It’s Friday. In Tehran, young urbanites are gearing up for the weekend. In the city’s affluent neighborhoods, friends and family of the elite gather behind the relative privacy of four walls to socialize, drink, and let their hair down. Persian hip-hop thumps house speakers, and alcohol smuggled through Armenian dealers is poured into the glasses of high-heeled women while they twist their hips against promising dance partners.
This is not the Iran known to outsiders. Though the pages of the Persian experience are often studded with seditious acts of sexual decadence, the cover is stark and foreboding. In the streets, under towering murals of Ayatollahs, the morality police known as Basiji patrol to ensure that women wear the hijab, to prevent male-female interactions, and to arrest those that do not adhere to strict sharia law. Alcohol and drugs are banned. Pre-marital sex will earn you a flogging, and homosexual activity can lead to a death sentence.
But now that the baby-boomers born from the life-lust in the wake of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s have reached adulthood, the Westoxification of the Islamic Republic of Iran has become undeniable, even to the Iranian government. In the past, Iranian authorities have reached stellar heights of conservative denial – rivaling the repulse of wispy WASPs of the West any day of the week. Most famously Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was President of Iran until 2013, told a Columbia University audience, “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.”
Apparently Ahmadinejad wasn’t invited to the party. In August 2014, Iran’s parliamentary research department released an 82-page report that was surprisingly frank about the kind of sex Iranians are having. Despite the fact that unsanctioned sex can get you jail time or worse, the study of 142,000 college students found that 80 percent of single women had a boyfriend. It also reported that 17 percent of the students polled identify as homosexual. That’s a quite a bit higher than the percentage of LGB individuals in the United States reported by UCLA – about 3.5 percent - but that isn’t exactly surprising.
What is surprising about the report are the suggestions from the parliamentary bloc for how to handle the boundless hedonism taking place behind the closed doors of the 20 to 30-somethings that make up 60% of Iran’s population. Fatwas against masturbation don’t seem to be making any progress toward getting Iranians to have the right kind of sex. Making sure children are born within the construct of a marriage is a Really Big Deal for Muslims. A tenant not uncharacteristic of major religions.
Acting as systematic loophole for chastity, the researchers suggested couple’s “should be allowed publically to register their union by using sigheh, an ancient practice in Shia Islam that lets people marry temporarily,” according to Economist.com. The temporary marriages can last from a few minutes to years, and don’t count toward the four wives Iranian men are allowed to have. It may not worth signing up just for an hour fling, however. Once the temporary marriage has ended, the participants have to wait four months before they engage in another sigheh. But just in case someone had the need to visit a “chastity house,” for an afternoon delight just a small recitation of the Koran will absolve you of any sin.
It’s like saying Hail Marys only with prostitutes instead of a priest.
The problem with laying the smack down on Iranians is that they actually need people to have sex. The country’s population has stagnated. Women, who are getting university degrees at a higher rate than men in Iran, are choosing to have children later or not at all. Men, affected by an economy being drained by warfare, are less able to provide for a potential family. It’s enough of an issue that the parliament voted to ban vasectomies and permanent contraception in August 2014.
Or, following the trend of young people around the world, they are just spending more time being young. Lights flicker long into the night in Tehran. Sweet smoke curls the ceiling, and spirits flow through painted lips. Hospitality and tenacity are not to be undone, no matter the cost. No matter how deep the delusion of chastity goes.