, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 543–567 | Cite as

Morally accounting for sex selection online in Turkey

Original Article


The Internet, beyond providing opportunities for advertising reproductive services, offers people an anonymous social space to exchange information, support, and personal stories regarding their reproductive goals and to enact reproductive moral reasoning regarding controversial biotechnologies in complex ways. Focusing on the online discussion forum of the Turkish web portal Women’s Club, this article examines the moral negotiations of sex selection by women seeking to legitimize or delegitimize it through rhetorical appeal to a mix of science, religion, gender, ignorance, propitiousness, and modernity. By doing so, it will reveal the ways in which women forum members work to craft not only moral selves and technologies but also a shared space for moral reflection. By examining the discursive content of Turkish women’s postings concerning sex selection, I argue that online forums offer these women an anonymous moral space to discuss their reproductive goals, although some family secrets do not escape the moral scrutiny of others even within these forums. The heterogeneity and complexity of women’s moral engagements with reproductive technologies on the Internet demonstrates that reproductive issues are moral issues directly related to the expectations for women as gendered beings, as individuals, family members, and as citizens, and also serve to reproduce social relations, including patriarchal inequalities.


sex selection PGD internet moral reasoning family-making Turkey 



This article received the 2016 Mother Board Writing Prize from the Boston-area Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies. The article has its origin in a MIT-Harvard joint course “History and Anthropology of Medicine and Biology” co-taught by Stefan Helmreich and David Jones in 2013. An early version of the article was presented at MIT Symposium on Gender and Technology in 2014. I benefited from the discussions at the symposium and especially the comments of Ruha Benjamin as the panel discussant. This article also contains data collected during my dissertation fieldwork, funded by National Science Foundation’s Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant: #1456130. I am grateful to my supervisor Heather Paxson for her critical guidance, amazing editing skills, and great patience. I am thankful to three anonymous reviewers for their invaluable comments. I would also like to thank Osman Savaşkan for his support and encouragement throughout the process of writing this article.


