In an effort to curb "beach pregnancies" and an array of sexually transmitted ailments that regularly land on their examining tables at the end of the summer, an Italian association of gynecologists this year launched the Travelsex campaign.
As young people set off with their backpacks to discover new places and live new experiences this summer, they are being encouraged to pack the Travelsex guide – a 40-page booklet spelling out what to pack (both the pill and condoms), where to go for advice (a list of family planning centers throughout Italy), and how to behave sexually when abroad.
On matters of safe sex, Italian kids are pretty much clueless, says Giorgio Vittori, president of the Italian Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (SIGO), the promoter of the guide. Some 37 percent of young Italians come to their first sexual experiencee (on average at 16) completely unprepared, and sexually transmitted infections and diseases are on the rise – human papilloma virus in particular – in those under age 25. Experts say 30 percent of Italians still use only the pull-out method of contraception, even for occasional sex, and contraceptive pill use has been stalled at 16.3 percent since 1999.
"That's why we need to provide information, especially as vacations approach, which is when it is easier to meet new people and experience affairs that are quick and short lived," Vittori said. The tips are especially important if traveling abroad, he says, where often young people don't know where to turn in a sexual "emergency."
Travelsex includes a phrasebook in 11 European languages featuring "life-saving" questions such as "Have you got a condom? We can't make love without one" or "I had unprotected sex yesterday. Could you help me?" And - so you avoid 'Bridget Jones's embarrassing moment in an Austrian village -"Where can I buy a pregnancy test?"
Also listed for each country are factoids – some useful and some bizarre - on local sexual habits. Readers learn that sex on the beach in Croatia is punishable by 30 days in jail and a $120 fine; British kids, who have sex most often in their parents' car, average 60 minutes of sexual activity a week; most French women say they have had more than five sex partners, while the average for French men is 11; a Swedish sex education organization launched a campaign in 2004 for rapid home delivery of condoms for couples who suddenly realize that they don't have one just when they need it; in Croatia, 3 out of 4 women believe the appearance and size of the male sex organ is important criteria when choosing a partner.
Packing List: Toothbrush, Travelsex Guide , Passport of Safe Love
Also being issued by SIGO for the first time this summer is a Passport of Safe Love. Young people across Italy are being invited to fill out a questionnaire testing their sex ed knowledge, and those who get the answers right are given the "passport." It includes hip advice on contraceptive use, such as "the condom is a bit of a 'vampire': it fears light and heat - take good care of it" and useful warnings about birth control pills, which may be rendered less effective if the traveller gets diarrhea and which also may increase her sensitivity to sun.
Seemingly directed more at girls than boys, the passport also gives guidance on hygiene and warns kids that sex is not necessary in order to contract sexually transmitted diseases. Avoid tattoos, piercings, acupuncture, and even dental work to steer clear of STDs.
And while observing safe travel sex, why not pick up a bit of extra culture, suggest the gynecologists, noting some "cult" contraception tourist destinations.
Did you know that the biggest and most comprehensive "Museum of Sex" is in New York? Or that Condom is a small town in the south of France that is home to the "Musee du preservatif (condom)"? Or that in Vienna you can visit the "Condomi Museum" and learn about the history of the condom, while admiring the 300 samples on display? Not to mention the "Hall of Contraception" in Toronto and the "Museum of the Ancient Culture of Sex in Shanghai." And of course Berlin, the European capital of contraception, where the pill first landed in Europe on June 10, 1961.
While trying to make things light and fun, the Passport of Safe Love and the Travelsex guide offer an abundance of useful information that the doctors hope will bring fewer uncomfortable youngsters to their waiting rooms in the fall.