Working in your host family we expect you not to be pregnant as this is something you should have disclosed before your departure to also protect your own health. Most miscarriages occur during the first three months of pregnancy, so this is the most risky time. Miscarriage is not uncommon and can occasionally lead to severe bleeding. Alcohol and nicotine should be avoided.
Antibiotic use, synthetic underwear, sweating and contraceptive pills can lead to fungal vaginal infections, especially when travelling in hot climates. Fungal infections are characterised by a rash, itch and discharge and can be treated with a highly-diluted vinegar or lemon-juice douche, or with yoghurt. Nystatin, miconazole or clotrimazole pessaries or vaginal cream are the usual treatment. Maintaining good personal hygiene and wearing lose-fitting clothes and cotton underwear may help prevent these infections. Pharmacies can provide creams and pessaries for common fungal infections (candida).
Cystitis is know as cistite; you can buy capsules (called Pipram) to treat it over the counter.
Sexually transmitted diseases are a major cause of vaginal problems. Symptoms include smelly discharge, painful intercourse and sometimes a burning sensation when urinating. Medical attention should be sought and male sexual partners must also be treated. Besides abstinence, the best thing is to practise safe sex using condoms.
Italy is not a dangerous country for women, but you may often find yourself plagued by unwanted attention from men. This attention usually involves catcalls, hisses and whistles and, as such, is more annoying than anything else. Get used to being stared at - because it's likely to happen often, especially in smaller towns in the south of Italy and in Sicily and Sardinia.
Women will also find it difficult to remain alone: you will have Italian men harassing you as you walk along the street on your own, drink a coffee in a bar or try to read a book in a park. Usually the best response is to ignore them but if that doesn't work, politely tell them that you are waiting for your marito(husband) or fidanzato (boyfriend) and, if necessary walk away. Avoid becoming aggressive as this almost always results in an unpleasant confrontation. If all else fails, approach the nearest member of the police or carabinieri (military police).
Watch out for men with wandering hands on crowded buses. Either keep your back to the wall or make a loud fuss if someone starts fondling your backside. A loud che schifo! (how disgusting!) will usually do the trick. The locals will sympathise with you and the culprit will almost certainly make a hasty exit at the next stop.
Basically, most of the attention falls into the nuisance/harassment category. However, women on their own should use their common sense. Avoid walking alone in deserted and dark streets. You should also avoid hitchhiking alone.
Women will find that the farther south they go, the more likely they are to be harassed. It is advisable to dress more conservatively in the south, particularly if you are in a small town or village. Skimpy clothing is a sure attention-earner - take your cue from the Italian women.
In cities where there is a high petty-crime rate, such as Rome, Naples, Palermo, Syracuse and Bari, women on their own are regarded as prime targets for bag-snatchers (on foot or on wheels). Use a backpack if you can (it's harder to to pull off) or keep one hand on your bag (preferably carried diagonally across the body with the bag on the side away from the road), and be very careful about walking in deserted streets.
GAY & LESBIANS
Homosexuality is legal in Italy and well tolerated in major cities, particularly in the north. Friendship between Italian men tend to involve physical contact so the sight of two men (or two women) walking down a street arm in arm is not unusual. However, overt displays of affection by homosexual couples could attract a negative response in smaller towns. The legal age of consent is 16. A few years ago the gay capitals of Italy were Milan and Bologna, but Rome is now giving both cities some strong competition.
There are gay clubs in Rome, Florence and Milan, which may be listed in newspapers but can be more readily tracked down through local gay organisations or publications such as Pride (€3.10), a national monthly magazine, and AUT (free) published by Circolo Mario Mieli in Rome, both available at gay and lesbian organisations and bookshops. The international gay guide Spartacus International Gay Guide (which sells for around US$32.95 or UKŁ19.95 and is available in bookshops worldwide) also has listings of gay venues all over Italy (and the rest of the world). Places for Women, published by Ferrari Publications, Phoenix, Arizona, USA, has information for lesbians.
The national organisations for gay men and lesbians are ArciGay and ArciLesbica (Tel 051 6447054, fax 051 6446722), Piazza di Porta Saragozza 2, 40123 Bologna.
In Rome the main cultural and political organisations is the Circolo Mario Mieli di Cultura Omosessuale, Via Efeso 2/a (Tel 06 5413985), e firstname.lastname@example.org) off Via Ostiense near the basilica di San Paolo, which organises debates, cultural events and social functions. It also runs a free AIDS/HIV testing and care centre. Mario Mieli organises Rome Pride which takes place every year in June. Its excellent Web site (w www.mariomieli.it) has information and listings of forthcoming events, both social and political.
You'll find any number of Italian gay sites on the Internet, but some are all but useless, However, ArciGay's Web site (w www.gay.it/arcigay) has general information on the gay and lesbian scene in Italy and plenty of useful links to local organisations in other regions.
Tel:+44 (0)20 85423067. Fax:+44 (0)207 1529598