Concerning his secular legacy, the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk once wrote: “I am not leaving a spiritual legacy of dogmas, unchangeable petrified directives. If those people who wish to follow me after I am gone take the reason and science as their guides they will be my true spiritual heirs.” A secular republic as stipulated by its Constitution in a predominantly Muslim country, social change in Turkey in the form of technological innovation or cultural diffusion have always been viewed in terms of reconciling the devout secular nature of the state with the Muslim beliefs of its people. The story of Turkish political society reveals much about the sexual behaviors of Turkish: caught somewhere between the Western attitudes towards sexuality and an Islamic interpretation of it. The Turkish cultural mosaic is rooted in multiple value systems which are reflected in their diverse attitudes and views on psychosexual dysfunctions.
Psychosexual dysfunctions are defined as disturbances of sexual functioning caused by mental and emotional difficulties. Psychosexual dysfunctions in Turkey are extensions of the cultural, economic, and political conflicts between value systems that are seen to be perpetually antagonistic towards one another. On a political front, this is most apparent. In 1998, the Turkish Welfare Party, which was sympathetic towards the implementation of Islamic Law, was shut down on the grounds of violating constitutional obligations to respect Turkey’s strict secular principles. Even the current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has faced threats by Turkey’s Chief Prosecutor of being removed after engaging in ‘anti-secular’ behavior, such as rejecting the ban of headscarves at Turkish universities. What this demonstrates is the existing paranoia between the two competing values in Turkish society. And these differences manifest themselves not only in political values, but concerning sexuality. In 1926, following Turkey’s birth from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, the government introduced the Turkish Civil Code. It sought to rewrite customary and religious practices that hampered female equality by banning polygamy and granting women the rights to divorce and child custody. Expectedly, it is more difficult to change century old traditions than pass legislation. Particularly in regions of Turkey that do not have the same access to the influx of new ideas and prosperity as the centers and capitals of the Turkish republic.
As is a common trend in developing countries, there are significant differences in the sexual lifestyles of people from rural and urban areas. The educated minority (particularly youths) residing in major metropolitan areas, approach sexuality similarly as the average American youth does. The big cities in Turkey represent the radical transformation of Turkish values in the past century, with an overt rejection of the “antiquated” Islamic values that are censured for being “backwards.” The big metropolitan areas of Turkey represent secularization’s base. They centralize Turkey’s resources, political power, and – in theory – its wisdom. As a result of its rejection of traditional Islamic ideals, sexual drive is viewed as a natural urge. Premarital sex is no longer taboo in big cities.
By contrast, the rural and poorer regions in Turkey are characterized by more conservative attitudes towards sexuality. A 1998 study conducted in Eastern Turkey by psychotherapist and founder of Women for Women’s Human Rights, Pinar Ilkkaracan reported cases of forced marriages, women being unable to seek divorce from their husbands, non-existent legal recourse for domestic violence or rape, and even wide-spread fear of honor killings if suspected of having an extramarital affair. As a result, the psychosexual dysfunctions reported by women were significantly higher than in their male counterparts in this region with this cultural framework. Subsequent research has placed vaginismus, anorgasmia, and non-existent libido as the most prevalent psychosexual dysfunctions in rural Turkish women. These clinical observations rank vaginismus in particular as being more common in Turkey than in any other European country. The reason for this can be accredited to the lack of education as well as conditions that reinforce the belief that sex is to be feared and is an act of subservience to males. It is important to stress that while women report more cases of psychosexual dysfunctions in this region of Turkey than men, it is also cultural face-saving procedure for men to project the blame for their psychosexual dysfunctions, such as premature ejaculation or impotence, on females.
[ad#downcont]Unlike the rural areas that depend on traditional healers and methods to relive the stresses caused by psychosexual dysfunctions, the urban centers have the advantage of established centers for treatment of sexual dysfunctions. That is not to say that overall psychosexual dysfunctions are not as prevalent in the metropolitan areas as in their rural counterparts, but they do have more effective means of remedying them such as sex therapy. Modern urban Turkish suffer from the psychosexual dysfunctions and for the same reasons that are common in other urban dwellers around the world, such as stress, anxieties, guilt, shame etc. However, the improvement in therapeutic services serves to reinforce greater sexual openness in urban Turks.
What is shared between these two worlds in Turkey is the Turkish value of family. Psychosexual dysfunctions are highly personal issues and thus the entire family is going to know about it before a professionally trained therapist does. It is important to stress that attitudes towards psychosexual dysfunctions remain divisive within all Turkish. As Turkish society demonstrates in both rural and urban territories, it is easy to speak in abstracts, but the importance in well-being – whether it is in religion, social, or psychosexual – is in the details.