Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Sex in Georgia …
… But Were Too Culturally Sensitive to Ask
Not long after I first arrived in Georgia, I was told by a well-meaning taxi driver that my dating options were somewhat limited. “In Georgia,” he assured me “you either pay for it, or you marry it.” The news came as a bit of a shock, after all, I had already been to Narikala fortress on a hot day, and almost fainted from the smell of teenage hormones, and I was fairly sure that I had detected some pretty overt flirting from a number of shop girls and waitresses. Furthermore, it was something of a disappointment, I had no wish to see the inside of a venereal disease clinic or a marriage registration office, but celibacy didn’t sound like a great option either.
Of course, I needn’t have worried. Georgia might not be a Club 18-30 holiday in Ibiza, but it isn’t Saudi Arabia either. Everyone knows Georgia isn’t the buttoned-down temple to sexual abstinence that it sometimes pretends it is, but we all go along with the myth anyway.
And that’s not the only aspect of Georgia’s sexual mores which is basically an act of collective self-deception. Take the traditional gender stereotypes—they just don’t make sense. The first is that Georgian men are lady-killers, Caucasian Casanovas who sweep women off their feet scores at a time—just like they eat khinkali (I have no idea who the man in this video is). The second is that Georgian women are the chaste, virginal, noble types of 19th century literature, who immediately turn into devoted mothers following one socially permissible night of passion after their wedding. As is plain to see, both myths are mutually exclusive, it’s simply not possible for Georgia to be a nation of Don Juans and Vestal Virgins at the same time, it just doesn’t add up.
The fact is that while these two mythological gender archetypes are mutually exclusive, they are also mutually beneficial. Georgian men are no more virile or dashing than men anywhere else, and Georgian women have precisely the same desires and appetites as women all over the world. The reason both buy into these cultural stereotypes is that it does them both a favour.
Although there is heavy social pressure on unmarried Georgian women to be seen to be pure and chaste, there is also something in it for them. Georgian men can be a more than a little pushy in their attempts to pitch woo, and being seen as anything other than Dante’s Beatrice is only going to encourage more unwanted attention. So, even if you’re more of a Sex and the City type of person, it still pays to come across as a Disney princess.
The same applies to men, but in a slightly different way. With so much riding on looking like a ‘real man’, Georgian guys know that to be seen walking arm-in-arm with a lady friend is to look like Tarzan and Tu Pac all rolled into one. Thus the myth of the saintly Georgian woman feeds into and reinforces the myth of the supremely macho Georgian man.
There are other cherished myths too, of course. That, for example, Georgian guys are super picky, and that if a woman isn’t a virgin, she ain’t the marrying kind. None of my unmarried male friends wants to marry a virgin, and when you think about it, that’s actually quite a weird thing to want anyway. Similarly, while none of my unmarried female friends is a promiscuous man-eater, none is obsessed with saving herself until her wedding night—in most cases it’s far too late anyway.
Opinion polls, pundits, politicians and even taxi drivers will all tell you that Georgia remains a very conservative place, where sex before or outside of marriage is completely unacceptable (well, unacceptable if you happen to be a woman). This is far from being the whole story— like the west in the period before the social and sexual revolutions of the 60s, there are still plenty of taboo subjects, and lots of people are terribly uncomfortable at the thought cherished moral absolutes might be changing. But just because people aren’t allowed to talk about it, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
This post originally appeared in Tabula magazine
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