Leyla Gulcur on Multicultural and Cross-cultural Relationship & Sex Therapy – Smart Sex, Smart Love

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On this episode, Joe’s chatting about multicultural and cross-cultural relationship and sex therapy, with Dr. Leyla Gulcur.

Leyla is a licensed psychologist trained in the United States and provides multicultural sex and relationship therapy to culturally diverse clients around the globe. She has lived, worked, and traveled extensively in North America, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Leyla is originally from Turkey and conducts sessions in both English and Turkish.

In addition to her clinical practice, Leyla has worked to strengthen sexual rights worldwide, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. She is the co-founder of the Turkish NGO Women for Women’s Human Rights.  Leyla believes therapists need to be explicit about the role their own cultural background plays in the therapy they give. “Therapists really need to be explicit about that,” says Leyla, “Otherwise it can prevent you serving your client well.”

Find Leyla at:
Website 

Speaker 1:

Welcome to smart sex. Smart love we’re talking about sex goes beyond the taboos and talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. I’m dr. Joe court. Thanks for tuning in 

Speaker 3:

and welcome back to smart sex. Smart love. Thanks for everyone for tuning in. This will be my last show of the season. Um, this is season one, but I look forward to chatting with more fabulous guests. We’re talking about sex goes beyond the taboo and talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. We’ll be back in the fall. I’m going out with a bang this time with today, I’m chatting about multicultural and cross cultural relationship and sex therapy with my guest, dr. Layla culture, Layla is a licensed psychologist trained in the United States and provides a multicultural sex and relationship therapy to culturally diverse clients around the globe. She has lived, worked and traveled extensively in North America, Europe, the middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Layla is originally from Turkey and conduct sessions in both English and Turkish. In addition to her clinical practice lately has worked to strengthen sexual rights worldwide, particularly in Asia and the middle East. She is the cofounder of the Turkish N G O women for women’s human rights. Welcome Layla. 

Speaker 4:

Hmm. 

Speaker 5:

Thank you, Joe. I just had to unmute myself. Thank you so much for having me here. 

Speaker 3:

Oh yeah, no problem. And, um, so it’s, it’s kinda nice having you as the final guest of the season, because this is a really current and important topic. And, um, you know, you’ve been doing this for way before it was in, um, what’s the word, uh, that it was, what’s the word when it’s in, you know, it’s in to be doing this and everybody has begun, um, understanding the intersectional identities and multicultural. So it’s, it’s good to have somebody well-seasoned and in doing this. 

Speaker 5:

Yeah. Thank you. I think a lot of it is because of my own personal background. I grew up, um, internationally I’m, what’s considered a, what’s called a third culture kid. And, uh, so I grew up from the age of five months up until now in many different countries of the world. So it’s sort of in my blood. 

Speaker 3:

That’s great. It’s in your blood and it’s in your work. So let’s, let’s start with the basic, right. So people are tuning in and they’re going to want to know what are we talking about? What’s multicultural sex and relationship therapy. Can you define it? 

Speaker 5:

Yes, I can. So, um, it’s, um, it’s actually not very easy to define, but the way in and different people define it in different ways, but, uh, the way that I use multicultural therapy is taking into consideration the, um, sort of the different components of what makes a cultural background. It’s not just culture, it’s class, race, ethnicity, gender identity, expression, sexual orientation, uh, spiritual diversity, and taking into account the, the, the background of my clients and the idea that you can actually have more than one cultural identity. So I work a lot with clients who are either themselves multicultural or by cultural, they’re a product of two different cultures and or couples who, uh, where one person comes from one culture and the other person comes from another culture. So the main goal of working from a multicultural therapeutic framework is to acknowledge and, uh, be explicit and highlight and work with, with, um, with these cultural backdrops, so to speak. And how do they show up in sex and relationships? 

Speaker 3:

So what kinds of issues do you see in these couples when they come to your office? 

