Note from the team: Ever since we were little girls, we were made to understand – both directly and indirectly- that our bodies were not necessarily ours. They were society’s to judge and control; a vessel determining our worth and our family’s reputation. The term female sexual health was a foreign term, and the concept of female pleasure was nonexistent. Women have been taught to fear their bodies and repress any desires: they were told to hide their sanitary pads from boys at a young age, and were not even given the chance of learning about their own body’s anatomy. After decades of categorizing the female body as a taboo topic in the Middle East and North Africa, collectives, activists, organizations, and brands have started to break free from outdated thought and normalize the body that was once demonized. Mauj is one such outlet.
Al Rawiya: What’s the story behind Mauj? How did it come to be?
Mauj: As the two co-founders of Mauj, we were introduced by a friend at the end of 2019. We were both so passionate about sexual wellness and both spent the better part of our twenties undoing all the conditioning that we’ve learned around our bodies, each on our own. We had finally been able to gain autonomy and ownership of our bodies, and had been exploring and discovering a newfound curiosity for sexuality, pleasure and sex. We’re both very passionate and both wanted to create something in this space.
So a common friend introduced us, and as soon as that happened, we spent the entire weekend sharing our experiences and brainstorming ideas. And then we realized something. We grew up within different religions and in different countries. We went to different school systems. We essentially had different trajectories. Yet the one thing that we had in common was that we both had learned to feel ashamed about our bodies as women. And the more we spoke to other women from the region, the more we realized that all women had similar experiences, regardless of the country they come from, or their religious or socio-economic backgrounds. We then spent a few months brainstorming about how we could tackle this problem. What could this look like? And in the end, we settled on Mauj the way you know it today: as a brand that offers products and content on sexual and menstrual wellness.
Mauj’s guide, “The Female Orgasm: From How It Happens to What It Feels Like” aims to revolutionize conversations about female sexuality by confronting long-standing taboos and transforming the way we discuss the topic. Artwork by @lustrations for Mauj.
Al Rawiya: You mentioned how you spent most of your twenties unlearning the conditioning that has been placed upon women by our societies, starting from the way girls are raised inside their own homes and continuing with common societal beliefs and practices. In your opinion, how does a lack of access to information on one’s body and sexuality impact a woman’s freedom?
Mauj: We always say knowledge turns the tide. And that’s because knowledge is the first step in understanding, and understanding is the first step to feel ownership of one’s body. If you’re not taught to honor, appreciate and understand your body, but instead you’re taught to suppress, hide, fight, and hate your body, there’s very little freedom in that. Part of freedom is knowing that you have a right to look for information, knowing that you have a right to ask questions, knowing that you have a right to go to a doctor if something’s wrong, knowing that you have a right to get a pap smear even if you’re not married or that you have a right to make decisions for your body. So body autonomy is a big part of that. And that’s something that women are not taught at all in our cultures.
Al Rawiya: What are the topics that you seek to engage and teach people about?
Mauj: We create our content across four pillars: body, cycle, self and sex. We decided on going against separating reproductive and sexual health because as women, our anatomy is inherently separated into the holy and unholy by society. The reproductive system is considered holy: it is what brings a child to life and in Arab society, this role – the role of the mother- is revered. And yet, it is like society forgets or purposefully conceals what leads up to that. This leads us to the unholy, which has everything to do with the sexual process, even when sexual and reproductive processes concern the same organs in your body. We didn’t want to separate the two, which is why we cover them across these four pillars.
Body is everything that has to do with one’s anatomy, such as common concerns you may have. Understanding why you’re getting UTIs for example. Why am I itchy? Why is there a lump? Also understanding the full anatomy of your clitoris: understanding that most of it is hidden with only the nub being visible, for example.
Cycle is your reproductive health. We tackle hormones, reproductive health, fertility and periods among others. It’s actually interesting because the majority of women that we speak to in our community have a really negative relationship with their periods, which is something very common. As far as reproductive health is concerned, Mauj really wanted to shed light on the more taboo topics. This is why we haven’t covered pregnancy or motherhood because we feel like there’s already a lot of information available on that.
And then there’s self which is your relationship with yourself and your sexuality: understanding self-pleasure, your desires, what turns you on, and so on.
And then the last category is sex. It’s the last category for a reason. We always say you need to build your relationship with yourself first. You need to unlock your sexuality with yourself before you give that away to a partner.
Another one of Mauj’s guides, “Defining Your First Sexual Experience,” addresses common questions and concerns about first-time sexual encounters. The guide empowers women by equipping them with the necessary information to navigate their first sexual experience with confidence. Artwork by @lustrations for Mauj.
Al Rawiya: The comparison of the reproductive system and sex to the holy and unholy is quite on point. And once one thinks about it a little deeper, the only thing separating both and making one better than the other is marriage. So once a woman’s married, she is no longer shamed for the concept of sex.
