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Egypt's 'Dr. Ruth': Let's talk sex in the Arab world

Story Highlights

• Dr. Heba Kotb tackles the taboo of Arab world: She talks sex openly
• Her advice to married couples is to have more sex -- "Don't be afraid"
• Kotb has gained in popularity so much she's booked three months out
• Men, women on streets of Cairo are reluctant to talk on the subject
By Aneesh Raman
CNN
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CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Dr. Heba Kotb is tackling a taboo in the Arab world unlike anyone else: She's talking about sex openly on a show broadcast all over the Middle East.

It's a big first in these parts of the world, and Kotb leaves little uncovered.

"We talk about masturbation ... sex over the Internet. We talk about sex and Ramadan. We talk about the wedding night," said Kotb. Entitled "The Big Talk," the show is broadcast once a week over a satellite channel from Cairo, Egypt.

It took the 39-year-old mother three years of negotiations to get her show on the air. And a main reason she succeeded is that she talks only about sex allowed in the Quran -- sex between husband and wife. (Watch sexologist describe why sex is good Video)

But even with that guideline, it's no easy sell.

The promo for "The Big Talk" starts with Kotb saying, "Sex. Don't be afraid. Join me to talk about sex without shame."

And people are doing just that. The show is gaining in popularity throughout the Middle East. So much so that Kotb just signed with a new production company and plans to push the sexual envelope even further in her discussions.

For the moment her main advice for married couples: Have more sex.

"You have nowhere else to get your sexuality but from your spouse. It's the only source available, so it's very important."

And for the men she has some blunt advice: "You have to have foreplay with your wife and you have to have sex with her frequently, not just when you want to."

Surgical dreams to sexologist

Growing up, Kotb desperately wanted to be a surgeon. But years later, when she started a family after medical school and wanted more time with her daughters, she decided to change paths.

"Leaving surgery felt like falling from a very high point to a low point. I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm going to end up just doing something less exciting.' I wanted to be productive."

It was while making that decision, that Kotb was writing a dissertation on sexual assaults. For the study, she needed to discuss normal sexual behavior and suddenly realized she had no idea where to start.

"I thought, 'Oh my God, me -- a medical doctor who has a masters; is working on a Ph.D. -- doesn't know anything about this.' How did all these people I was reading know about sexuality?"

So she started researching while wondering why her part of the world was so averse to talking about sex. It was something Kotb wanted to change and she found a way in the Quran: a passage that discusses sex between husband and wife.

The passage reads: "Your wives are as a tilth [land or soil to be cultivated] unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah."

That verse, she says, makes it known that sex shouldn't just happen when the husband wants but that the wives have rights too.

"I was so proud of my religion when I saw that. My religion was advanced enough to talk about women's rights in sexuality how many years before modern science did?"

From that moment, there was no turning back.

First come patients, then the show

Kotb got her first degree in clinical sexology in 2003. A year later, she earned her doctorate in human sexuality, clinical sexology and pastoral counseling from Maimonides University in Florida.

All the while, her family showed steadfast support. Her father helped her to pay for her doctoral degree, while her husband kept pushing her to do what she loved.

And shortly after getting her degrees, she did, opening a clinic in downtown Cairo. In the beginning, things were rough.

"It was a mess," she said. "I had one or two patients per week."

But five years later, things have certainly changed. Now, Kotb's calendar is booked three months in advance. She says patients are much more open about sex and the specifics they talk about in her sessions.

She expanded her work to include television, launching "The Big Talk" several months ago. The show is, by all accounts popular, although you wouldn't know it from walking Cairo's streets.

In the middle of downtown, women refused to discuss the show when asked about it.

It was an expected sign of just how sensitive the topic of sex is in the Muslim world. And even though the men were more willing to talk about it, they were less than enthusiastic about the subject.

In fact, Kotb has critics on all sides. Those more liberal think she's not being open enough about sex, ignoring topics like extra marital affairs, homosexuality and pregnancy out of wedlock. Meanwhile, conservatives think sex is not for public discussion.

"There is no reason to talk about sex on television. Our society doesn't need something like this," a shopkeeper named Fawi said.

For her part, Kotb has no plans to slow down.

"I wanted to be the first sexologist in the Arab World not because of the challenge of being first," she said. "That didn't cross my mind. I did it because I was interested in the subject and I wanted to help people."

And she has no regrets.

"A mother of a friend of mine, when she first knew I was doing this career five years ago, she looked at me and said, 'Oh my God, are you teaching people to sleep with each other?'"

"I said 'yes,'" Kotb responded with a laugh. "That's what I do. This is the truth. And I'm very proud of this."

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story.kotb.cnn.jpg

Dr. Heba Kotb runs "The Big Talk" show in Cairo and is speaking openly in the Arab world about having more sex.

QURAN QUOTE

Dr. Heba Kobt says this verse from the Quran says husbands and wives should have sex.

Verse 223: "Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give good tidings to those who believe."
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