Sex-shops in the South Caucasus: there is sex, but no shops
Sex-shops in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia
In many developed and even developing countries, sex-shops are a common phenomenon. But for the South Caucasus they are still taboo.
Güunel Mövlüd, Edita Badasyan and Nona Shakhnazaryan, journalists from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, looked into the issue for the BBC in 2016. No changes have taken place since then.
Georgia: sex-shops are from the devil
We looked through social media discussions on the topic before writing this article.
In some users’ opinion, such a shop was unacceptable for them and they thought that married couples did not need sex-shop toys, while others believed it was a sin.
Nevertheless, many people admitted that sex-shop products were necessary, but that Tbilisi was a small city and that no one wanted to be caught buying a ‘shameful’ thing.
It is noteworthy that men expressed a negative attitude towards sex-shops more frequently, while women discussed the issue more openly.
Having asked to remain anonymous, one brave woman who co-owned a sex-shop in Georgia told us her story:
“Many people came to the shop. They bought many things, but raised their collars and hid their faces. Even rural people came, who later wrote letters of gratitude to us,” she said.
“It’s not all that simple in this world. Sex is a part of nature, and you can’t escape from your natural needs. Our products helped many people. The sex-shop was helpful in solving natural problems for many people,” the former co-owner affirms.
Although it was the only sex-shop in Tbilisi, it was closed down after two attacks on the store.
She was asked to move the sex-shop to another district after the first attack in order not to aggravate the public further. As a result, the sex-shop, in a more limited form, was relocated to a more discrete place.
A second attack took place several months later.
“In Georgia, there are two topics a writer must not touch upon – religion and sex”
“Waving wooden crosses, a crowd of believers ransacked our shop. We suffered, as did the shop assistants. They shouted that sex was the devil’s child, and that such products demoralized people in what is a Christian country. [They called us] children of Satan,” she said.
“The shop was closed down. Police asked us not to provoke the church and we had to curtail the trade.”
“I would like to note that some of our regular customers were among the attackers”, she affirmed. “Has the idea regarding sex-shops changed in contemporary Georgia five years later? No, perhaps in another country, but not Georgia. Here the church’s influence has increased.”
The mentality hasn’t changed. Georgia is too much of a patriarchal country.
Georgia has no law prohibiting the opening of a sex-shop. In fact, two on-line shops – Sexmarket and Cupid – offer a wide assortments of goods. However, their products are only available online.
According to doctors, couples might diversify and enrich their intimacy with sex products.
Archil Bakradze, a sexologist, thinks that the shops closely cooperate with clinics and treat sexual disorders.
“Of course sex-shops products are necessary, useful and simply pleasant for people. They are readily available,” the doctor said.
Nevertheless, in Bakradze’s opinion, an ordinary sex-shop should not be opened in Georgia.
“The Christian environment should be taken into consideration. That’s why I think an online version is the most optimal one for a sex-shop. People who need it buy, while those against it don’t see the shop and don’t protest,” Bakradze noted.
Anna Kordzaya, a writer and translator, also shares the opinion that sex-shops won’t be opened in Georgia within the next decade as it is strange and not typically Georgian for the population.
In her words, there are two topics in Georgian literature that should not be touched by writers because they will be persecuted:
“These are religion and sex, the rest of the themes can be written about,” she said.
Armenia: only on-line
Why don’t sex-shops exist in Yerevan? They do, but not physically. Instead there are many on the internet.
Legally speaking, they are not prohibited in Georgia and Armenia. From ordinary people’s perspectives, sex-shops are a feature of advancement.
It is noteworthy that some people think that underwear shops and corresponding departments in stores are sex-shops.
“If someone visits a sex shop in Armenia, their reputation and life will be ruined for good”
However, other Yerevan inhabitants think that sex-shops are dangerous for one’s health.
According to them, products are mainly imported from China. Good products are expensive and many people can’t afford them. A phallus set for example, of different sizes used for vaginismus treatment, costs EUR 1000.
Shamiram Rshtuni, a psychologist, affirms that Iranian residents are the main clients of Armenian on-line sex-shops along with Armenians.
One site warned us – not for persons under 18. The site is in three languages (English, Russian, Armenian). The assortment is impressive: a whole spectrum of vibrators, masturbators and other sexual gadgets.
Why can’t such shops be found in ordinary shopping stalls? According to one of Yerevan’s cultural anthropologists, if someone decides to enter a sex-shop, by that evening everybody will have heard about it and the resulting gossip will destroy that person’s life immediately.
Azerbaijan: “porno materials”
There are no sex-shops in Azerbaijan, which begs the question – is there any need for them?
Zarifa Qulieva, a gynecologist, has worked with risk groups for over ten years. In her opinion, sex-shops might help lonely women and men. More than that, couples also need such products.
“Over time couples need to experiment in their sexual relations. Our men are not inclined to use sexual novelties with their wives,” she said. “They either use sex-industry services or support another lover. It is disastrous from a financial perspective, unfair towards a spouse or partner and is also associated with health problems.”
“These couples might diversify and enrich their sexual life using products from a sex-shop,” the doctor says. “Given the lack of partners among sexual minorities, sex-shops could be a way out of this situation.”
However, she does not think that opening such a shop is realistic.
“I don’t think that opening a sex-shop is possible in our country. This will be an object for mockery and condemnation from the majority of the population. The people will even be afraid of entering such shops,” she thinks.
“Masturbation paraphernalia is a taboo in Azerbaijan. This is something Islam does not tolerate”
Conservative sentiments aside, there are also legal problems that would impede opening sex-shops in Azerbaijan.
“Under Article 242 of the Criminal Code, the distribution and production of pornographic material and objects with advertising purposes, advertisements and distribution, including illegal trade with publications, movies and video materials, pictures and other pornographic objects, are considered a crime,” says Fariz Namazly.
According to him, objects found in sex-shops are considered to be pornographic material, thus opening such a shop and trading in such objects in these shops will be regarded as illegal trade in pornographic materials.
“Such a company is unlikely to be registered if somebody wants to set it up,” he noted. “However, such practices do exist. There was an attempt made to register a sex-az website, but it was not finalised.”
Islam is the dominant religion in Azerbaijan. We asked Islamic lawyer Niyam Agil to comment on the sex-shop issue.
“From a religious point of view, contraceptives and pills control unwanted pregnancies. Books raising awareness about sexual life, erotic clothes and similar objects can be sold in drugstores,” he explained. “Materials used for masturbation are inadmissible. It’s prohibited by Islam as well as by other religions.“