MANAMA (Reuters Life!) - Where does one buy lingerie, sex toys and ointments designed to enhance female sexual pleasure in a Gulf region which frowns on open displays of sexuality?
From a lady in a traditional headscarf of course.
Khadija Ahmed's sex shop has survived against all odds and some particularly intense scrutiny from customs officials since it opened in Bahrain in 2008.
Ahmed's shop, a rare sight in the region, sells a wide range of lingerie, creams to delay male orgasm and sex toys out of the tiny Khadija Fashion House south of Manama, or through her website (www.khadijamall.com) to customers across the region.
A modestly dressed Ahmed in a traditional flowing black abaya and headscarf told Reuters that most of the items she sells are already available in Bahrain's fashion shops and pharmacies anyway and that she shuns some products to avoid stirring public anger.
"I don't sell vibrators for example, as this is against Islam," she said, adding that her faith banned the replication or display of sensitive parts of the body. However, other toys such as vibration rings were fine, she said.
Ahmed said she has not encountered much trouble with the public in Bahrain once she replaced lingerie in her display window with short dresses after complaints from neighbors and a nearby mosque.
Discussing and displaying sex in public is a taboo in most Middle Eastern countries, but Islamic scholars have also said that sex toys are legitimate if used by married couples.
Bahrain is considered one of the more liberal countries in the Gulf, allowing the sale of alcohol in bars and designated shops. Saudis, Qataris and Kuwaitis flock to the island kingdom each weekend to enjoy its nightlife.
Ahmed's most recent challenge is an ongoing legal case over a complaint by a customs official. She often has trouble getting her shipments cleared through customs and once ran into a spot of trouble when an official refused to clear a shipment of massage tools and vibration rings.
"These are closed-minded people....or maybe they're just jealous," she said.
Ahmed, who says she is not aware of any similar shop in the region, says she has many customers from the United Arab Emirates and in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia.
"Sometimes I personally go there with my brother to deliver, but only orders above 150 Bahraini dinars ($398)," she said.
She is now considering opening branches in Dubai, Lebanon and in one of Bahrain's shopping malls, as her store has grown too small to display all of her products on shelves.
Reporting by Frederik Richter; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Casciato