Being a prostitute in Iran is a risky business: selling your body for money is punishable by death under Islamic law. At least that’s the theory, since the world’s oldest profession has a strong foothold in this very conservative country. In recent years, business has been booming, largely thanks to Facebook.
Prostitution is most prevalent in large Iranian cities, particularly the capital Tehran. Under the Shah’s rule, prostitutes – who were already breaking the law then – worked mainly in the capital’s red-light district, known as Shahr-e-no or New Town. In 1979, revolutionaries launched a crackdown on brothels and tore them down. Now risking the death penalty, Iranian prostitutes began to work more discretely on the street. Over time, they developed new ways to solicit clients.
Even before the advent of social media, prostitutes passed their phone numbers from one client to the next in order to avoid soliciting in the street. Social media provided a chance to expand the network of potential clients. Cyber prostitutes create suggestive profiles on Facebook using fake names and posting explicit photos even though Facebook’s guidelines ban posts of a pornographic nature. Iranian prostitutes are also active in chat rooms.
Screen capture of a Facebook profile featuring offers of sex from multiple prostitutes in Tehran.
There is also another trick: Sigheh, or a temporary marriage. This type of marriage, which exists in Shia islam, legally recognises a short-term relationship between two people of the opposite sex. Generally, a dowry or compensation is paid to the woman. This arrangement can last from 15 minutes to 99 years, and there is no need for a divorce if the couple decides to separate. The spouses don’t have to declare their union, but they do receive a document as proof of the marriage. For some, this is an excellent way to cover up paid sexual relationships.
Many visitors leave their phone numbers on prostitutes' Facebook pages.

"I recently set up a profile on Facebook, but I haven’t yet had any clients from this"

Tina works as a prostitute in Iran.
I don’t live with my family anymore. I share an apartment with a female friend, and we do sex work to earn money. Recently, I set up a profile on Facebook, but I haven’t yet had any clients from this. I find my clients by giving my phone number to clients, who in turn pass it on to their friends. I also find them when I stroll the park with my friend. I charge around 50 euros a client, but may charge more if they’re older. I earn around 250 euros a month without working too much [Editor’s Note: the minimum monthly wage is 150 euros in Iran].

"I know prostitutes who do this because they have to pay for a husband’s or a family member’s drug habit"

Fahrad is a young Iranian man who is familiar with the sex industry.
For several years now, prostitutes has been active on social networks such as Yahoo 360 [which is very popular in Iran] and on Facebook. In this way, the prostitutes get the phone numbers of potential clients, who pay before even receiving a service. The transaction is done via mobile phone credits: the client sends call credits to the prostitute’s SIM card. The prostitute then sells the SIM card at the bazaar and collects the cash. It’s not unusual for bazaar vendors to ask for sexual favours, too…
In the conversation above, a prostitute asks a client to send call credits to her mobile phone as payment.
However, for some time now, many people have created fake accounts. They pose as a girl and take the money before quickly deleting their account. You used to be able to trust these profiles, but now it’s more risky. Some people have gone back to soliciting via word of mouth, though Facebook is still widely used.
Among the prostitutes, there are girls who stay the night, but they are very expensive. Prices have gone up over the past few years. For example, a girl who charged 15 euros in 2011 would be asking for double that amount now. The basic rate is between 30 and 50 euros. Girls who stay the night are very expensive and charge around 80 euros. Luxury escorts charge around 100 euros, and those who escort footballers or foreigners charge more than 250 euros.
However, I wouldn’t say they are living a dream life. I know a few prostitutes who do this because they have to pay for a husband’s or a family member’s drug habit. The profile of these women has changed over the past few years: now it’s not surprising to find that they have bachelor’s or even master’s degrees! For some, it’s a job they do on the side to bring in extra money.