Many surveys suggest that Italians have a very liberal and satisfactory sex life, and have earned a reputation for being passionate and boastful lovers. Italy is also one of the most adulterous countries in the world, with 45% of married couples admitting to having had an affair. The average age for the first sexual experience is currently 17 in Italy.
Social norms and education
Despite a liberal attitude towards sex, it has not always been discussed so openly and was long considered a taboo subject. This was mostly due to the powerful influence of the Catholic Church on Italian society. Still occupying a significant role in Italian society today, some medical experts protest what they regard as excessive church influence on Italian health care policies.
Sexual education has faced stern opposition from the Catholic Church and various political groups in the past. In 1991 a bill attempted to encourage the teaching of sexual education in schools but failed to get passed; today, the school headmaster decides if sexual education will be taught in their school.
A few schools currently provide sexual education to pupils aged 14 to 19, but tends to be solely focused on reproductive biology instead of the practice of safe sex.
Use of contraception
Contraceptives and family planning services are widely available now despite stubborn efforts from the Catholic Church. According to surveys, more than 90 percent of women use some form of birth control and Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe.
While Italian law does not permit hospitals to refuse to provide contraception, many effectively do so as doctors happen to be conscientious objectors to the law for religious or personal reasons.
Condoms are very easy to get your hands on. You can find them in any pharmacy or grocery store and there are even condom vending machines around most towns.
The pill came to Italy in 1964 but was not immediately authorized for sale by pharmacies. Today you can easily buy the contraceptive pill over the counter at any pharmacy, however some may ask you for a prescription.
IUDs are also easily available in Italy. They are less popular however, with only around 5% of Italian women using them.
You usually need a prescription to get emergency contraception in Italy. Although it's recently become more relaxed, you can be refused emergency contraception without it and told to book an appointment with a gynaecologist.
Getting tested in Italy is fairly straightforward. You can just head to any sexual health clinic and should be able to get tested without complications, although you might have to wait a while or pay a fee depending on where you go.
In Italy, the most common sexually transmitted diseases are gonorrhea and syphilis. The increasing need for reliable data on these diseases led to a sentinel surveillance system for STDs being set up in January 1991, which monitors the situation of STD’s in Italy.
There are no specific entry or residence regulations for people with HIV/AIDS. Foreigners with a known HIV infection are not subject to specific residence regulations.
Abortion in Italy became legal in May 1978, entitling women to terminate a pregnancy within its first three months. After 90 days, abortions are only allowed if the foetus is badly harmed or the mother’s life is at risk. Before becoming legal, illegal abortions were the third-biggest cause of death among women.
However this doesn’t mean that abortion is easily accessible for women in Italy seeing as it still carries a stigma. Doctors are also within their rights to refuse to perform an abortion on moral grounds, and over the past ten years the number choosing to do so has increased dramatically, to 70%.
The biggest issue, however, is finding doctors who will perform abortions after 90 days (when eligible), the period when the procedure requires more care and puts the mother’s life at greater risk.