The penalty for having sex outside of marriage in Iran is 100 lashes. So men wanting a dalliance or young unmarried couples craving a getaway turn to the legal loophole of “temporary marriages”: contracts of a specific duration—anywhere from 60 minutes to 99 years—and for a specified amount of money. These controversial marriages, traditional in the Shia form of Islam, are promoted by the ayatollahs as a way financially troubled women can make money or, as one delicately explained earlier this year, a way for a young widow to “answer her needs, because if she doesn’t, she will have psychological problems.”
Feminists decry the practice as exploitation of poor women and a form of legalized prostitution that serves only men. Recently, women’s groups fought off an attempt, the second in three years, by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make the marriages even more male-friendly, including giving men legal cover to bypass asking permission for the relationship from their first wives. What is unmistakable is their growing popularity: up by at least 28 per cent last year in Tehran. For young couples who can’t afford to marry, the loophole is only way to be together, and avoid 100 lashes.