Speaker 5:

Uh, well, uh, there’s a million of them. So from a couple’s perspective, what ends up happening is that if, if I’m working with couples who are either, um, by cultural or multicultural themselves, or more frequently, where one, one person is from one culture and the other person is from another culture, there are times when, um, the relationship communication and the sexual communication, um, uh, are out of sync. So for example, I’ll give you one example, uh, what happens very frequently with, with, um, intercultural couples, where one couple comes from a cultural background where sexist talked about, uh, and the other couple, and the other person comes from our cultural background where sex was not talked about when they were growing up, uh, in this, in the bedroom. Uh, oftentimes there is not a lot of communication that comes from the person who never learned how to talk about sex. So for some people they didn’t even have a word for, um, genitalia for Volvos or penises, you know, it was either down there or, um, I know in Turkish, for example, we, we use these really childish names like Google and PP, uh, and then sometimes, and then sometimes there’s actually no words whatsoever. So it, it becomes very, um, very much of a barrier to healthy sexuality and healthy sexual communication at times. 

Speaker 3:

So really in a way that that’s not as unusual as it is here in the United States where people can come from different cultures and right here, and always been raised here or different religions and have different ways of, or not lack of ways of talking about sex. Is that correct? 

Speaker 5:

Uh, sorry. I didn’t understand what you meant. Say that again. 

Speaker 3:

Well, like you’re saying, so they may come from different nationalities, different cultures. And so, um, one might not be able to talk about sex and not know how to do it, or have not the right words, whereas someone else might, but what we see that here in the United 

Speaker 5:

yes, yes, yes. It’s absolutely. So I don’t necessarily make a distinction between, um, countries versus the United States, the same multicultural issues or multicultural or intercultural differences or challenges may show up here with couples in the United States as well. But it’s really a matter of what background you come from, what was discussed in your family of origin and, uh, and how you, how you bring that into your relationship, regardless of whether you’re, um, uh, an American citizen, who’s white versus an American citizen who comes from a South Asian background or an American citizen who comes from another background, 

Speaker 3:

that’s helpful. What do you think, um, therapists don’t know that you teach therapists about working in this area? You know, like what, what are the common things that therapists misunderstand? 

Speaker 5:

Well? Um, I think probably the, the biggest issue that I have to work with with a therapist, and this is somewhat controversial. I’m part of several therapist groups, both in-person as well as on Facebook. And one of the bigger, bigger controversies is, uh, what role does the therapist’s own cultural background and ideology play in the therapy that they do. And I think this is a very, very important issue, uh, because some therapists say you shouldn’t be bringing in your cultural background and your preferences and your, um, ideologies into the therapy session. I’m one of those, uh, therapists who does not believe that. I think that it’s very important to be explicit about where I come from, what my values are, uh, because if I’m not explicit about those, I may not necessarily be able to serve people who are come from a very different perspective. 

Speaker 5:

So for example, I come from a feminist perspective. I spent a lot of my professional life working in the international women’s rights area for many, many years, especially sexual rights. So I may not be able to serve, uh, let’s say a heterosexual couple who comes in where, uh, the idea is that the woman shouldn’t speak or the woman shouldn’t, um, express her sexual needs. Right? So, uh, if I worked actually have a couple who comes to me, uh, with that in mind, I would have to be very explicit about where I come from and then let them decide whether they want to go with that or not. Right. And it’s a bit of a controversial thing, a stance to take. 

Speaker 3:

I’m so supportive of what, what your stance is because people said that to me, as a gay therapist in the nineties, you know, you should leave that out. Nobody talks about that. You know, that’s your issue, not their issue. And yet, um, I always said, if you’re heterosexual, it’s already out into the room, it’s already assumed it’s aligned. You’re when your wedding rings, sometimes therapists have pictures of their partners and children on the, on the, so it was already out there. And you think it’s just that they’re, it’s their discomfort or their lack of understanding. Right? 

Speaker 5:

Well, it is. But I think, and I don’t know, I think different, different professions have different ethical guidelines, right. And, um, and there is sort of an expectation of objective, not objectivity, but, um, uh, being able to be empathic, right, as a therapist and to support people wherever they are. Um, but I think there’s limits to that. So if there’s racism in the therapy session, or if there’s sexism or, um, uh, homophobia in the therapy session, and this is coming from a particular cultural framework, uh, that, that either the individual client or the couple, you know, the couple might be struggling with this as well, right? Like with heterosexual couples, it’s very often the sexism and it’s not talked about, uh, then it’s a bit of a, it’s a bit of a balancing act between being empathic and supportive and also addressing these structural inequalities that do come from culture. Right. They’re systemic. And they get internalized into individuals. 

