How to find sex toys in the Gulf
There are hundreds of websites selling sex toys in the Gulf countries, but what, in reality, are the challenges on the ground?
In any conservative country, anything related to sex is shrouded with an air of secrecy and treated as taboo. But there is also a lot of curiosity, the desire to know and to try. The Gulf countries are no different in this respect. Just as sex is restricted or repressed, the use of sex toys between partners is surrounded by a sense of shame and taboo, and so it becomes a secret act — as does the purchase and trade of sex toys.
Importing sex toys is officially banned in some Gulf countries, as in the neighboring states. However, in Bahrain, for instance, there is no legal provision explicitly stating this. While customs expressly forbid the import of used car tires, fissile materials, pigs, and horses, there is no legal provision that bans the import of sexual goods, according to Khadija Ahmad in a 2010 interview with Reuters. Ahmad is the owner of the first shop selling sex toys in the Gulf, Khadija Mall, located on a busy street in the south of Bahrain’s capital, Manama. She adds that she has continued to face difficulties and intense scrutiny, from customs officials in particular, since opening her shop in 2008. “These problems have nothing to do with social traditions or with the laws of the country,” she explains.
There is an expectation of women in conservative societies to please and satisfy their husband. Women go to great lengths to beautify themselves, to prepare for their wedding night and for sex. This means always resorting to new things and to seductive clothing, in order to keep the man excited and his love growing, so that he doesn’t take another wife — as is socially accepted, legally permitted, and sanctioned by religion.
A quick internet search reveals that there are hundreds of websites selling sex toys and stimulants across all Gulf countries. Even in Saudi Arabia, a country known for its extreme conservatism, the entrepreneur Abdelaziz Aouragh launched a brand called “Asira” (the name itself, meaning ‘captive woman’, carries a lot of connotations). Products include oils, candles, and other items that “give a deeper meaning to sexuality, sensuality, and even spirituality,” as Aouragh put it in a 2015 interview with the AFP.
On offer at these shops and websites are massage oils; women’s lingerie — scented, or with flavors such as chocolate; candles; perfumes; creams to delay ejaculation; scents to arouse; other sex toys; as well as wigs and other items related to the body, sex, and eroticism. But they all refrain — at least publicly — from selling sex toys that come in the shape of sexual organs, such as dildos and female sex dolls.
Aouragh clarifies this: “The products we sell on the market have nothing to do with vibrators or dolls.” Khadija Ahmed also asserts, “I don’t sell vibrators because those are not permitted by Islam, which forbids exposing or creating simulations of the body’s sensitive parts. But I do offer other things, like vibrating rings.”
In August 2017, authorities in the United Arab Emirates seized 1124 sex toys and pornographic films that were being sold by an Arab woman on Facebook and Whatsapp. Her house was raided after a sting operation by officials pretending to buy her products. According to the press in the U.A.E., this was used by her lawyers against the authorities to prove the illegality of her arrest.
A Bahraini man and a European woman were also arrested in Bahrain in 2016, charged with displaying pornographic images and material on Instagram and selling synthetic sex organs. The Bahraini police also caught the woman through a sting operation in which they pretended to be interested in buying the toys. They then searched her apartment and found synthetic male and female organs for sale, according to Al-Wasat newspaper in Bahrain.
A European businessman was also arrested in April 2017 and eventually deported, and his Emirati partner fined 10,000 dirhams (approximately 2,353 USD), for advertising over 150 sex toys for sale on Facebook and social media sites in Dubai, which were imported by mail order from China, according to the English-language newspaper, Gulf News. The European man was also arrested after a trap set by the police. He was charged with possession of pornographic materials and advertising them illegally on social media sites.
Authorities also confiscate sex toys at airports and border crossings
The authorities in these countries also confiscate sex toys at airports and border crossings, especially those that come in the form of a penis or vagina, which people are carrying for personal use. In 2016 a British woman was stopped at the airport by Omani authorities, who suspected that the children’s water toy in her possession was a dildo.
