Hiding Sexuality

The Disappearance of Sexual Discourse in the Late Ottoman Middle East

in Social Analysis

From Belgrade to Baghdad, from Algiers to Aleppo, sexual discourse in the pre-modern Ottoman world was rich and variegated. Its manifestations were to be found in literature and poetry, in medicine and physiognomy, in religious writings and popular culture. During the nineteenth century, much of this panoply of discussions about sex disappeared or was attenuated to such an extent that it became virtually non-existent. A similar phenomenon can be perceived in Western European attitudes toward sex several decades earlier. Yet while in Europe the old sexual discursive world was replaced with a new one in short order, the Ottoman Middle East did not produce a new sexual discourse to replace the one that vanished. This article presents some of the premises of the old Ottoman sexual discourse, describes the process of their demise, and suggests an explanation for the failure to produce a new (textual) discourse of sex.