Speaker 3:

Yes. Yeah. That makes sense. Can you talk about, you know, your work includes sexual migration and sexual acculturation and how does multicultural sex and relationship therapy address that? 

Speaker 5:

Yes. So, um, I work a lot with, um, well, two sort of two groups of people who have migrated. One is LGBTQ, um, individuals who’ve migrated from more restrictive countries to the United States. And I also work with heterosexual women who’ve migrated, um, from more restrictive, sexually restricted countries to the United States. So to give an example, um, I, I work a lot with women who are either from the middle East or South Asia who have explicitly part of their decision to migrate to either the United States or to Europe has been because they experienced sexual oppression in their countries of origin. So for example, in the middle East, uh, virginity premarital virginity is, um, is a, is a very strong cultural norm, even, even with who don’t agree with it. But there’s a, there’s a lot of external pressure to be a Virgin until you get married. And regardless of whether women abide by that or not in their country of origin, a lot of the women that I’ve talked to who have migrated to the United States have told me that explicitly one of the reasons was so that they could escape, escape. Some of that pressure. 

Speaker 5:

Now they may carry that pressure with them, which is what we talk about in the therapy sessions, try to unravel it. But so sexual migration and LGBTQ individuals also, it’s a different kind of pressure, right? It’s the homophobia pressure. And so, so a lot of LGBTQ individuals that I’ve talked with from, again, those countries have said that, that, uh, you know, a large port part of the reason why they decided to migrate to the United States or Europe is to escape that pressure. 

Speaker 3:

Now, what do you think? I don’t know if you have a thought about this, but it boggles my mind. I talk with people that live in Saudi Arabia that live in Iraq that live in places where it’s a crime to, um, identify or be, you know, uh, have homosexual behavior. You can be prosecuted in some of these countries you can be killed. Um, and when you talk to people who live there, they say, no, that’s not how it is here. I know people think that, but that’s not true. But then you read about it in the news and you know, it’s true. Why do people, it seems like people have a denial around it. 

Speaker 5:

Yeah. I don’t know. Cause most of the people that I know, um, like let’s say the community of people that I hang out with in Turkey, that denial is not there. So I’m not so sure who those people are. Um, 

Speaker 3:

yeah, it’s bizarre. I mean, maybe they’re separated, you know, um, the kind of clients I get may have a higher socioeconomic status, so they’re removed from it. I don’t know. But I mean, I can not begin to tell you how many people say no, that’s just not true. It’s media driven. And I own other words that there is no homosexuality, no, no, I’m sorry. No crime, no criminal acts against them. You know, they can not like to work in 20 countries in this world. You can be euthanized or castrated simply for being homosexual. And Saudi Arabia, I think is one of them Iraq I know is one of them is Turkey. I don’t know. 

Speaker 5:

Uh, I think legally in Turk and again, uh, you know, don’t quote me on this, but I think there is no legal, um, ramifications. In other words, illegally, there’s nothing against homophobia. I mean, uh, against homosexuality, but having said that, uh, there are a lot of, uh, trans people who’ve been killed and yes, uh, uh, LGBTQ people get harassed and discriminated against all the time. So whether there are laws or not, I don’t think is the issue. It’s what happens to your experience living in society. And that’s part of also the sexual migration experience and the second piece of it, which is the sexual acculturation experience, I think is also important to bring up here, which is, um, a culturation doesn’t happen in a linear fashion. So even if people are, let’s say escaping more sexually restrictive practices in a country of origin and then moving into Europe or the United States, that doesn’t mean that they’re, that they’re giving up their culture of origin. 

Speaker 5:

It doesn’t mean that there’s the culture of origin is all bad because we also have to take into consideration this idea of, uh, cultural colonialism, and then seeing the U S and Europe as being perfect versus, you know, these other countries as being horrible. Um, it’s not black and white like that. So there are things that people do to acculturate sexually where, uh, they pick and choose the things that work for them. So for example, in the United States, um, the high level of individualism may not work for somebody who needs a community. You know, so, uh, for example, in Turkey, uh, people, people are kind of more spontaneously together. I’ll give you an example of, um, uh, sort of heterosexual sexuality here. Uh, there’s no, for example, even if you are having sex or hookup sex or casual sex with somebody in the Turkish context, very often, the next day you will hang out and have breakfast together. 

