University of Illinois at Chicago

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Vaginismus: Tracing the Politics of a Sexual (Dis)order in Contemporary Turkey

posted on 2023-08-01, 00:00 authored by Neslihan Sen
This dissertation traces shifting constructions of Vaginismus, a gendered sexual disorder in contemporary Turkey. Vaginismus is a specific sexual disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) characterized by the difficulty of engaging in penile-vaginal intercourse. Women diagnosed with the disorder cannot engage in coitus and in extreme cases they are unable to undergo gynecological exams because of the recurring and persistent contractions of their vaginal muscles. According to available data, Turkey has the highest number of women diagnosed with vaginismus, globally. This dissertation critically engages with this “fact,” situating the diagnosis of vaginismus in Turkey in historical, social, and political context through discourses and practices that center heterosexuality and the normative production of gender in the eyes of the Turkish state, biomedicine, the institution of marriage, and the treatment market. Drawing largely on the stories of women navigating the diagnosis, this dissertation uses vaginismus as a lens to explore and better understand reproductive governance, the construction of moral gendered selves, and the normalization of phallocentric heterosexuality by state and non-state agents. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork with women diagnosed with the disorder, health care professionals who treat them, and male partners of the diagnosed women as well as participant observation in group therapy sessions, the dissertation argues that vaginismus is overproduced in contemporary Turkey, serving to make and remake gender in service of the heteronormative family, the nation and the neoliberal market. Utilizing anthropological methods, this dissertation uniquely situates a sexual disorder in the broader context of history, politics, and economics in contemporary Turkey.



Reddy, Gayatri


Reddy, Gayatri



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Liechty, Mark Patil, Crystal Moruzzi, Norma Tepe, Sultan

Submitted date

August 2023

Thesis type



  • en

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