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Here, a woman’s virtue is the cornerstone of life, and local people blame bad hijab and declining morals for everything from high inflation to unemployment.
Women live under constant risk of being branded loose for behaviour as anodyne as laughing too raucously or wearing the colour red.
Tahmineh wears the all-encompassing, black chador because her parents insist on it, and because neighbours in her conservative community gossip about women who choose to wear the headscarf and manteau, the overcoat that is meant to keep curves concealed.
But in Tehran, being a virgin does not mean that Tahmineh has not had sex. Of course I want to have proper sex, but until I know for sure that my boyfriend wants to get married, I can’t risk it.” Before Tahmineh graduated to anal sex, she and her friends were having la-paee (literally, “thigh”) sex, where the man uses a woman’s clenched thighs to orgasm.
Virginity is seen as a marker of decency, of good family stock and morals.
In the narrow, twisting clutch of roads where Tahmineh lives, revealing your hair even to an uncle or a male cousin is not acceptable.
Some shifts in attitude in Tahmineh’s community have been more obvious.
“My mum still whispers the word divorce, as it’s still seen as a shameful thing, but whereas ten years ago she didn’t know anyone who had divorced, now she knows two divorcees,” she says.
It is preoccupied by how and with whom its people are having it.
And they are hungrier than ever for that which is not allowed.
There is a sexual awakening in Tehran, and it is spreading beyond the rich, northern foothills of the city, where the more liberal and secular families live.
Tahmineh believes there are rising numbers of girls like her, who are from religious or traditional families but prepared to experiment sexually before marriage.
“Most girls in my area think that just being in a confined space with a boy is a sin, but my best friend has had la-paee sex, and I know lots of girls from less strict families who are allowed to hang out with boys, but who are still expected to be virgins, so they all have anal sex instead.” This phenomenon is so ubiquitous in Tehran that anal sex has become the butt – pun intended – of many a Tehrani joke.
Government posters warn of the link between immodest dress and dubious morals; find-a-fatwa websites warn of the perils of self-love (everything from psychological damage to wreaking havoc on the nervous system) and offer cures to masturbators (lots of prayer and fasting).