  1. AbuKhalil, A. (1993) Toward the study of women and politics in the Arab World: The debate and the reality. Feminist Issues 13(1): 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acar, F. and Altunok, G. (2013) The “politics of intimate” at the intersection of Neo- liberalism and Neo-conservatism in contemporary Turkey. Women’s Studies International Forum 41:14–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Açıksöz, S.C. (2015) In vitro nationalism: Masculinity, disability, and assisted reproduction in war-torn Turkey. In: Gül Özyeğin (ed.) Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Cultures. England: Ashgate Press, pp. 19–36.Google Scholar
  4. Açıksöz, S.C. (2012) Navigating in the Ocean of Risk: Discourses and Experiences of Prenatal Diagnosis in Turkey. Germany: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing.Google Scholar
  5. Ahmed, L. (1986) Women and the advent of Islam. Signs 11(4): 665–691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Akın, Y. (2004) “Gürbüz ve yavuz evlatlar” erken Cumhuriyet’te beden terbiyesi ve spor” [“Robust and vigorous children”: physical education and sports in early Republican Turkey]. Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları.Google Scholar
  7. Altindag, O. (2015) Son preference, fertility decline and the non-missing girls of Turkey. Paper presented at Population Association of America Annual Meeting. San Diego, CA.Google Scholar
  8. Association of Internet Researcher (2012) The ethical guidelines for internet research., accessed 8 February 2015.
  9. Bergmann, S. (2011) Reproductive agency and projects: Germans searching for egg donation in Spain and the Czech Republic. Reproductive BioMedicine Online 23: 600–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bhatia, R. (2014) Cross-border sex selection: Ethical challenges posed by a Globalizing practice. International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 7(2): 185–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boellstorff, T., Nardi, B., Pearce, C. and Taylor, T.L. (2012) Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Clarke, M. (2009) Islam and New Kinship: Reproductive Technology and the Shariah in Lebanon. Oxford: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  13. Croll, E. (2000) Endangered Daughters: Discrimination and Development in Asia. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Darɪcɪ, H. (2013) “Adults see politics as a game”: Politics of Kurdish children in urban Turkey. International Journal of Middle East Studies 45: 775–790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Demircioğlu, M. (2010) The rhetoric of belief and identity making in the experience of infertility. Culture and Religion 11(1): 51–67.Google Scholar
  16. Demircioğlu-Göknar, M. (2015) Achieving Procreation: Childlessness and IVF in Turkey. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  17. Dickens, B., Gamal, M., Serour, I., Cook, R.J. and Qui, R.Z. (2005) Sex selection: Treating different cases differently. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 90(2): 171–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duckett, A. (2008) Gender dreams: The social construction of gender disappointment as an affliction in online communities. MA thesis. University of Guelph, Ontaria, Canada.Google Scholar
  19. Franklin, S. and Roberts, C. (2006) Born and made: An ethnography of preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gammeltoft, T.M. and Wahlberg, A. (2014) Selective reproductive technologies. Annual Review of Anthropology 43: 201–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Garcia, A.C., Standlee, A.L., Bechkoff, J. and Cui,Y. (2009) Ethnographic approaches to the internet and computer mediated communication. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 38(1): 52–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gürtin, Z. (2012a) Practitioners as interface agents between the local and the global: The localization of IVF in Turkey. In: M. Knecht, M. Klotz and S. Beck (eds.) Reproductive Technologies as Global Form. Frankfurt, New York: Campus Verlag, pp. 81–109.Google Scholar
  23. Gürtin, Z. (2012b) Assisted reproduction in secular Turkey: Regulation, rhetoric, and the role of religion. In: M. C. Inhorn and S. Tremayne (eds) Islam and Assisted Reproductive Technologies: Sunni and Shia Perspectives. New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 285–311.Google Scholar
  24. Gürtin, Z. (2011) Banning reproductive travel: Turkey’s ART Legislation and third-party assisted reproduction. Reproductive BioMedicine Online 23: 555–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hamdy, S. (2009) Islam, fatalism, and medical intervention: Lessons from Egypt on the cultivation of forbearance and reliance on God. Anthropological Quarterly 83 (1): 173–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hill, K. and Upchurch, D.M. (1995) Gender differences in child health: Evidence from the demographic and health surveys. Population and Development Review 21: 127–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Horst, H.A. and Miller, D. (eds.) (2012) Digital Anthropology. London, New York: Berg.Google Scholar
  28. Inhorn, M. and Tremayne, S. (eds.) (2012) Islam and Assisted Reproductive Technologies: Sunni and Shia Perspectives. New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  29. Inhorn, M. and Patrizio, P. (2012) Procreative tourism: Debating the meaning of cross-border reproductive care in the 21st century. Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology 7(6): 509–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Inhorn, M. and Gürtin, Z.B. (2011) Cross-border reproductive care: A future research agenda. Reproductive BioMedicine Online 23: 665–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kagitcibasi, Ç. and Ataca, B. (2005) Value of children and family change: A three-decade portrait from Turkey. Applied Psychology 54 (3): 317–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kalaça, C. and Akin, A. (1995) The issues of sex selection in Turkey. Human Reproduction 10(7): 1631–1632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kleinman, A. (1992) Local worlds of suffering: An interpersonal focus for ethnographies of illness experience. Qualitative Health Research 2: 127–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Krause, E.L. and Marchesi, M. (2007) Fertility politics as “social viagra”: Reproducing boundaries, social cohesion, and modernity in Italy. American Anthropologist 109(2): 350–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Liu, S.H. (2011) Passage to Manhood: Youth Migration, Heroin, and AIDS in Southwest China. California: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Lock, M. and Kaufert, P.A. (eds.) (1998) Pragmatic Women and Body Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Martin, L.J. (2014) The world’s not ready for this: Globalizing selective technologies. Science, Technology, & Human Values 39 (3): 432–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mattingly, C. (2014) Moral Laboratories: Family Peril and the Struggle for a Good Life. California: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. McGowan, M.L. and Sharp, R.R. (2012) Justice in the context of family balancing. Science, Technology, & Human Values 38 (2): 271–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ministry of Health (1998) Genetik Hastalıklar Tanı Merkezleri Yönetmeliği [Regulation on Diagnosis Centers for Genetic Diseases]. Official Gazette no. 23368. June 10. Ankara.Google Scholar
  41. Moravec, M. (ed.) (2011) Motherhood Online. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  42. Mutlu, B. (2015) The gendered ethics of secrecy and disclosure in transnational sex selection from Turkey to northern Cyprus. In: V. Kantsa, G. Zanini and L. Papadopoulou (eds.) In: Fertile Citizens: Anthropological and Legal Challenges of Assisted Reproduction Technologies. Athens: Alexandria Publications, pp. 217–229.Google Scholar
  43. Navaro-Yashin, Y. (2002) Faces of the State: Secularism and Public Life in Turkey. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Paxson, H. (2004) Making Modern Mothers: Ethics and Family Planning in Urban Greece. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Paxson, H. (2003) With or against nature? IVF, gender and reproductive agency in Athens, Greece. Social Science & Medicine 56: 1853–1866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pedersen, S. and Smithson, J. (2013) Mothers with attitude—how the Mumsnet Parenting forum offers space for new forms of femininity to emerge online. Women’s Studies International Forum 38: 97–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Perrotta, M. (2015) One is enough! The rise of ICSI in Italy. Unpublished conference paper presented at: International Conference In: Fertile Citizens: Anthropological and Legal Challenges of Assisted Reproduction Technologies. May 28–30, 2015. Lesvos, Greece.Google Scholar
  48. Purewal, N. (2010) Son Preference: Sex Selection, Gender and Culture in South Asia. Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers.Google Scholar
  49. Rapp, R. (1999) Testing WomenTesting the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  50. Riessman, C.K. (2002) Positioning gender identity in narratives of infertility: South Indian women’s lives in context. In: M. Inhorn and F. van Balen (eds.) Infertility around the Globe: New Thinking On Childlessness, Gender and Reproductive Technologies. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 152–170.Google Scholar
  51. Roberts, E.F.S (2012) God’s Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  52. Savulescu, J. (1999) Sex selection: The case for. Medical Journal of Australia 171:373–375.Google Scholar
  53. Seavilleklein, V. and Sherwin, S. (2007) The myth of the gendered chromosome: Sex selection and the social interest. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 16(1): 7–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sen, A. (1990) More than 100 million women are missing. New York Review of Books 37(20): 61–66.Google Scholar
  55. Sleeboom-Faulkner, M. (2010) Reproductive technologies and the quality of offspring in Asia: Reproductive pioneering and moral pragmatism? Culture, Health & Sexuality 12(2): 139–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sobo, E.J., Herlihy, E. and Bicker, M. (2011) Selling medical travel to US patient-consumers: The cultural appeal of website marketing messages. Anthropology & Medicine 18(1): 119–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Speier, A.R. (2011) Brokers, consumers and the Internet: How North American consumers navigate their infertility journeys. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 23: 592–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Strathern, M. (1992) After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Thompson, C. (2005) Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies. MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  60. Turkmendag, I. (2012) Home and away: The Turkish ban on donor conception. Law, Innovation and Technology 4(2): 144–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Unal, D. and Cindoğlu, D. (2013) Reproductive citizenship in Turkey: Abortion chronicles. Women’s Studies International Forum 38: 21–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Underberg, N.M. and Zorn, E. (2013) Digital Ethnography: Anthropology, Narrative, and New Media. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  63. Urman, B. and Yakin, K. (2010) New Turkish legislation on assisted reproductive techniques and centres: A step in the right direction? Reproductive Biomedicine Online 21: 729–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. van Balen, F. and Inhorn, M. (2003) Son preference, sex selection, and the ‘new’ new reproductive technologies. International Journal of Health Services 33(2): 235–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Whittaker, A.M. (2012) Gender disappointment and cross-border high-tech sex selection: A new global sex trade. In: L. Manderson (ed.) Technologies of Sexuality, Identity and Sexual Health. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 143–164.Google Scholar
  66. Whittaker, A.M. (2011) Reproduction opportunists in the new global sex trade: PGD and non-medical sex selection. Reproductive BioMedicine Online 23: 609–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Yelsalı-Parmaksız, P.M. (2012) Digital opportunities for social transition: Blogosphere and motherhood in Turkey. Fe Dergi 4(1): 123–134. (Available at

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations