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A Discussion About Condoms Reveals Deeper Fault Lines In Georgia

On the surface, the topic of discussion in the Georgian parliament was quite reasonable. Lawmakers were debating a proposed bill that would ban the sale and advertising of sexual paraphernalia in shops that also sold children's goods or within the vicinity of schools.

But then, as EurasiaNet reports, the debate took a turn for the bizarre, with parliament discussing what exactly constituted sexual aids and whether condoms could be divided into two categories: those designed for preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and those that were merely tools of arousal:

And so the work began: sex toys – yes; porn – yes; condoms -- here things get a little tricky. Some parliamentarians proposed to make a distinction between condoms that serve the sole function of preventing sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy, and those that also enhance sexual experience.

"A condom can have not only a protective function, but also be meant to receive pleasure if it is enhanced by certain technical means,” senior Georgian Dream lawmaker Levan Berdzenishvili explained to parliament’s legal committee.

Other lawmakers disagreed, saying that it was a personal matter and that consenting adults should have access to sex toys if they so desired.

The video capturing the debate about the true functionality of condoms has been a hit on Georgian social networks, with many poking fun at the lawmakers. But -- smirks aside -- the discussion reveals deeper fault lines within Georgian society, pitting liberals against social conservatives who seek to uphold Orthodox values.

Open discussion about sex is relatively rare in Georgian society. The Georgian-language edition of "Playboy" magazine was launched in 2007 but only lasted a few issues -- apparently shut down due to lack of reader interest. A Tbilisi sex shop had to close after repeated acts of vandalism.

In 2010, a book by 19-year-old author Erekle Deisadze angered religious conservatives because of its subject matter: homosexuality and incest. In Georgian, the title of the book is a play on words combining "The Last Supper" with the word for penis. Activists from an Orthodox group targeted the book launch and beat up guests and audience members at a television station where the book was being discussed.

In recent years, the Popular Orthodox Movement (PRM), an umbrella group comprising several Orthodox groups, has emerged and grown stronger. One of the members of the PRM is the Union of Orthodox Parents, which in May attacked a gay-pride event in Tbilisi to mark International Day Against Homophobia. Fistfights broke out, with antigay activists saying homosexuality would lead to moral depravity among young people.

The Orthodox Church has a good deal of formal and informal power in Georgia. David Kakabadze, the head of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, says that politicians tend to tread carefully and rarely come out against the church, largely because of its widespread support. Patriarch Ilia is hugely popular and the church consistently receives approval ratings of more than 90 percent.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili always tried to cautiously balance expectations of Western liberals and the more conservative demands of the Orthodox Church. It's unclear if the defeat of his ruling coalition in parliamentary elections and the rise of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, a country boy with traditional Orthodox roots, will swing the balance of power further towards the conservative camp and in the church's favor.

-- Luke Allnutt

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