Roman Fever Life & Style

10/1/2013 by Mike Dilien Belgium

While tourism may not have been invented in Rome, sex tourism has. And its inventors were female. In the Victorian era, affluent Anglo-Saxon women travelled to Italy to take a lover. Jeannette Belliveau, who consulted their diaries and wrote a reference book on sex tourism, states that "a quiet revolution" originated "in a bedroom in Rome."
The jet engine and commercial airlines have since democratised the revolution. Lately, an online dating site did an enquiry. Despite recent offering from the Caribbean and Africa, almost half of the British women prefer an Italian lover: unlike Jamaican rent-a-rastas and North African beach boys, Italian Romeos do not take money for love.
"Don't pretend you didn't come to Rome," the editor of Romeing Magazine addresses her female readers, "with the fantasy of falling deeply in love, possibly experiencing the best sex of your life and potentially living happily ever." Indeed, what woman does not want a seductive, romantic and passionate Latin Lover? Why go to the bother of travelling? Isn't it to find a local who will show you Rome and improve your Italian, whose friends will accept you to the point you will feel like a local and, last but not least, whose "mamma" will disclose you her secret recipes? Or just to hook up with him before catching your return flight?
Probably no other airport in the world welcomes more solo female travellers than Fiumicino. Young girls, still swooning and parading a plastic rose, unsusceptible mature women who swear by "What happened in Rome stays in Rome", determined widows who are about to catch up lost time: sex pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy City? Hard to say. Even the fiercest feminist will not admit she is travelling to score with natives. It seems that, contrary to men, women need an excuse. At the time it was the Grand Tour; now it can be a language course, a traineeship, an au pair… In exchange programs at La Sapienza, the female-to-male ratio is 70/30 –an academic record! Most women, though, pretend to visit Il Belpaese for its art. Yet, on any major art exhibition, from Botticelli to Veronese, where are all these women? A close reading of Amanda Knox's diary reveals that foreign women in Italy prefer the artists rather than their work, and that it is contemporary art they are into.
Is it a surprise that the world's most renowned sex tourist chose Rome for a home base? Anne Cumming recorded in "The Love Habbit" and "The Love Quest" the pioneering work she did in Europe and the Middle East. In one, short sentence she encapsulates the attraction of Italian men to foreign women: "I want to be wanted." The travelogues of Mrs Cumming and her disciples (e.g. Fiona Pitt-Kethley, Kate Holden) never reach beyond stale commonplaces of countries and their inhabitants. Women want their illusion picture-perfect. They long for the real thing: not Davide, a second-generation immigrant in Düsseldorf, but Gabriele, an authentic homeboy from Garbatella. Every season of the year, women flock to Italy in search of DOC.
Whereas this revolution works rather disruptive in other countries –Belliveau mentions Scottish grandmothers carrying on with 17-year old natives in Gambia– it quite fits Italy. Catholic and patriarchal societies push males to boast about their sexual exploits, yet dictate females to preserve their 'reputation'. Only an incessant supply of foreign females can maintain this double standard. In Italy, foreign women act as an emission valve: they ensure local boys can have it off without having to compromise the local girls.
Soon the BRICS girls will disembark. In the footsteps of apparatchik, maharaja and oligarch daughters, middle-class BRICS girls will no doubt discover Rome's delights. They will travel to Italy for its language, sculptures and paintings, won't they? Heaven knows. Well, these girls, keeping the tradition of their Victorian precursors, may publish a blog!

Mike Dilien Belgium

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