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Still from Who Gives Kisses Freely From Her Lips.
(dir. Simin Farkhondeh, 2009). Used with permission from Third World Newsreel.

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  issue 2.2 |  

Journal Issue 2.2
Fall 2010
Edited by Agatha Beins, Deanna Utroske, Julie Ann Salthouse, Jillian Hernandez, and
Karen Alexander
Editorial Assistant: Julie Chatzinoff


Who Gives Kisses Freely from Her Lips. Directed by Simin Farkhondeh. New York: Third World Newsreel, 2009.

Reviewed by Juliet Williams

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the topic of temporary marriage (sigheh) among scholars and journalists in the West. The practice of temporary marriage, recognized as legitimate within Shiite Islam, allows a man (married or unmarried) and an unmarried woman to establish a contractual sexual relation for a set period of time. While temporary marriage long has been stigmatized because of its strong association with prostitution, the practice has been invoked historically and in the present day not only to legitimate fleeting sexual encounters but also to codify long-term, committed relationships.
           Shahla Haeri’s pathbreaking book Law of Desire (1989)1 provides a thorough and admirably nuanced treatment of temporary marriage, but the topic remains subject to neglect and misunderstanding in the West. In Who Gives Kisses Freely from Her Lips Simin Farkhondeh offers an engaging introduction to this challenging subject, adeptly conveying the complexity of temporary marriage. Charting a path between the common traps of sensationalism and apologetics, the film highlights the multiple ways temporary marriage is being used in contemporary Iran. Among the most compelling scenes in the film are the interviews with couples engaged in temporary marriages, including a twenty-something pair who have chosen a temporary marriage to make Western-style dating possible in a country with strict rules against casual contact between unmarried members of the opposite sex. In contrast, a middle-aged couple matter-of-factly explain that the husband has a permanent wife in addition to the temporary wife with whom he is raising a child—an arrangement that highlights the way temporary marriage encourages the formation of nontraditional family units. Western viewers may be especially surprised to find that several of the interview subjects emphasize how beneficial temporary marriage is for women, who often enjoy greater autonomy in these negotiated arrangements than they would as a traditional wife.
          Who Gives Kisses Freely from Her Lips provides a welcome complement to existing scholarly literature on temporary marriage2 , offering a rare glimpse into a fascinating aspect of the fast-changing landscape of Iranian sexual politics. This film is recommended for courses exploring issues of gender and sexuality in Islam and in the Middle East as well as those that consider feminism in a transnational perspective. Who Gives Kisses Freely from Her Lips would also contribute to courses on modern sex and sexuality, providing a neglected perspective on contemporary debates in feminist and queer theory concerning polyamory and other alternatives to traditional forms of heteronormative intimacy by challenging the idea of Western subjects as necessarily more “modern” or sexually liberated than others.

Juliet Williams is an associate professor of women's studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.  She is the author of Liberalism and the Limits of Power (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and contributing coeditor of Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).  

1Shahla Haeri, Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi’i Iran (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989).

2See, for example, Janet Afary, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law (New York: I.B. Tauris, 1993); and Juliet A. Williams, “Unholy Matrimony: Feminism, Orientalism, and the Possibility of Double Critique,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 34, no. 3 (Spring 2009): 611-32.


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