Taking Sex out of the City

Sex and The City is loved by Turkey’s Generation X because it is reminiscent of the times you could have political sex scandals covered in front pages without some media watchdog stepping in. As if Covid19 restrictions were not enough of a killjoy, Turkey’s “official voices” have increased their moralistic tone on sexuality throughout the year to spoil the fun. The announcement that the series will have a sequel without polygamy queen Samantha seems to be the final straw in a sexually-dull year.

“Neither the atomic bomb nor the London Conference,” wrote Turkish poet Orhan Veli in one of his most playful poems in the late 1940s. “She has tweezers in one hand/ Mirror in the other. What the hell she cares!”

More than 70 years later, Orhan Veli’s references are hugely outdated and his view of women are liable to charges of sexism, but it does reflect my mood this week.  My friends with finer brains and a stronger grip on the global agenda are busy discussing relative risks of WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram. Or conspiracy theories on whether the Chinese jab causes infertility and BioNtech gives you the chips - or is it the other way around? Still others compare and contrast the role of police in the Boğaziçi University student protests, Capitol riots and Black Lives Matter protests. But my frivolous mind is right where it has been since my teens. Sex. Particularly now that Samantha is no longer in the city.

I doubt anyone who has bothered to read this column beyond the headline would be unfamiliar with the story regarding the controversy – nay, downright polarization, around the 1990s cult series “Sex and the City” (SATC). Shortly after HBO network’s announcement of a sequel, it became clear that the four women – “bff” through two decades - would return minus one. The series’ flag carrier for uninhibited, delightfully polygamous sex, Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattrall) had opted out of the new version. And “Just Like That,” as the new title of the series is expected to be, sex went out of the city. 

Sex 2020

2020 will hardly go down in history the period of carnal delights, as anyone who’d read the June memo of the New York City Department of Health (and repeated by many) would know. “You are your safest sex partner,” it said ominously, delivering a severe blow to clueless “experts” who talked about a lockdown-boosted baby boom.

After ten months or more after the lockdowns, we see that what was predicted to be a boost turned to bust. Though no expert, I could have told them a boost – either in children or in the frequency of marital sex – was unlikely, unless there is a silent majority out there who thinks the smell of Clorox and gray hair roots - not to mention whining children in the next room and bickering on housework –are aphrodisiac. Few humans mate in captivity, particularly with job insecurity and depression over their heads.            

In the poor world, the jury is out on whether there will be a boost, says The Economist after talking to UN Population Fund and other experts. True, displacements, camps and the family unifications as day-workers returned home might have spurred sex and unplanned pregnancies, most of the couples paid attention not to produce off-springs at this time of economic incertitude.  

As for singles, 2020 could not have been much of a year of budding romances, given that universities, bars and restaurants were closed down a good part of the year and an inviting smile was obliterated by a mask and two meters distance. Also, the new normal would need to bring its shaky rules of sexual etiquette. How soon after the meeting is it polite to ask, “When have you been tested?” “Would you consider wearing a mask during coronalingus [sex during Covid19]?” or “How do you feel about zumping [this apparently means dumping someone on zoom, though upon reading it, I thought it referred to zoom-sex]”?

Missing the City

As if Covid19 restrictions were not enough of a killjoy, Turkey’s “official voices” have increased their moralistic tone on sexuality throughout the year to spoil the fun. Ali Erbaş, the vocal director of Religious Affairs, routinely condemned what he termed illicit sexual relations and adultery – which is, in his view, any sexual relationship out of wedlock. While adultery was decriminalized in the 1990s, the Justice and Development Party government attempted to re-criminalize it – once in 2004, then in 2018. 

Ministers and members of the government, as well as First Lady Emine Erdoğan, often lashed out at series which they considered to be “out of line” with Turkish family values. Such remarks are generally used to refer to TV series where there are gay characters, promiscuous women – never toward men -  or teenagers who flirt with each other, kiss or make out.  Recently, arch-Islamist Yeni Akit accused the popular Turkish series “Ethos” of insulting “the sacred religious values” of the Turks, because the series had a ten-second scene where a depressive playboy masturbated while sniffing the headscarf of his cleaning lady.

In this sexually-dull present, SATC remains a symbol of the 1990s and 2000s when talking about sex had been abundant and fun in Turkey. Politicians who would be discovered in flagrante delicto would be dragged to the front pages for days, without some media watchdog getting in and forbidding its coverage. All newspapers, including Sabah and Habertürk, papers hopelessly strait-laced now, had their own versions of Carrie-clones. In a memorable article, columnist Oray Eğin – great wit and a true fan of SATC- couldn’t help but wonder in print who was the “Carriest” of all them all? His reply was not any youngish female writer but a post-andropause male, Hıncal Uluç.

But, as fans around the world would agree, it was not needy Carrie, not prudent Charlotte and certainly not workaholic Miranda who put Sex in the City. It was Samantha – an older, bolder loud-mouthed self-made businesswoman who was cheeky to waiters and salespeople and cheekier still to her many lovers. Surely, even in Covid19-prudent world, we need Samantha and her gutsy sexuality. Or do we want to opt for baking bread or foodporn? 

September 10, 2021 Turkey's small festivals