Upon arrival at the property, she heard techno music coming from a bathhouse. When her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, she saw “forty or so young people present, all naked or in undergarments, kissing, touching, dancing, and some having oral, anal, and vaginal sex.” She watched groups of men and women “engaging in sexual acts with both genders,” until she felt faint from the heat.
She began searching for the friends she had arrived with, who had disappeared into the steam.
Some young adults courted run-ins with the morality police in the name of activism, boredom, or both. Something to get back at them, something to remind ourselves, Hey, we are alive! But although the social and sexual revolution in Iran has brought change, especially in how young people express themselves, Mahdavi asks, if some of the repression dissolved, “would young people still resist this way?When Iranian American anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi first visited Tehran in the summer of 2000, she expected to encounter the Iran she grew up imagining.Her family remembered violence and extremism, and these were the images that stuck: “women clad in black chadors, wailing and whipping themselves,” “black bearded men with heavy hearts and souls,” arranged marriages, and the fierceness of the “morality police.” But while she encountered this repressed side of Iran, she also heard stories of and witnessed signs of what some friends and informants called a sexual or sociocultural revolution. Now the youth are trying to figure out what to do with all these opening doors.” Understandably, young people experience confusion in the face of competing ideals and desires—traditional expectations versus contemporary temptations—and the stakes of personal decisions remain high.“Welcome to the jungle,” a young man said as he greeted her.After stripping off her Islamic dress, including her head scarf and manto, she followed the men further into what felt like “the hanging gardens of Babylon.” Babak squeezed her arm and whispered into her ear, “Take a deep breath, Pardis.” As they walked closer to the swimming pool, she noticed it had been drained of water. With surprise, she realized that “a full-blown orgy was taking place.” As Babak took off his shirt and “started to wade into the group of young people,” Mahdavi perched herself on the diving board, which seemed like a safe place to observe: “I continued to watch as bodies moved from one trio to another.