National Awareness Day

In 2013, 27-year-old Narges Dorratoltaj was sitting in an infectious diseases class at Virginia Tech. Just as the syllabus dictated, her professor began to talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Unlike her fellow students, however, Dorratoltaj’s expression changed to one of confusion. She had never heard of chlamydia, gonorrhea, or any of the other infections mentioned.

Dorratoltaj’s childhood friend, Yassi Ashki, had a similar experience. Despite coming to the U.S. six years before her, Ashki was flustered by STDs and sex education, surprised to see how open her new American school was. Just a few days after starting Indiana University, Ashki noticed shelves filled with STD brochures and a basket full of condoms in the health center. She hurriedly picked up as many brochures as she could, eager to read and learn.

Both women had moved to the U.S. from the Iranian capital of Tehran. Both were in their twenties. Both came from well-educated families. So why were they so clueless when it came to their own sexual health? 

Despite pursuing an effective birth control program for over two decades, sex and discussing it in Iran is seen as a taboo topic, to be learnt about after marriage. The younger generation, however, is flouting the premarital sex law. A 2007 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health surveyed over 1000 Iranian boys between the ages of 15 and 18 and found that 28 percent reported sexual experiences outside of marriage; 68 percent admitted to not using condoms and/or having multiple sexual partners.

And women are suffering from this as well: Hundreds of adolescent girls and adults in Iran were interviewed in 2012 for a paper published in BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, citing reasons like government reluctance, parental embarrassment, and negative attitudes plus a lack of confidentiality from health providers.