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A group of five men and women huddled together below me.

One couple caught having sex at a party were arrested and forced to marry. ” * Contemporary sex partying is often thought to be linked to the spread of Western values and practices even while taking on local forms and meanings.

When Mahdavi talked with the twenty-two-year old woman involved, the woman explained that she and her new husband were trying to annul the marriage. At times, even the idea that group sex is a Western phenomenon becomes important to participants, adding layers of meaning to the encounters as modern, fashionable, or evil.

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.

“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.

When Iranian American anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi first visited Tehran in the summer of 2000, she expected to encounter the Iran she grew up imagining.