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Rasha al-Amin

Lebanon's first sexologist

Lebanon

The waiting room is full of men. At first glance, one feels they are embarrassed as though they fear to wait along with others at the clinic of sexologist Sandrine Atallah.

 

Atallah is Lebanon’s first sexologist. Having completed her medical studies at Saint Joseph University and her specialization in France thanks to her mother’s encouragement, she returned to her home country in 2007 to spread sexual health as a profession, as she felt that this specialization is nonexistent in Lebanon.

 

Talking about sex is still “taboo” in our society, Atallah tells NOW. “At first, my friends and relatives did not take me seriously and thought I would not make it and would not work within my specialty field.” She explains that sexual health “is a state of integration and complementarity between the organic, psychological, mental, and social factors of sex. Accordingly, a psychotherapist sometimes plays the role of an expert in sexology. This role is, at other times, played by a gynecologist who makes minor mistakes with patients, hence the need at the outset to hold awareness-raising lectures on sexual health with the participation of gynecologists so that they would know this specialization exists in Lebanon.”

 

Dr. Atallah noted a drastic “transformation” in her clinic after her televised appearance on LBC show “Lezim Taarif” (You Should Know) in 2010. “I used to get couples with a lukewarm sex life or men with premature ejaculation problems,” explains Atallah. “Yet after my media appearance, people started to acknowledge sexual health and my clinic was flooded with people with different sexual problems than the variety I used to see before. I started welcoming both old and young people. More gays and lesbians are now coming and the nature of sexual consultations has changed.”

 

Patients at the clinic are predominantly males, as men tend to regard their sex lives as a priority. “If a man fails to satisfy his partner or suffers from erectile dysfunction, he thinks this is unnatural in him and immediately has recourse to sex counseling. Unfortunately, even if a woman endures, say, pain during sexual intercourse, she is physiologically able to carry out the sexual act to the very end and has recourse to counseling only when she loses her sexual appetite. Most women believe that failure in their sex lives with their husbands is synonymous with failure in their marital lives, which leads to divorce.”

 

According to Atallah, “only rarely do women urge their men to visit [me], as few women consider they are entitled to reach orgasm as a result of sexual relations. When we have sex for ourselves and think about our own happiness, our sex life improves. Many of my clinic patients are not selfish when they have sex; in other words, they do not have sex for their own selves, but rather for [the sake of] their partners, and all of it is due to the nature of our sexual culture.”

 

It takes a lot of guts to go to a sexual health clinic, and a good deal of questioning by the physician. “During our medical studies, they do not teach us how to deal with the patient,” Atallah says. She has studied hypnosis in addition to her specialization in order to help patients relax and face fears pertaining to their sex lives “since one’s psychological state is directly linked to sex life.”

 

Sex is part of our lives and barriers are being lifted in order to gain a better knowledge of it and delve into its broad world as knowledge media improve. Atallah has opened a wide door into the privacy of some people’s beds, but there are other beds where sex is still a bestial – and sometimes violent – practice. Maybe Atallah's practice represents the beginning of a change in this sexual culture.

 

This article has been translated from the original Arabic.

Lebanon's first sexologist. (Image via Sandrine Atallah)

"Patients at the clinic are predominantly males, as men tend to regard their sex lives as a priority."