Saudi Arabia is a strictly conservative place. It's a country based on extremist Wahhabi Islam, which mandates women wear burqas and can't drive cars — so it's no surprise that sexuality does not easily enter into discourse there.
But Amsterdam-based halal (a Muslim concept similar to "kosher") sex shop owner Abdelaziz Aouragh reportedly would like to the revolutionize the country's relationship with sex by opening his next branch in the holiest of cities: Mecca.
Aouragh started the first "Sharia-compliant" online sex shop, El Asira, which offers "a unique Arabic collection for a sensual love life."
"Our products do not included inflatable dolls and dildos, but products that increase feelings of sensuality and improve the atmosphere between the couple and the sexual relationship between them," Aouragh told Alyaoum 24.
Clerics and sheiks have reportedly been involved in every step of the process in order to ensure legal and cultural compliance with local customs. While the shop certainly wouldn't offer the kind of sex toys you might find in an American metropolis, it would still mark a major step for sex in a part of the world that generally keeps the topic very quiet.
Supply and demand seem obvious: There are a lot of Muslims — nearly a quarter of the world's population — and everyone has sex. But it was only recently that Aouragh became one of the first people to corner this market.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Aouragh's resounding success after the launch of his website in 2010. He was pleasantly surprised by all the interest, both from media and customers. "In fact, when it first opened, the site crashed because overwhelming numbers of visitors flooded the site," he told the Los Angeles Times.
This concept of combining "Sharia-approved" or "halal" with sex seemed to legitimize it for many Muslims and opened the door for exploring the arena. It's an opportunity that many in the Islamic world have not had before.
Would this be good for Saudi women? As it stands, things aren't great for women in this part of the world. There are, of course, the more high-profile infringements of human rights, like preventing women from traveling without a male guide. But insidious restrictions exist too, like when authorities use SMS to track the movements of women and report them back to their husbands.
Some have argued this new shop in Mecca would not exactly be a promising sign of things to come. The emergence of halal sex shops is simply indicative of the "adaptive qualities of capitalism — not any trend in the Muslim world," Foreign Policy reported after discussing the matter with Hamza Yusuf, an American Islamic scholar.
However, others contend this could help women be seen as sexually active human beings, rather than shrouding them in shame.
The influence in Mecca remains to be seen, but the hope is that El Asira is more a reflection of empowerment rather than it is of capitalism.
Correction: April 24, 2015