Speaker 5:

Uh, so I had, I had talked about how, uh, sexual acculturation isn’t linear and that you get to, like in sexual acculturation, you get to pick and choose the pieces of your original culture that you want to bring with you into wherever you’re going, and then whatever pieces you want to adopt from the culture that you’re going to or reject. Right. So I was talking about how in casual hookup sex in the United States, that there’s generally an expectation that the next day you don’t hang out or you don’t spend the day together, right? Because, um, hookups and X means you just go away and then don’t really talk to the other person again, whereas, um, in a country like Turkey or another middle Eastern country, if, if you are having casual hookup sex, which most people don’t, uh, there is still more of a convivial together, let’s be together the next day, right? 

Speaker 5:

Let’s have breakfast the next day. And then we’ll say goodbye to each other, or let’s hang out the next day a little bit, and then we’ll say goodbye to each other. So really that’s the struggle that people have is, you know, how far away do they want to go from the world they came from and the country they came from and the values and how much do they want to assimilate into the United States kind of culture? Is that right? I’m not exactly. It’s not a, an either or thing. So it’s really more about which pieces of my original culture worked for me that I want to keep and which pieces of the new culture work for me that I want to keep. And then which pieces that don’t work for me in both cultures, do I want to not keep and that’s how I was sexually acculturated. 

Speaker 5:

Okay. So what are the, like the top three things people struggle with? Like, I know the LGBTQ that makes sense. And then you send heterosexual women, what do they, what are the top issues that they struggle with? So, um, especially, uh, for women, um, coming from the middle East, one of the top issues is the sexual controls that they have, um, had to grow up with where, uh, virginity really is a signifier of, um, the woman’s honor, the family’s honor, the community honor. And so there’s a lot of, uh, there’s a lot of pressure on an individual heterosexual woman from the middle East to carry that honor by being a Virgin, whether she is or not like a lot of women reject it, they, they rebel against it, but that pressure is still there. And the shaming that goes on is still there. If, uh, if it turns out that you, you know, people find out that you’re not a Virgin, so that’s one, one piece that a women’s struggle with. 

Speaker 5:

Um, another piece I think is, um, and this is probably related, there are, the vaginismus is much higher in, um, um, women, heterosexual women from the middle East than in other parts of the world. And, um, the, you know, the sort of the explanation or the, the hypothesis is that it’s related to this, this cultural pressure to be a Virgin, as it shows up in the body. Right. It’s so matter sized. And when you say vaginismus up for people that know what’s vaginal pain during intercourse, or any kind of penetration yes. Any kind of penetration is either impossible or it’s extremely painful. Yeah. So then, um, how do you help them? What advice do you give them? Uh, well, it has to be multimodal, right? So, uh, so part of, part of it is the talking the talk therapy piece, which is talking about how, uh, sort of the external pressure of having to be a Virgin, um, and how that has showed up in the anxiety or the sort of discomfort, um, for, you know, for the woman, the client, but also to, uh, work at it at the somatic level. 

Speaker 5:

Now in the United States, the treatment for vaginismus includes things like dilators, you know, vaginal dilators. So that includes penetration or pelvic floor massage women who come from the middle East might not want to have people insert their fingers into their vagina to mush and massage them. Right. So dilators and pelvic massage may not work for a woman who’s dealing with the, uh, the pressure of virginity or, or, um, you know, insertion, the idea of insertion. It’s not even, it, it, it gets translated from virginity into fear of insertion. So, so you can’t necessarily always work with a woman, uh, the same way you would work with somebody from the United States, uh, where insertion may not be an issue. So in those instances, um, I might use other somatic methodologies. So I use, um, uh, a technique that is, comes from Eugene gambling called focusing where you really focus on, um, where the fear is, how it shows up in your body. 

