A sociologist at an Iranian university has presented a new study that shows high levels of homosexual experiences among the country’s population.

Iran has strict laws against sex outside marriage and other sexual acts such as masturbation. Adultery and same-sex acts are punishable by death.

Startling new research from sociologist Parvaneh Abdul Maleki found that 24% of Iranian women and 16% of Iranian men have had at least one homosexual experience.

73% of men and 26% of women surveyed said they had masturbated.

Ms Maleki presented her findings at the Third Conference on Well-being in the Family and the story has been reported in the Iranian press, albeit as a report on sexual deviance in need of treatment.

The report also revealed that more than 75% of those who grew up in a conservative religious environment have watched pornography, 86% have had a heterosexual relationship outside of marriage and just over 4% have had gay or lesbian relationships.

Since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, human rights groups claim that between 3,000 and 4,000 people have been executed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality.

In September the President of Iran admitted in an interview that there may be “a few” gay people in his country, but attacked homosexuality as destructive to society.

In an interview with US current affairs TV programme Democracy Now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also rejected criticism of the execution of children in Iran.

During a visit to the US in 2007 he said in reply to a question posed about homosexuality during his speech at New York’s Columbia University:

“In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country‚Ķ In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don’t know who has told you that we have it.”

In his TV interview in September he condemned American acceptance of gay people.

“It should be of no pride to American society to say they defend something like this,” President Ahmadinejad said.

“Just because some people want to get votes, they are willing to overlook every morality.”