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Sexual Politics in Modern Iran

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  • Date Published: April 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521727082

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About the Authors
  • Janet Afary is a native of Iran and a leading historian. Her work focuses on gender and sexuality and draws on her experience of growing up in Iran and her involvement with Iranian women of different ages and social strata. These observations, and a wealth of historical documents, form the kernel of this book, which charts the history of the nation's sexual revolution from the nineteenth century to today. What comes across is the extraordinary resilience of the Iranian people, who have drawn on a rich social and cultural heritage to defy the repression and hardship of the Islamist state and its predecessors. It is this resilience, the author concludes, which forms the basis of a sexual revolution taking place in Iran today, one that is promoting reforms in marriage and family laws, and demanding more egalitarian gender and sexual relations.

    • The first book to chart the history of women and sexual relations in Iran across two centuries
    • Personal, first-hand account based on interviews with Iranian women of different ages and from different social strata
    • By one of the leading Iranian scholars in the field
    Read more


    • Winner of the British–Kuwait Friendship Society Prize 2010

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Janet Afary’s Sexual Politics in Modern Iran … meticulously details the historical evolution of gender and sexuality, and of the roles and customs of women and same-sexers, from pre-modern Persia (500 to 1500 AD) right through the sexual revolution that began in Iran seven decades ago … [It] is an invaluable landmark, a signpost on the road to an end of gender discrimination and sexual liberation for all."
    In These Times

    "The East-West battle over gender is brilliantly described by Janet Afary in her groundbreaking survey Sexual Politics in Modern Iran."
    The New York Review of Books

    "Afary does a spectacular job explaining, as well as detailing, sexual attitudes and practices from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Her account gives an excellent feel for how Iranian society works and how that has changed under the impact of modern times. Plus, her detailed research makes the account much more credible than some of the highly readable stories from Iranian-Americans about personal life in modern Iran."
    Foreign Policy

    "Highly recommended."

    "This is a welcome contribution to work on modern sexual politics in Iran … As Afary brilliantly shows, the gender and sexual revolution in Iran is unfinished, unfolding and ultimately unstoppable."
    Against the Current

    "… Afary’s book should be of interest to anyone who is looking for an in-depth overview of discussions about sex in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Iran, and to those who are interested in understanding the pervasive anxiety about the lack of, and desire for, a set of ideals (consent, intimacy, equality) that constitute the normative ground of much contemporary debate about the history, politics, and gender relations of modern Iran."
    Setrag Manoukian, H-Net Reviews (

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521727082
    • length: 444 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.7kg
    • contains: 53 b/w illus. 1 map
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Pre-modern Practices:
    1. Formal marriage
    2. Slave concubinage, temporary marriage, and harem wives
    3. Class, status-defined homosexuality, and rituals of courtship
    Part II. Toward a Westernized Modernity:
    4. On the road to an ethos of monogamous, heterosexual marriage
    5. Redefining purity, unveiling bodies, shifting desires
    6. Imperialist politics, romantic love, and the impasse over women's suffrage
    7. Suffrage, marriage reforms, and the threat of female sexuality
    8. The rise of leftist guerrilla organizations and Islamism
    Part III. Forging an Islamist Modernity and Beyond:
    9. The Islamic revolution, its sexual economy, and the Left
    10. Islamist women and the emergence of Islamic feminism
    11. Birth control, female sexual awakening, and the gay lifestyle
    Conclusion: toward a new Muslim-Iranian sexuality for the twenty-first century.

  • Author

    Janet Afary, Purdue University, Indiana
    Janet Afary is Professor of History and Women's Studies in the Department of History at Purdue University. Her previous publications include The Iranian Constitutional Revolution: Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origins of Feminism (1996) and, with Kevin Anderson, the award-winning Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism (2005).


    • Winner of the British–Kuwait Friendship Society Prize 2010

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