TBILISI, Georgia — Ia Sartania and Tamuna Bibineishvili are slender, 19-year-old blondes. They are gregarious university students who like popular music, rock climbing and spending time with friends. They are not devout churchgoers and consider themselves somewhat liberal. Both of them are single now but hope to wed within a few years.
However, the girls’ liberal facade cracks when they speak about premarital sex. They concede that they want to have sex before marriage but also worry it would invite public criticism. Being a virgin before marriage is important in Georgia, they say in unison.
“Guys want to have sex but don’t want to have it with a girl who is not a virgin,” Sartania said. “If you are not a virgin, you are not special anymore and you are considered to be promiscuous.”
Nikoloz Zazadze, 18, is fairly representative of Georgian boys: He likes partying, soccer and computer games but also considers himself traditional and would only consider marrying a virgin. Talking about premarital sex, he brings up a solution that can spare girls the ignominy of marrying without being virgin.
“If you want to have sex with one guy and then marry another one … it’s OK. After all, there is a surgery for restoring virginity,” he said.
Many in Georgia are reluctant to talk about the increasingly common surgery that Zazadze was referring to, known as hymen restoration or hymenoplasty. A quick fix, the surgery re-connects the hymen of a woman and makes sure that blood is spilled on the wedding night sheets. It is performed at many clinics in Tbilisi by both gynecologists and surgeons. There are no official statistics on the number of such surgeries performed, but the four doctors interviewed for this story said they perform it two to three times per week, as do their colleagues.
One gynecologist, who asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisal, said that usually at state institutions the surgery is administered under a different name, which makes it untraceable.
Only Dr. Iva Kuzanov agreed to talk openly about performing the surgery. He has more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon and is also a professor at the Medical Institute in Tbilisi. When he opened a private clinic for plastic surgery in 2004 the surgery was not offered because there was no demand for it. However, after he mentioned the possibility on a television talk show, more and more women requested hymen restoration. Now he performs five to seven such operations per month.
Most of Kuzanov’s patients opt for the $400 procedure, which restores virginity for only a few days. For those seeking a permanent effect, the price is $1,000.
Patients are generally in their early 20s, Kuzanov said. The surgery carries little risk and normally takes 30 to 40 minutes.
“It’s a simple procedure,” Kuzanov said, adding, “People come for different reasons. Some come before their marriage and others come because their parents force them.”
A slew of different factors explain the demand for the surgery. While Georgia has bested its neighbors in many respects, the country is still under the heel of rigid traditions and an omnipotent church. Young women and men also face pressure from society, family and peers.
Psychologist Nana Gogichashvili explained why women have the surgery: “It is an unconscious feeling of guilt. … Guilt for doing something that goes against traditions, religion, your family and guys’ expectations.”
She said that young people experience an internal conflict — a clash between themselves and society.
“Having sex before marriage is considered a step towards modernity and Europe but inside they are very traditional. They want to become modern but at the end traditions prevail and they have the surgery,” she said. Under the veneer of open-mindedness there is deep-rooted conservatism, she added.
Sartania and Bibineishvili are not thrilled with the idea of the surgery. However, they said that if they lose their virginity to one guy and later fall in love with another, the “possibility of a surgery exists” if they feel pressured to uphold tradition.
Sartania admitted struggling with society’s expectations.
“For society not being a virgin is out of the question,” she said.