Toilets and Bathrooms
Street Wise
Sexual Matters
Sensitive Subjects
Village vs.Town
Body Language




Sexual Matters

Sexual matters may be puzzling for a stranger in Turkey. There are not many cuddling couples out in the open to suggest that this is a permissive society but the national newspapers are full of photographs which belie this. Similarly confusing are the advertisements for the 0900 numbers on some private television channels, broadcast after midnight. The truth is that sex has different meanings for men and women. The culture does not repress men in terms of their sexuality; on the contrary it encourages them and men often talk about their sexual experiences, even if half of them are figments of their imagination.

In contrast, the female who is concerned about her reputation should show no hint of interest in sexuality. Chastity is still important and brides are expected to be virgins. This is why ones does not see many girls holding hands with, let alone kissing, a boyfriend in public. Things are changing quickly, however, although areas where boyfriends and girlfriends can go and be alone are quite restricted. Some of their favourite haunts are the upper floors of fast-food restaurants. Foreign visitors go to such places for a quick snack between bouts of shopping, but young Turks often see them as refuges from parental eyes.

Does this encouragement to men and discouragement to women not create problems? Of course it does. It creates a continuous cat-an-mouse chase. While the woman is always on the run, the man will follow her with innuendos, wolf-whistles her, and calls her a "peanut" (not a single peanut in its oval shape but the two of them in the shell, which is similar in shape to an hourglass). Turkish women are so used to this that outside Turkey they can feel depressed over the lack of attention. One who settled down in Germany said, "In the first couple of years of my life outside Turkey I lived with an inferiority complex in the belief that on one found me attractive any more."

Men versus Women
Following from the above, there are different behaviour patterns expected from and exhibited by men and women. As perhaps in no other culture, the best examples of either sex are defined by the emphasis placed on their sex; a 'womanly woman' and a 'manly man'.

A 'womanly woman' is quiet, shy, fearful, yet a good housewife. She may or may not wear a headscarf but suggestive, sexy clothes are definitely out of the question. Her place is at home both before and after marriage. A 'manly man' is one who is brave, loud, virile, does not hesitate to fight for what he believes in, does not show his emotions or cry, and knows no fear. He usually has a moustache, and drinks and smokes a lot.

As more women are opting for higher education in the last couple of decades, women these days are displaying fewer symptoms of being 'womanly women' the benefits and drawbacks of which are openly discussed. A piece of graffiti was reported once in the entertainment section of a newspaper, with a comment saying that it was taken from the top of a desk in a university: "Good girls go to Paradise, but bad girls go anywhere they like."

However, the 'manly man' still has a strong hold on society. A modern, educated Turkish man recounted the following story. Apparently he had to travel from Eskisehir, a city in the middle of Anatolia, to Istanbul where he had urgent business to attend to. When he arrived at the airport he was told that the scheduled flight had been cancelled due to a lack of passengers and they were not going to mobilize the flight for just one passenger. While my friend was wringing his hands in frustration, an official from the nearby flying school approached him and asked whether he would like to go with them on an 'experimental flight.' The plane he offered was very small but my friend, who had no other alternative, accepted with alacrity, without giving any thought to the work 'experimental.' Once he was in his seat, however, he realised that the pilot in charge was a young trainee, being instructed by a tutor at his side about what he should and should not do. After a bumpy start my friend wished he had not accepted the offer so readily. He later said to me, "I wanted to tell them to stop and let me out there and then, but it was not a manly thing to do, so I shut up, closed my eyes and prayed for a safe journey all the way to Istanbul."