Speaker 5:

And oftentimes it’s in the genital area, right? So there’s a somatic visualization exercise that, that I, I go through with, uh, with women, I will also use, um, uh, sort of like a narrative analysis to get to core beliefs that have to do with the fear itself. So what happens, um, if you’re not a Virgin and then you go down and go down and you go down and really, it usually comes down to a very existential place of being completely alone, rejected and alone, right. Ostracized rejected and not alone. And the emotional, um, um, awareness of that, uh, creates changes in the insights. So I work both at the mental level as well as the some magic level. And the other piece that I bring in is, um, I, I, I’m trained also as a Tai Chi teacher and a medical chigong therapist. So I bring in some Chinese, um, traditional Chinese methodologies into it, their exercises, both breeding as well as physical exercises that you can do, uh, that don’t require insertion, right. 

Speaker 5:

Uh, that are geared towards women, that I will teach women. And they can do those at home as well. So, LGBTQ, for sure you talked about the issues, heterosexual women. Are there any issues that you see amongst heterosexual men, uh, in general, it, the, the issues with the heterosexual men that, that I work with, that come up, uh, with, um, with either intercultural couples or individual men themselves, is really the idea of sort of socializing or resocialize using to think about sex as not being like a masters and Johnson, linear type of sex, where you, you know, the expectation is you get aroused, you get an erection, uh, you have an orgasm, and then you kind of go to sleep and snore, right? And the idea is, is to move away from an orgasm focus and a penetration focus to, uh, what, what is called more sex, uh, circular sexuality, Rosemary, Besson, and Lewin. 

Speaker 5:

Talk about it this way, which is much more feminine centric. And you don’t have to start from a place of arousal. You can start from a place of willingness. You can start from a place of, uh, non orgasmic pleasure, whether the orgasm happens or not is kind of incidental. So, so that the idea is to become open to not just having a goal orientation, but I don’t necessarily think that this is just a cultural issue because I think, um, heterosexual us men, right. Have similar. Yeah, exactly. So it’s much more of a patriarchal issue rather than a, you know, universal sort of masculine heterosexual issue that a cultural issue. I mean, some, some things cut across all cultures 

Speaker 3:

and this might be my own stereotype and bias. So call me on it if it is. But I would think though that it would be harder to get men and other countries on board with that more feminine way of being sexual than it is for the men here. It’s hard enough here, but I would think even more so from men, like from Turkey or Iraq or Saudi Arabia, 

Speaker 5:

uh, it, it depends, again, it depends on the socialization. So if, if, um, uh, there are, there are a lot of men who self identify even in, you know, in Turkey as feminists, right? So it’s much easier to work with a man who is more progressive, more liberal, you know, to sort of re socialize. But yes, if you’re working with somebody who is from a rural area, uh, and who has not been exposed to, you know, sort of different ideas, it really depends on how rigid the gender role expectations are. And, and, and again, I don’t know if that’s just like, it’s not necessarily cultural because I don’t know if you were to go, I don’t have a lot of experience with rural America, but, uh, I, because I live in, you know, I’m, I’m, you know, I work with people in New York, mostly in the United States. Uh I’m I’m assuming that you would get the same rigidity possibly, and this might be my bias, you know, correct me if I’m wrong. This might be my bias. Right. Where, um, if you grow up in a very homogenous community, you may not be willing to look at other ways of having sex. 

Speaker 3:

Yes. That makes sense too. All right. Well, how can people find you if they want to learn more from you or know more about you? 

Speaker 5:

Um, they can go to my website, which is my first name, last name.com. So they look [inaudible] dot com and, um, and I’m also on psychology today. And, uh, they can also find me through my NYU website. I also teach at NYU if they just Google my name, I think, um, I think I might be like one of the only two with my name 

Speaker 3:

and the whole world. It’s a very rare name. So if they Google me, they’ll find me. Okay. All right. Well, thank you, Layla. Thank you so much, really for being on the show. And I’d like to thank everybody for listening. We’ve had a really great first season. We did a ton of shows and I can’t wait to get back recording into season two in the fall. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Twitter at dr. Joe Kort, D R J O E K O R T. And please rate, review and subscribe to my podcast over the summer. You can catch up on any of my episodes that you’ve missed at smart sex, smart love.com. See you next season, have a safe and healthy summer. 

Speaker 1:

Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex, smart love. I’m dr. Joe court, and you can find me on Joe court.

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