Mauj : Marriage is a gateway in our society. To make things clear, we don’t encourage women to have sex outside of marriage. We absolutely support them as autonomous women to have sex whenever they’re ready. But what we do think is problematic is the fact that a lot of women are taught all the way until marriage that their desires are shameful. They are taught that sex is bad and they learn to fear it. Dr. Sandrine Atallah said something along these lines “when a girl gets married, all of a sudden, it’s like a switch.” Women go from having to be a completely asexual person prior to marriage, to having to become a completely sexual being for their husbands. And then due to all the pressure being placed, and women not being taught about sex, many are unable to have sex and experience pain as the vagina tenses up. And this is a big problem in our part of the world. Not to forget that in some countries in the MENA region, women are only allowed to visit a gynecologist after they get married. So again, the issue is not that women are not having sex before marriage, but that women are taught that this part of themself – which is totally natural and normal- is completely off limits, even to themselves, until they get married.
Al Rawiya: Can you tell us a bit about your product, Deem, and the challenges you faced in conceptualizing then producing it?
Mauj: Deem is a pleasure product created for Arab women, wherever they are in the world. The main challenge in launching Deem was that people, specifically Arab women, did not know us. You don’t know who we are. You’ve never seen our faces, you don’t know our names, but we’re telling you to order this product from us, and we’ll get it to you discretely. That requires a lot of trust from women and that was a big gamble for us. We didn’t know how it was going to be received or whether we would receive a lot of backlash. But thankfully, that was not the case.
A lot of women were really supportive and understood that we were trying to do something that’s never been done, and that has the potential to rub some people off the wrong way. But we’ve stuck to our message from the very beginning and we still stick to it today. We believe women have a right to discover the pleasure that is within their bodies.
And the best part is, Deem is not only for self-pleasure. Some women aren’t comfortable with the idea of self-pleasure. But do you know how many of our customers use Deem with their partner? And do you know how many women who are in committed relationships and have never actually had an orgasm with their husbands or their partner are telling us that Deem is helping them orgasm? This is such a fulfilling feeling.
But, of course, the first iteration of Deem wasn’t perfect. We actually have Deem 2 coming out in July. We changed manufacturers and we took all of our customers’ feedback into consideration. Women wanted it to be fully waterproof, they wanted a longer battery life, they wanted a slower vibration. So we redesigned the product and we’re relaunching it in a new color, which is exciting.
Al Rawiya: Have you received any backlash about Deem or Mauj’s work in general?
Mauj: We’ve been really fortunate. We have quite strong community guidelines that have been shared on our platform. And we have had very little backlash so far. There was a very short period of time a while ago where for some reason, we had gotten onto the radar of a few angry people, a lot of them being men. And what was interesting to see is that before we even had a chance to reply to the comments under our posts, other women would step in and stand up for what we’re trying to do. So that was amazing. Every so often, you’ll have someone come in and say something totally unacceptable, and we immediately block and remove them. We try to create as safe a space as we can on our Instagram account. But what we realized is that Instagram is not a safe space at all, so we’re actually working on building a community platform that’s separate from that, which is coming soon, through which women can interact with each other in a safe online environment.
Al Rawiya: What has been the most rewarding aspect about creating and working on Mauj?
Mauj: If you ask every person on our team this question, you will have very different answers because it’s very much related to what brought them into this space. For one of our team members who was subjected to sexual abuse when she was younger, the most rewarding moments are when women talk to us about how something that they read on our website or social media helped them face something that they were going through. For another team member, one of the aspects she was most passionate about was helping women close the pleasure gap, because she had spent so much of her twenties and thirties faking orgasms and not understanding if something was wrong with her. She felt completely liberated when she read the statistic that 75 percent of women actually require clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm, and that she was in fact not ‘broken.’ So Deem and pleasure products in general were a big part of that journey for her. It’s also so rewarding when women realize that their vulvas are totally normal. Each one of us was driven to Mauj from a different part of their journey. We came in because of something we personally went through and we ended up being part of a collective that contributes to our healing journey.
Al Rawiya: Where do you guys see Mauj moving forward in the future?
Mauj: We’re really looking to expand our product offering right now. We always want to be guided and driven by what our community needs. So we always talk to our community a lot. We have a lot of focus groups, just to make sure that we’re always designing based on what they’re looking for and what they need. And we’re allowing that to basically inform what we’re creating in terms of products. We just released Sayl, a water based lubricant. We’ve also announced Deem 2. We’re also relaunching our website to be a digital sexual health companion; a place where you can ask questions, connect with other women, and browse resources. Our ultimate goal within Mauj is for women to be able to love their bodies, explore their sexuality, and embrace their pleasure unashamedly.