Iranian authorities are waging a war on love. Earlier this month their targets were heart-emblazoned materials promoting Valentine’s Day, a holiday increasingly popular among young Iranians who yearn for some of the basic social freedoms accepted in most western societies.
Then, days ago, a website selling a variety of sex toys including vibrators, lifelike dolls and various anatomically accurate orifices, was shut down for apparently breaking import laws. The site claimed to have the permission of Iran’s health ministry to sell the merchandise, but according to deputy minister Ebrahim Motavelian, “The dignity and values of our society do not permit the distribution of such items in the country.”
Of all the websites blocked inside the Islamic Republic of Iran — and there are many — that this e-commerce site stayed online as long as it did, remains the biggest mystery. The URL (http://hima.totalh.com/) seemed benign enough, but when visitors connected to the site they were met with an online sex toy shop that promised quick and discreet home delivery. Motavelian suggested that the sellers may have been fraudulently doing business as a “registered hygiene and medical equipment company”.
For weeks, online Iranian communities had debated whether or not the site was real, if it was a government-funded trap, and most of all, how it had inexplicably not yet been blocked. The discussions, most of which took place on the site looti.net (its name is Persian for “lewd gentleman”) have since been removed but provided a rare glimpse into the under-trafficked intersection of Iranian sexuality and humour.
“It has to be a con,” accused one forum respondent upon examining the listed prices, “a plastic ass is 65,000 touman while a full doll is only 69,000 [roughly €46 and €49, respectively].”
Another, using honourific language to mock Islamic Republic officials, wrote: “Gentlemen, how can you be at ease? They have imported plastic dicks into the country!”
It turns out the phenomenon is not confined only to Tehran, which is often derided as decadent and morally corrupt by domestic hardliners; a prosecutor in Iran’s holiest city, Mashhad, announced his own seizure of sex toys this month. “The enemies of Islam are targeting Iranian families in order to promote moral corruption in society,” Seyyed Amir Mortazavi declared, as he described dolls with certain indecent poses that had been found within city limits.
While various moral authorities in Iran have already weighed in on the matter of sex toys, apparently the jury is still out amoung legal officials. Another site, billed as an online “marital relations equipment shop”, apparently does have government permission to sell such products. At the time of writing, Teb24 was still open for business.