It's widely known that there's a gigantic sexual health problem in Iran. Sex before marriage is illegal there, so if you're young and single and you go to a doctor with STDs, it's kind of a give away that you've been putting it about. Not only would you be outing yourself as a criminal but the doctor, as a confidant, would then be complicit. I was made acutely aware of Tehran's bad sexual health at the sex parties I attended in Tehran a couple of years ago. I didn't go around smelling peoples' genitals or anything, but because I'd lived in the West for 20 years, the young men and women I met at the orgies felt I was someone they could come to for advice.
It was still pretty ballsy on their parts. Even though we may have shared mutual friends, I was still a stranger. Recently, a man from one of Tehran's poorer communities ratted out his 17-year-old daughter to the authorities. He told them she'd had sex before marriage, and they hanged her from a crane. Nonetheless, the girls who asked me for advice badly needed it. They thought they might get pregnant from swallowing cum, or taking it up the ass, so you can imagine how off-the-radar things like chlamydia or gonorrhea were to them.
This didn't exactly encourage me to "get involved" at the orgies I went to. The few times that I did, I was really wary of the fact that Iranian men don't like using condoms. It shocked me, but to them, if a girl "looked clean" and was from a rich family, they'd assume she'd be alright. It's frightening, and the notion never seemed more absurd to me than when I was surrounded by girls getting gang-banged and sharing multiple partners at these clandestine sex parties.
Sexually, Iran is a very strange country, but then any country would be if its laws were literally interpreted from the bible. The punitive repression warps everything, bends logic out of shape. For example: it's illegal to be gay, so the state pays for homo guys to get sex changes. In this country, sex before marriage is against the law, but you're allowed to get married to a girl who's just nine years old. Unless you can prove that your kid's gonna be born with a dangerous disease, abortions are a no-no, so women are forced towards primitive procedures in back-street clinics that could leave their reproductive systems ruined for life. Even the posters for AIDS prevention in Iran - a drum the West has been beating desperately for 30 years - are just of a man in the sea looking up and praying. That pretty much sums it up. A man, in a lake, holding his hands together and looking up at God in the sky for help.
The prosecutions, like that of the 17-year-old girl I mentioned earlier, happen often in Iran, and they're most common among the poorer communities who are more traditional and religious than the affluent members of society. Why do you get parents selling out their own kids like that? Because when you contradict the laws of the Qu'ran in present-day Iran, you bring massive dishonour and shame upon your family. It's the equivalent of you being in England and your dad being a paedophile. This can fuck a family financially – a father might lose his job, or people might stop doing business with him. Who'd want to buy cabbages off Gary Glitter's dad? It's icky and gross. As such, it's not a weird thing to have your daughter hanged because she dishonoured the family.
In the 70s, in the time of the Shah, the government was willing to talk about sex more, and actively tried to educate the population about sexual health. But even then, it wasn't normal for people to talk to each other about sex – it was messages coming down from the media, film stars, singers. So much has changed in Iran anyway, that even those people who were young at that time, won't talk to their kids or their grandchildren about sex now. Even my parents, who came from really educated and liberal, left-wing families, didn't tell me about the facts of life. Maybe that's why I was a virgin until I was 24.
There are more girls in Tehran who possess the physical qualities of a virgin than there are actual virgins. One of the strangest crazes to have emerged in Iran recently times has been the one for hymenoplasty. This is when girls who've had sex before marriage go to a doctor to get their vaginas sewn up again, so that on their wedding night their new husband will believe them to be "pure". It's so common in Tehran now that there's a long-standing joke among people that some girls should just get zips sewn into their vaginas because they love sex so much. They've even developed this new thing where they sew a capsule filled with red ink into your fresh vagina lining. You take a dick, and boom, there it is: "blood" all over the sheets.
People might be timid to approach a doctor about an itch they don't fully understand or a black market condom vendor, but they're absolutely willing to pay a lot of money to maintain the illusion of their own sexual honour. After all, to get a rich guy, they need it. Iran's rich won't marry anyone who's not a virgin, and people are desperate for money in Iran, especially now, when there are so few jobs around. If they – or their daughter, in parents' cases – can marry into a rich family to get it, trade their sacrosanct vagina for some cash, they're basically set up for life. If you're a poor girl who can't afford hymenoplasties to protect the honour between your legs, you just have to keep taking it up the ass instead.
Previously: SEX IN TEHRAN - A POOR MAN'S FOREST ORGY
Roxana Shirazi is the author of The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage (Harper Collins).