I wanted to taste the Persian food and see all the familiar faces, but on the street I found that Iran in 2008 wasn't much more relaxed than it had been when I'd fled almost a quarter of a century earlier. Everything I'd begun to take for granted in the West – sex, flirting, masturbating with props in front of Axl Rose backstage at metal shows – seemed forbidden and punishable by imprisonment, torture or death, most probably at the hands of the Komiteh, Iran's morality police.
I'd had a few run-ins with the Komiteh as a child, even though by the time I'd left I was barely into double-figures. Once they decided that too much hair was emerging from under my hijab, and another time I'd been caught showing a bit too much ankle whilst sitting in my parents' car. From 1979 until 1989, during that first decade of the Islamic Revolution, dancing was illegal, women who wore lipstick in public might have had their lips slashed with a razor and wearing nail polish was punishable with lashings.
It's a little less strict now, but you can still get sent to prison for being in the company of the opposite sex if you're not married or related to them. Pre-marital sex can get you hanged. If you cheat on your husband or wife in the Islamic Republic of Iran, you will get stoned to death. Being stoned to death takes about 20 minutes, as you are buried up to your neck in sand and have a massive crowd of people throwing small stones at your head until you die.
With this in mind, it surprised me to learn that Tehran had its own secret community of Smirnoff-drinking, ecstasy-taking, life-risking orgy-goers.
Living under a regime so tyrannical that they straight-up refuse to acknowledge sex exists at all, the youth of Iran are using fucking as a desperate form of defiance. I had only been back in Tehran for 48 hours when I was absorbed into their rebellion.
I was at a cafe with a couple of female friends when I met 19-year-old Nima. He was a rich kid full of breathless energy and a love of fast cars. When he approached me and whispered, "Do you want to come and have some fun at my place?" my immediate reaction was "no", but, winking, he persevered. "Don't worry," he said, "there'll be lots of other guys there too. And a lot of sexy girls… really wild, crazy ones."
Two nights later I watched my girlfriend throw layers and layers of Islamic garb over a low-cut, ass-skimming red dress, before we began the slow drive through the traffic-choked streets of Tehran, avoiding eye contact with any morality police as we headed for the affluence uptown. We'd learned that anyone going to a party always parks their car a few streets away.
As the apartment door opened, our twenty-something female host Setareh warmly greeted us and told us to go inside. They were listening to bloody techno. Bottles of vodka, whiskey, wine and beer lined up on the vast kitchen bar as near-naked girls and boys stumbled in and out of bedrooms. It was a gorgeous apartment with powder-pink and deep rouge velvet curtains, and the floors were dotted with Persian rugs. My girlfriend rushed to the bathroom to apply several layers of makeup.
There were so many drugs doing the rounds – mainly ecstasy, it's like the nineties over there – and when we walked in we saw one girl getting double-penetrated by two guys: one of them had his cock in her ass. As I made my way further into the party, I was confronted with piles of people.
"It's the only way we can live in this quagmire," someone explained to me. "Every day we have to put our heads down and do as they tell us in case we get beaten, arrested or imprisoned. This here," he said, pointing to the ground at his feet, "is how we experience a bit of freedom, a bit of breathing space. Without this, we would die, and we're pissed off enough to take the massive risks."
A few weeks later, I went to another party, at the home of a cleric who was out of town. It was being hosted by the cleric's daughter, which shows you how widespread these parties are. Anyway, as you can imagine it was a big house, and there were about 100-150 people there. There was a big pool that was drained, and people were fucking in it. That night people were taking it in turns, having anal, oral, swapping partners.
As I was eating this girl out, I was very aware that I didn't want to die. I've never had sex thinking I might be executed for it before, but I kind of trusted the hosts, because they were obviously so rich. They lived in expensive apartments with private security and bags full of cash to bribe any official who might show up to the party. So I was kind of like, "Okay, here, it's not that risky," and handed the butler my coat.
Of all the sex parties I went to in Iran, the richer the host, the safer the party. After all, there are no butlers or bribe money for the poor, just orgies in forests and homemade booze – but that's a story for another time…
WORDS: ROXANA SHIRAZI
PHOTO: AZA SHADE