Why you should care

For those still lusting after the old-school Italian stallion, there’s a place for you.

Giorgio Rossi remembers the good ol’ days, back when the Italian worked as a lifeguard at one of Rimini’s beaches on the Adriatic Sea. It was the 1970s, he recalls, and German and Swedish gals used to flock to the sand, enamored of hairy, dark-skinned Italian stallions flaunting their six-packs. “They were freer than our women,” says Rossi, who’s now 75. “And we were always looking for prey. We had them all at our feet.”

For years, Italian men have starred in the sexual fantasies of women the world over, but things have started to change. The Casanova myth is on its way out, and the stereotype of the Italian stud is in rapid decline. It’s not just a theory: According to the World Atlas on Sexuality, recently published in France, Northern European hotties have surpassed Italian men when it comes to how frequently they make love (an average of 11 times per month, compared with just eight for Italian men). Meanwhile, a survey by the Italian Society of Urology highlights the dissatisfaction many women face: For 4 million couples, sexual intercourse lasts just two minutes. In many cases, she either dumps — or betrays — him.

Part of what’s driving these trends is that, like so many metrosexuals elsewhere in the world, more Italian men today are concentrating on their own beauty. Pedicures, pluckings and southern shaves are increasingly the norm, and guys like Mario Palombi, a 25-year-old university student in Florence, now visit a hairdresser every week — twice. Over time, that kind of pickup in business has meant a subtle shift for salon owners in different parts of the country, including Simona Vecchi’s Rome-based beauty parlor, which now boasts more male than female clients. Indeed, today’s men are often “more groomed than a woman — groomed almost to a maniacal level,” says Leonardo Siracusa, a 32-year-old architect from Florence.

It’s hard to act macho or find a quiet place to get frisky when you’re living at home with mom and dad, slurping away on their pasta while woefully unemployed.

And, yes, we’re talking about straight guys here. Some of them are just decidedly matter-of-fact about how much more comfortable they feel following one of their manscaping sessions. “Waxing my body makes me feel tidy,” says Alessandro Bianchi, a 40-year-old bank manager in Turin. Others, though, are responding to growing insecurity about their lack of sexual marathons in bed, or their troubled relationships, by taking more extreme measures. For instance, there was a 20 percent rise in the number of men between the ages of 18 and 25 who underwent surgery to boost the size of their penis last year compared with 2013, according to data from the Italian Society of Male Genital Surgery.

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Italian boxer Giulio Rinaldi slugs away on a ship’s propeller in his hometown of Anzio, circa 1960.

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At the same time, it’s hard to act macho and find a quiet place to get frisky when you’re living at home with mom and dad, slurping away on their pasta while woefully unemployed. Sure, that image of a mammone — mama’s boy — is nothing new, but the impacts following the 2008 global financial crisis still linger in the boot of Europe, which has struggled to regain its footing economically. Many blue-collar jobs — typically filled by men — have been cut in recent years, while construction projects have declined, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.

All in all it’s quite the departure from the kind of machismo that reigned over this region during ancient Rome, one in which men ruled households and women still weren’t considered full citizens with the same rights to political office. There’s also a long tradition here in civic and Catholic life revolving around the protective male, as well as the embrace of powerful officials, from Benito Mussolini to Silvio Berlusconi. “There is part of society that is comfortable with this strong male leader,” says Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University.

More recently, though, she says, there’s been a “dent in the masculine armor” of men in Italia, where larger-than-life, seemingly untouchable characters have given way to, well, softer types. Like Matteo Renzi, the country’s current prime minister, who represents a new kind of macho man — boyishly handsome and approachable. Today, machismo is “much less aggressive, much less in-your-face,” says Lorenzo Holt, a 24-year-old English teacher originally from Ravenna, but currently in Texas in between jobs.

Hookup bait here typically starts with a customary ride in a boat, followed by a sunset aperitif in the middle of the sea or an intimate swim under a star-kissed sky.

Still, the old way hasn’t completely died out. Among some women, in fact, there’s an emerging preference for the back-to-basics guy who seems decidedly male. Case in point: this summer’s beach trend, the “dad bod” — some muscle, but also a beer belly. And some guys are plenty proud of their hairy quadriceps. “Shave my legs?” asks Rossi. “No way, man!” In fact, there are still some “peripheral” places where real machos survive — like on a cluster of former prison islands near Rome where a particular “sex gene” supposedly runs in locals’ DNA. And based on OZY’s observations, women flock to this breathtaking place.

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An Italian couple basks at the beach in 1963.

Source Getty

These are the islands of Ponza and Ventotene, renowned for their romantic evenings and wild nightlife. Hookup bait here typically starts with a customary ride in a boat, followed by a sunset aperitif in the middle of the sea or an intimate swim under a star-kissed sky. Male islanders most look forward to the summer blitz, when some female tourists visit specifically on the lookout for that genealogical mix between Romans and Neapolitans: jet-black eyes, curly hair, a beard or mustache, sun-kissed skin and piercing glances. During peak season, in August, the woman-to-man ratio can hit 4-to-1 in Ventotene, and 6-to-1 in Ponza, says Daniele Coraggio. As Ventotene’s 33-year-old tourism councillor, he notes it can be a “tough job” juggling dates with multiple girls on the same night. Which is why some guys here use an agenda to keep things straight. “It’s crazy: We mix our girls’ names all the time, and they get so mad,” says Coraggio.

Years ago, the ancestors on these islands survived a much tougher existence. They were fishermen, farmers, settlers and even prisoners, with “a very strong reproduction and survival instinct,” says Maurizio Musella, a resident in Ponza. It’s this kind of real-man draw that has tourists like Francesca Piccone, from Milan, spending her summers here year after year. Sure, the 38-year-old enjoys its stunning Mars-like cliffs, not to mention its purple-blue caves and Jurassic-era-looking pebble beaches and tropical-clear waters. But she’s also been dating different men here for the past 15 years; according to her, “they really know how to seduce and make a woman feel like a woman. I wish I could take them all back home with me for the winter.”

Leslie Nguyen-Okwu contributed reporting.

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