More than 40 percent of respondents in a recent Iran-wide survey admitted to having used prostitutes at least once.
The poll, conducted by Iran Open Data, ran from February 12 to March 11, with 3,407 individuals taking part. The vast majority – 97 percent – were based in urban areas, of whom the largest proportion hailed from Tehran, and 88 percent were male.
Despite religious prohibitions, societal stigma and the threat of legal repercussions, sex workers operate in Iran just as they do the world over – if possibly more covertly. In some parts of Iranian sex before marriage is still frowned upon, meaning more young people may be inclined to use their services.
Little is known about the prevalence of sex workers in Iran but unofficial surveys have suggested they might number around 10,000.
This number is also believed to be growing, with greater mobility, new avenues for online advertising and more married and homosexual women entering the trade in recent years.
Some 43 percent of all respondents said they had paid for sex in Iran at least once. Of these, 30 percent said they were married and seven percent had solicited services from the same sex.
Ten percent of the punters were women, amounting to four percent of all female respondents. They were also more likely to seek a same-sex encounter.
Researchers also posed a few questions to self-confessed clients about the characteristics of their engagement. On average, those who had used prostitutes once said they normally did so 17 times a year. Half paid for sex fewer than five times, and the other half more than five times, a year.
About 33 percent said they did so twice a year. At the other end of the spectrum, two percent said they used these services more than 100 times a year.
The average cost of each encounter was 497,000 tomans ($120) each time but half said they could expect to pay less than 100,000 tomans ($25). Seven percent of clients paid a million tomans ($237) each time.
About a third of customers said they had met providers through friends and acquaintances. A quarter of said they had picked up sex workers on the street; about 20 percent made contact after finding a phone number. Others cited social media, websites and the workplace.