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This figure pales compared to rates in the United States or the United Kingdom, but the curve is sloping upward.In Western societies, Javakhishvili noted, people tend to go through several relationships before they settle down.Some blame the advent of a market economy in Georgia for the rising marriage ages.Young people now start working earlier and the more exacting work environment – and less predictable economic security -- can interfere with wedding plans.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.Not everyone observes the taboo, but it is so widespread that Georgians have even come up with a semi-jesting name for it – “the virginity institute.” The “institute” is heavily debated in Internet forums and occasionally in the news media. Rather, it is Georgian men who passionately argue for or against this cultural convention.

And even while acknowledging the macho tenets that shape it, the taboo is one tradition that many Georgian women from all walks of life say they do not want to buck.

“When from a very early age, a girl is told that her true mission [in life] is to be a wife and a mother, even when grown-up she may never start asking if she is fully enjoying the rights that she has.” Student Avaliani agrees that such pressures may influence her thinking about marriage, but says she does not want to end up like a 25-year-old friend whom she terms a spinster.

“I really want to get married and have kids very soon, and I think that is what every woman wants,” she said.

“Sex is something you do in Ukraine, Russia or some other place where people are grown-up about this, while here you just get married,” grumbled twenty-something cellist Vakhtang Gabisonia.

Georgian women may shrug their shoulders and laugh about “the virginity institute,” but many still willingly play by its rules.

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Supporters cite the need to uphold Georgian traditions.

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