Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, women have experienced increasingly marginalized status in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Despite the fact that rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) are rising in Iran, especially among heterosexual women, changing conceptions of risk among urban Iranian women are not well understood. Due to the IRI’s strict ban on premarital sex, the distribution of educational information related to the health risks of sexual activity is extremely low, while the few existing sexual education programs are reserved for couples who are married or engaged. Qualitative research conducted from 2000 to 2007 reveals that while increasing numbers of young Iranian women engage in unprotected premarital sex, most have little information or concern about contracting HIV/STIs. Rather, many women are more afraid of the social risks of sexual activity (being seen or getting caught by the Islamic morality police or family members) than the health risks of diseases such as HIV. Women’s conceptions of social risk, their vulnerability to HIV/STIs, and their access to testing and treatment centers are explored through triangulated fieldwork involving participant observations, in-depth interviews, and focus groups with women, health providers, and policy makers in the IRI.

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