Sexuality is considered to be an integral and important part of the identity of men and women. Sexual fulfillment is considered an important ingredient of personal happiness. In Naples this fulfillment would ideally be realized within established and recognized relationships, preferably within a marriage. This view clearly privileges heterosexual relations above others, and indeed homosexual relations between men were the cause of some hilarity rather than hostility. But circumstances—and attitudes— varied considerably. Attitudes to those who deviated from the heterosexual norm were difficult to predict. On one occasion, during a pilgrimage to a site considered to be holy and miraculous by many Neapolitans (though not by the Catholic Church), I shared the queue with a group of middle-aged women. They spent much of the long time in the queue comforting and encouraging another similarly dressed person who was in fact a transvestite who felt that his presence in a holy site was inappropriate. Instead, the women stood firmly by him, in the certainty that, as they claimed, everyone is welcome in the sight of God.

Although both men and women were considered to have sexual needs, the needs of men were often seen as being more immediate and less mediated by conventions and rules. Thus, for some, it was acceptable that married men should indulge in extramarital relations, whereas it was far less acceptable for a woman to do so. The explanation for the double standard was once expressed— albeit as a joke—in the saying that "the man is a hunter" and women were limited to being the prey.

Early research in rural areas (Davis, 1973; Silverman, 1975b) suggests that sex before marriage was frequent, and even accepted or encouraged as a guarantee of successful reproductive union. In Naples too there were many instances of jokes, rumors, and open acceptance of pregnant brides. But it was usual and extremely important that, where a premarital pregnancy took place, marriage would follow as quickly as possible. Interestingly, Italy has the lowest rate of single mothers in Europe (Ruspini, 2000).

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Pregnancy And Childbirth

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