In Summer, Italy Loves Sex Surveys; It's Just Talk

August 15, 2000

ROME, Aug. 14 -- The peak of summer, Italian-style, was reached in banner headlines in several of today's leading newspapers, which rated beach resorts by the likelihood of vacationers' having sex there.

Out of a possible 100 points, middle-class Viareggio scored a smoldering 98, while the jet-set island of Capri received a tepid rating of 31. Stromboli, despite its associations with the scandalous 1949 love affair between Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman, rated a mere 22.

The Eros Report, as it was quickly dubbed, was based on an opinion survey of 1,000 listeners conducted by an Italian radio station, Rete 105 Network. Both the Rome-based newspaper La Repubblica and La Stampa, a Turin daily, cited unidentified sexologists to supply a frisson of science to their identical headlines: "V.I.P. beaches kill Eros."

The myth of the Latin lover is as enduring in Italy as it is, well, mythical. What is more reliable is the Italian addiction to summertime sex surveys, which fill the vacuum of political intrigue and soccer championships.

No country is exempt from a weakness for news stories about sun and sexuality, particularly in August. But Italy is perhaps the one most adept at crafting bold headlines from the slimmest scientific findings. This August, when 52 percent of Italians, a record number, left home for a summer vacation, creativity is at a peak.

"The surveys are not believable, but they are perfectly understandable," said Franco Ferrarotti, a University of Rome sociologist. "The Latin lover is our Loch Ness monster, a legend that keeps cropping up to boost tourism and our self-image. Italian pollsters have a way of confectioning interesting results from surveys that Americans do not understand. I am not saying the results are false, exactly; they are just organized to make a particular point."

The harbinger of summer arrived with the May 4 cover of the newsmagazine L'Espresso, which carried a picture of a woman gazing, awestruck, down the jeans of a bare-chested Italian man under the headline: "Males of Italy. Better Than the Americans. Here Is the Proof."

The seven-page cover story was based, rather loosely, on statistics gathered by the Health Ministry that suggested that Italian men report fewer instances of impotence than their American counterparts.

By July, however, alarmed newspaper headlines in Italy had drawn the opposite conclusion about Italian machismo. A study by Pfizer, the company that makes Viagra, suggested that 59.2 percent of Italian men confessed to insecurity about their sexual performance, and 42.6 admitted to sexual difficulties. "It was a happy surprise," Maria Pia Ruffilli, head of Pfizer Italia, told The Associated Press.

Deflating articles based on the Pfizer survey were quickly eclipsed by other reports on why wives' infidelity can help their marriages, how pasta improves sexual performance, and whether sunglasses make Italian men even sexier.

A full-page article on wives' infidelity in the July 26 issue of the Roman daily Il Messaggero appeared next to a picture of a couple embracing passionately on the beach below the headline, "Summer Infidelity Helps the Marriage." The article reported that 51 percent of women believe that a lighthearted affair is healthy, so long as they do not really fall in love. The figure turned out to be culled from an article in the Italian edition of the German women's magazine Burda, which had surveyed marriage counselors.

Last week, Anna, an Italian women's magazine, published conflicting evidence, noting that in its survey most spouses reported having fewer opportunities to stray on vacation, when surrounded by their families.

Italian media outlets are not the only ones to leap to conclusions. Agence France-Presse recently ran an article reporting, "The sex-appeal of the quintessential Latin lover is largely determined by his sunglasses, a survey found." Actually, the survey of 400 people, conducted in May by a Milan cosmetics firm, Emy Heater Institute, merely suggested that famous people looked more authoritative in sunglasses.

Some 22 percent of those surveyed said they would like to see Prime Minister Giuliano Amato in sunglasses, and 12 percent said wanted Pope John Paul II to wear them.

The New York Times on the Web
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company
Tue Aug 15 13:34:55 2000