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Life Stages: Dating and Courtship

Accepted Practice

Italian norms for dating are similar to those found in other European countries, and it's an accepted part of the culture. Couples are free to meet and socialize without cultural or social restrictions. Men and women meet at colleges, social gatherings, and the workplace, and often prefer to "hang out" in groups. An increasing number of Italians turn to the internet for dating and romance. Flirting via mobile phones has also become very common. Popular dating venues include piazzas, beaches, night clubs, and pubs.

The average age when dating begins is 16 for men and women. Italians usually date for long periods of time before getting married. In southern Italy, men prefer long engagements, desiring to find a good job before getting married. This trend, however, can leave women abandoned after engagements that sometimes last as long as six or seven years.

Getting Serious

Premarital sex is common in Italy, and the median age at which Italians experience their first sexual encounter is between 17 and 19 years, with males often preceding females. While girls from northern and central Italy have higher rates of premarital sexual encounters than boys, the opposite is true for southern Italian girls. This is because prevailing moral and cultural attitudes that discourage premarital sex are stronger in southern Italy than in other regions. One of the reasons for the rising rate of premarital sex in Italy is the increasing number of fidanzati (formally engaged couples) who live together before marriage.

Cross-cultural dating is widely practiced, and Italians do not hesitate to marry foreigners. Cross-religious dating, however, is not as widely accepted, and most Italians prefer to marry partners of the same religion. Parental approval for dating is not considered mandatory in Italian culture, although it is considered important in marriage.