After posting on some new research that suggests we are more sexually fluid than we typically assume – in other words, our strict sexual categories are largely cultural – I got a fascinating email from a reader:
I thought you may find my own experience, having lived in both eastern and western societies, interesting. I was born and lived the first 18 years of my life in Iran, and have been in the States for the last 21 years. Although Iran is an extremely conservative and mostly religious society; social and sexual norms are not what one may expect them to be in a muslim society (or at least in Iran).
Most people assume that in Iran, a very macho and conservative society, homosexuality is very rare. In fact, the opposite is true, but with a very different picture. Since contact between opposite sexes is extremely limited, and forbidden (in fact, since the revolution, the religious police routinely stop couples on the street to check if they are either married or related; and if they can’t prove that they are , they will be arrested), and also because girls are expected to be virgins when getting married, many young male teenagers, during and after puberty, often sexually experiment with other male teenagers. This, of course, is never acknowledged, and almost always stops when one is 17 or 18, or gets married.
Most of my friends are surprised when I tell them of this, because after all western societies are assumed to be more tolerant of homosexuality. And of course this is true, since as a gay man, if I were in Iran, I could be prosecuted and sentenced to death by stoning (Islamic punishment for male homosexuality), but I think sexual experimenting among male teenagers is far more prevalent in eastern cultures that it is here. This, I think, proves your point about human sexual fluidity. And you know, they do not think of themselves as “gay”, and almost always stop when they are no longer teenagers. The other bizarre cultural thing there (and here I digress) is that the top sexual partners do not consider themselves to be “gay”; only the “bottom” position in male homosexual activity is considered “gay”, although for the most part their sexual activity is limited to mutual masturbation. (I do apologize if I am being too explicit, but I have always found this distinction odd.) I have since talked to other middle-eastern immigrants (from Turkey, and Syria) and they said that they witnessed the same thing during their teenage years.
I thank the reader for the informed comment.