Supporters cite the need to uphold Georgian traditions.
Critics -- who often resort to social networking or dating websites to try to hook up with “Natashas” from the North --reject the “institute” as a legacy of a pre-modern mindset.
“Often these marriages have to do with sex, more than anything else.” At the same time, heavy social and family pressure can also play a role.
Marriage is widely seen as the sine qua non of Georgian life – a condition that establishes a person’s status as a full-fledged member of society.
“There is often a difference between someone you are really attracted to and someone you want to grow old with,” said Javakhishvili.
“The young couples often discover that this is not one and the same.” Recent data suggest that young unions are in decline, but still popular.
“There is a direct connection between the virginity institute and early marriages in Georgia,” Sabedashvili said.
“We have two morals in this country: one for men and another for women,” said Tbilisi State University Gender Studies Professor Nino Javakhishvili.
“Premarital sex is not only tolerated, but even encouraged for men, while it is frowned upon for women.” An August 2009 survey by the Tbilisi-based Caucasus Research Resource Centers reported that 77 percent of respondents think it is unacceptable for a woman to have sex before marriage.
But there is no exact equivalent for “dating” in Georgian.
Men and women “dadian” (“walk together regularly”) or “khvdebian” (“meet’). Most Georgians live with their parents before marriage and romantic visits are not tolerated at home.
The belief is rooted both in Georgia’s conservative culture and the Georgian Orthodox faith, which does not discriminate between men and women on the topic.