BANGKOK, Thailand -- Turkey's first sex shop for devout Muslims has opened for business online, prompting a debate among Turks, Islamists and local media about the role their religion should play in the sale of such items.

The website Bayan describes its aphrodisiacs, creams, condoms, alcohol-free lubricants and other intimate products as safe and "halal" -- which it spells "helal" -- meaning they conform to Islamic traditions.

"Scream Orgasm Cream" sells for 74 Turkish lire (about US $38.00).

"Bella Donna Spanish Fly" is available for 34 lire ($18.00).

"We don't sell vibrators for example, because they are not approved by Islam," said the website's owner, entrepreneur Haluk Murat Demirel, 38, according to Reuters.

"There are also other sections on the website that discuss sexual intercourse in terms of Islam," Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Turkey's Muslim majority are Sunni and the government is constitutionally secular.

"There are relatively few sex shops, even in major cities, although in parts of Istanbul those that do exist advertise themselves with neon signs," Reuters reported.

Products for females accounted for 45 percent of the website's sales after it went online on Oct. 21, Demirel told Turkey's BirGun news.

Demirel said he would not open a shop in the street because customers are usually too nervous or self-conscious to enter.

He said most of the negative reaction to his website came from Turkey's leftist and non-religious groups, while Islamists and other Muslims offered support, BirGun reported.

Tayfun Atay, a columnist for Turkey's liberal Radikal newspaper, "reminded his readers about the importance of sexual fulfillment in Islam but then joked about why some of the products did not have more religious-sounding names," according to Barin Kayaoglu who analyzes the media for Al-Monitor Turkey.

Radikal's columnist "pointed out how the 'halal' sex shop is a continuation of a long procession of 'Islamized' pop culture items," said Kayaoglu, who is a University of Virginia doctorate student and recent Smith Richardson Foundation fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University.

"If we get an 'Islamic reality show,'" wrote Atay, "it’s normal to have a 'halal' sex shop."

Others agreed that Turkey's Muslims were responding to the modern world.

"They made up something called Islamic fashion, then an Islamic fashion show, then an Islamic hotel, then an Islamic holiday, and finally Islamic literature," said Hurriyet newspaper columnist and CNN Turk commentator Ahmet Hakan.

Turkey's pro-democracy Aydinlik newspaper joked how "the toys" are probably "blessed with prayers."

"Despite Turkish society’s conservatism on matters of sex, sexuality, the female body and religion, that no one has threatened the owners of the 'halal' sex store with a lawsuit -- or worse -- is good news," Kayaoglu said.

"Turkey seems to be developing a more tolerant streak toward that which is different."


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)