“On those nights when you feel like being intimate with your husband and you want to arouse him, why not wear a skirt with slits up the side, so that, when you walk, he will see the back of your knees? He will definitely be aroused. Or, wear a short skirt so that he can see your legs; that will get him excited. Then, when you sit in front of him, cross your legs.”
These are the words of controversial cleric Hossein Dehnavi, an “expert” in family affairs in one of his many lectures. Most recently, he addressed an all-woman audience at Qom’s Noor Cultural Center. In Qom, Dehnavi — who also goes by the official title of Hojatoleslam (“Authority on Islam”) — outlined the steps women should take to sexually satisfy their husbands. Most of the women in the audience wore chadors; many took notes.
“Those who have pale skin should wear black underwear,” he told one crowd. “And those with darker or bronze skin should wear white underwear to arouse their husbands. Make sure your husband can see your underwear,” he advised. He also reminded them that the most attractive parts of a woman were her armpits and her chest.
But he warned them against having sex too much. “Of course,” he said, “only twice a week, not every day. Otherwise the man will become saturated.”
The 53-year-old ayatollah, a native of the northwestern city of Nishapur, studied religious jurisprudence and education at the seminary in Qom, Iran’s holiest city. He has been married for 30 years and has two children, a son and a daughter. He is well known for his speeches, which combine Shiite religious narrative with literary proverbs and popular jokes.
A TV Celebrity with a Difference
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) outlets regularly air Dehnavi’s speeches on education, marriage, sex, childrearing and pregnancy, as do a number of hardliner websites.
Dehnavi started addressing television audiences about these issues in 2008. At first, he presented himself as a specialist in child education, childrearing and how to deal with adolescents. Even then, when talking about teenagers, he paid particular attention to sexual matters. A question and answer session formed part of his lecture series: the 160 questions were also published in book form, and an accompanying video is available for purchase online.
“Dear mothers, embrace your son until he is seven years old,” Dehnavi advises in one of the lectures. “After that, you can caress his hand, kiss him and let him lean his head on your breasts, but do not embrace him. Avoid full contact because, after the age of seven, sexual instincts start to emerge. I also advise fathers not to embrace their daughters after the age of seven.”
Following the televised lectures, Hojatoleslam Dehnavi launched a successful marriage counseling television show, “Petals,” which was broadcast every Thursday. His marriage advice with a religious twist was also collected in a three-volume series of books.
He offered advice on how to select a wife, and how to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage. Later, he moved on to marital sex and sexual relations.
IRIB was happy with Dehnavi’s television output, but it was not the only one: officials close to Ahmadinejad’s administration were fans too. The Minister of Health at the time, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, honored Dehnavi with a “Better Health” award for his television work.
Though some pre-marriage counseling courses offer sex advice to young couples, generally the topic is off-limits. And, when it comes to television, it is taboo. But Dehnavi has rarely offended hardliners, always treading carefully when discussing the taboos of Iranian society — and consistently linking his advice with Islamic teaching.
Popular — But Not Everyone is a Fan
Dehnavi’s willingness to discuss controversial subjects has made him extremely popular: he is regularly invited to be a guest speaker at universities and at municipal events.
But he is controversial — and not just because of his comments regarding sex. In one video published on YouTube, he announced, “non-Muslims have more strokes because strokes normally happen at dawn, when Muslims do their morning prayers.” In another, he asserted that “women incorrectly wearing the hejab leads to homosexuality among men,“ “bad hejab makes women ugly,” and that “people from different nationalities must never marry each other.” He has also claimed that women are generally aroused when they read the Koran chapter on Joseph. Critics point out that his advice is primarily based on anecdotal evidence and popular pre-conceptions.
When he is criticized, he is often accused of being a misogynist. “Contrary to some advice,” he declared in one lecture, “it is not necessary that in every sexual act the woman should reach orgasm. No. This is false. Sometimes the woman likes to engage in the act even though she is not aroused and does not reach orgasm. But she still enjoys it because she is fulfilling her partner’s needs.”
Dehnavi has repeatedly advised women to never reject a husband’s sexual advances. “The Prophet Muhammad has said that women must respond to men even if they are riding a camel,” he said in one recorded lecture. “Of course, some of you might want to point out that there are no camels in the city. My answer is: forget about the camel — you have cars!”
To attend one of Dehnavi’s talks around the country, couples pay 20,000 tomans (around $7.50). Speaking about his most recent lecture, “The Art of Making Love,” held at the Noor Cultural Center in Qom, he said, “I emphasize that only married people be present, not teenagers. I must add that our goal is not to promote promiscuity. We felt it was our duty. A 53-year-old cleric with a 29-year old daughter can’t have bad intentions. I have two grandchildren and I have no intention of promoting promiscuity. My goal is to elevate religious culture and the quality of life.”
Promoting a Baby Boom
In recent years, Iran’s Shia clerics have paid more attention to the concept of “quality of life,” stemming from a speech given by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei three years ago. Khamenei raised the importance of marriage in Iranian society, and said that there must be proper guidance, or divorce numbers would increase. Dehnavi has taken it further, suggesting that the government make it easier to get married, something that will be of interest to the regime, which has called for measures to be taken to boost population growth.
Despite this, clerics have avoided talking about it in too much detail — apart from Hossein Dehnavi, who is defiant when challenged. “They tell me that I should be ashamed of myself,” he told his Qom audience. “What is shameful about what I say? These are the words of the religion and the prophet and I discuss them with good intentions. God, you are my witness that our goal is to elevate the quality of life for married people in this country.”
Dehnavi has expressed even loftier goals for improving quality of life. He argues that, until all Muslims adopt a lifestyle more in line with the 12th Imam, Mohammad al-Mahdi, the Imam will not re-emerge to bring peace and justice to the world, as Shias believe he will. Promoting this lifestyle has been central to seminary teaching in Iran for at least a decade. And though Dehnavi’s philosophy seems complicated, he suggests, it is simple. Perfecting the art of lovemaking leads to bigger families with strong Shia values and, ultimately, peace on earth.