Erotic Republic of Iran

They might have Mahmoud Ahmadinnerjacket in charge but Iran is really experiencing a sexual revolution rather than their ongoing Islamic revolution.

Changing attitudes toward marriage and divorce have coincided with a dramatic shift in the way Iranians approach relationships and sex. According to one study cited by a high-ranking Ministry of Youth official in December 2008, a majority of male respondents admitted having had at least one relationship with someone of the opposite sex before marriage. About 13 percent of those “illicit” relationships, moreover, resulted in unwanted pregnancy and abortion — numbers that, while modest, would have been unthinkable a generation ago. It is little wonder, then, that the Ministry of Youth’s research center has warned that “unhealthy relationships and moral degeneration are the leading causes of divorces among the young Iranian couples.” 

And a booming sex trade:

Meanwhile, the underground sex industry has taken off in the last two decades. In the early 1990s, prostitution existed in most cities and towns — particularly in Tehran — but sex workers were virtually invisible, forced to operate deep underground. Now prostitution is only a wink and a nod away in many towns and cities across the country. Often, sex workers loiter on certain streets, waiting for random clients to pick them up. Ten years ago, Entekhab newspaper claimed that there were close to 85,000 sex workers in Tehran alone.

Again, there are no good countrywide statics on the number of prostitutes — the head of Iran’s state-run Social Welfare Organization recently told the BBC: “Certain statistics have no positive function in society; instead, they have a negative psychological impact. It is better not to talk about them” — but available figures suggest that 10 to 12 percent of Iranian prostitutes are married. This is especially surprising given the severe Islamic punishments meted out for sex outside marriage, particularly for women. More surprisingly still, not all sex workers in Iran are female. A new report confirms that middle-aged wealthy women, as well as young and educated women in search of short-term sexual relationships, are seeking the personal services of male sex workers.

What is the catalyst?

So what is driving Iran’s sexual revolution? There are a number of potential explanations, including economic factors, urbanization, new communication tools, and the emergence of a highly educated female population — all of which are probably partly responsible for changing attitudes toward sex. At the same time, however, most of these factors are at play in other countries in the region that are not experiencing analogous transitions. (Indeed, a wave of social conservatism is sweeping much of the Middle East, while Iran moves in the opposite direction.) So what is different in Iran? Paradoxically, it is the puritanical state — rigid, out of touch, and dedicated to combating “vice” and promoting “virtue” — that seems to be powering Iran’s emergent liberal streak.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that swept Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini into power, the Iranian regime has promoted the idea of collective morality, imposing strict codes of conduct and all but erasing the boundary between private and public spheres. Maintaining the Islamic character of the country has been one of the regime’s main sources of legitimacy, and as such, there is virtually no facet of private life that is not regulated by its interpretation of Islamic law. (Indeed, clerics regularly issue fatwas on the acceptability of intimate — and sometimes extraordinarily unlikely — sexual scenarios.) But 34 years on, Khomeini’s successor has failed to create a utopian society — a fact that lays bare the moral and ideological bankruptcy of a regime that is already struggling with economic and political crises.

This inconvenient truth is not lost on young people in Iran, where changing sexual habits have become a form of passive resistance. In defying the strictures of the state, Iranians are (consciously or subconsciously) calling its legitimacy into question. Meanwhile, the regime’s feeble attempts to counter the seismic shifts currently under way — such as its repeated warnings about the danger posed by “illicit relationships” — only further alienate those it wishes to control. Slowly but surely, Iran’s sexual revolution is exhausting the ideological zeal of a state that is wedded to the farcical notion of a utopian society and based on brittle, fundamentalist principles.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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