On the reasons people open stores that provide sexual stimulants and toys, Khadija Ahmad says, “we sell love and sex toys in order to confront the growing problems among married couples lately, because of boredom and routine, which have caused a rise in divorce rates. So I thought of starting a project whose aim is to change their marital relationship in the bedroom.” She adds, “I choose products that are in keeping with our customs, traditions, religion, and sharia law.”
Aouragh also affirms, “it’s not about sex, but what happens around it. Our products work on creating an atmosphere and heightening feelings of sensuality.”
Dr. Fawzia al-Daree, a specialist in sex education and therapy, confirms this: “One of the elements that attracts us to one another is undoubtedly our smell, whether it’s the scent of our body or a perfume we wear. If we think of anyone we’re attracted to, or were attracted to in the past, their smell definitely played a big part. There are areas which are well-known like the neck and the hands, but there are other seductive spots to dab perfume on that people may not know, such as the legs, behind the knees, and the tops or soles of the feet. The neck, of course, holds perfume, and movement scatters it here and there.”
Islam is the official religion in the Arabian Gulf, and many Islamic fatwas (religious decrees) have been issued regarding the use of sex toys between partners. According to the website of the Ish'aa Center for Islamic Studies and Research, run by Shaykh Saleh al-Kurbasi, it is permitted for a married couple to use their body parts to arouse and satisfy one another, but it is not permitted to use foreign bodies and insert them into the vagina or anus.
On the website of the Yas’aloonaka (“They Ask You”) Islamic Network, Shaykh Dr. Hossam Eddin Afana states that Islamic law forbids the import and trade of sex dolls, “because they are corrupt and have a corrupting influence. They help to spread great sins and reprehensible acts in society, and are the cause of a lot of damage. Islamic jurists follow the principle that “what leads to evil is also evil,” and rational people know that the import and use of sex dolls spreads moral decay and depravity, gives rise to grave sins, and may lead to fornication, homosexuality, and masturbation. What leads to sin is also sinful.”
“The forbidden is always coveted”
It is interesting to note that these opinions about the use of sex toys — whether voiced by owners of sex shops, religious men, or sex experts — are always referring to married couples, ignoring extramarital sexual relationships, as these societies forbid and criminalize such relationships.
The demand for these toys thus comes from the principle that the forbidden is always coveted. The sale of these toys is forbidden, so they are purchased in secret or ordered online from other countries.
The owners of the two most famous sex shops in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also stress that they received permission from Islamic clerics before embarking on their projects, in order to ensure that they were “in line with Sharia (Islamic law).” According to Khadija Ahmed, “The clerics also say that sex toys are permitted if used by married couples.”
A lot of sex-related products and toys are sold publicly in the Gulf countries in shops that stock women’s lingerie. Items such as flavored lubricants, sex toys, handcuffs, and canes are available, as well as rings, which are hugely popular, especially with women, and in great demand, according to a saleswoman at a lingerie store in one of the U.A.E.’s biggest malls, in an interview on the Emirates247 website.
Another saleswoman said that the demand for sex toys is very high “but we don’t sell them, because they’re illegal. Customers also ask for porn movies, but we don’t sell those either.”
There are many people posting questions on internet forums about whether it’s possible to buy sex toys or porn films in the Gulf, or if they can bring their personal toys with them when traveling to these countries. The responses from other foreigners who live or have experience traveling to these countries are always cautionary, warning about the trouble that might be caused by having these toys or porn films in one’s possession at airports or border crossings. The advice is always to try to buy these items inside the country, rather than attempting to enter the country with them.
All kinds of sex toys and products are available for sale online, through well-known shopping sites. Residents in the Gulf countries are often warned that some of these toys are banned in their countries and could be confiscated by customs officials. The illegal toys are sold, with great caution, on social media sites; yet some people are still caught by the authorities, who track these accounts, set traps for their owners, and then confiscate the products.