Latin lovers on their last legs

March 1, 1996

If what Rome sexologist Chiara Simonelli says is true, the old myth of the carefree and indefatigable Latin lover and of his passionately feminine counterpart is on its last legs.

As a researcher in sexual behaviour at Rome's La Sapienza University, Ms Simonelli is uncovering deep and traumatic changes in the sexual attitudes and behaviour of Italians.

"The most disturbing trend is among the young, in the 18 to 28 age group," says Ms Simonelli. "In both sexes there is an increasing fall-off of desire and a loss of interest in sexual activity. In a strictly sexual sense, the men are the ones who are suffering most.

"We studied a group of 18 to 28-year-old males, picked at random and not from those who had turned to therapists. Many denounced a psychological gap between the sexual act itself and any kind of emotional involvement, a general coldness and detachment, a lack of enthusiasm, to the point that these young men gradually lost interest. Many would resort to occasional masturbation to satisfy the purely physical needs, but sex with a partner was becoming increasingly rare.

"At the same time, many of them told us that they were waiting for a woman, 'the' woman, to come along and sweep them off their feet and save them from their own sexual indifference. In other words the traditional Italian hunter-killer is turning into a passive and bored recluse waiting for Princess Charming to come along."

Ms Simonelli's research involves both the psychology department of her university and the independent Societa' Italiana di Sessuologia Scientifica, which deals directly with people with sexual problems. One of the trends that has emerged, alongside the increasing disenchantment and apathy of the young, is an epidemic of sexual difficulties among more mature Italians.

"Both individuals and couples are coming to us more and more because of a loss of sexual interest in their partners," says Ms Simonelli. "A constant request is that we help make their essentially sexual desire coincide with their sentimental and family situation.

"It may be that a culture which until recently accepted that the joys of family life and the joy of sex need not necessarily coincide now wants to conform to a more American model in which the two things are part and parcel of each other."

Ms Simonelli and her colleagues recently polled Italians on their sexual fantasies. They used the same questionnaire submitted to a sample of Canadians.

"We discovered that while Canadians who fantasise during sex or masturbation tend to use images from erotic books or films, Italians tend to fantasise on real people they know or have seen. This might be seen as an element of Mediterranean healthiness."

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