart. It will not be dead unless I'm dead. It will stay with me until I've died." It's kind of scary to see this voice. No one can hear this voice.
What's the feedback been like in Saudi Arabia?
I've experienced hardly any repercussions, in terms of members of the Saudi society criticizing my blog or attacking me on a personal level. The blog is written in English and therefore is read only by those Saudis who can speak English, and these Saudis tend to be highly educated and tolerant, in a way. That said, I have received some inappropriate comments. For example, one said to a friend of mine: "If I see Abdul, I'll piss on him." A critic of my blog saw me as being a disgrace to Saudi culture. One day, I wrote a post called "Sex and the Male Saudi's Private Area." A Saudi colleague of mine wrote to me: "May ask you, Dr. Al Lily? What is the main benefit you can get from this post? Are you serious or just kidding us? Please, next time discuss topics that reflect your knowledge and status as a doctor."
Has living in the United Kingdom affected your ideas about sex?
I believe sexuality is an imitation of humanity. It's something we have to do. Regardless of how strong you are, when it comes to sex, you become weak. Even the biggest man of all time, when it comes to sex, he becomes pathetic and stupid, right?
What are your ambitions for the blog?
I plan to turn the blog into a book, to deliver these voices into the world, to say, "Saudi Arabia has more issues than women driving." What's needed in Saudi Arabia is voices. There are so many voices to be heard. [As] academics and journalists, we need to start listening to them—we need to hear them. But there is a problem with accessibility: I can't access women. My sisters and aunts are working so hard for me. I ask them questions and they gather information from their community. To be honest, I know as much about Saudi women as you know, which is nothing.
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