Regardless of age, sex, gender or orientation, sorting through information about sexual and reproductive health can be complicated enough in your native language. Factor in a Florentine move and it can seem overwhelming—but the following introductory guide aims to minimize frantic Googling and feelings of isolation.
Illustration by Leo Cardini
A 2016 questionnaire carried out by the Italian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Sigo) revealed that many women with male partners in Italy—yes, foreigners included—have much to learn about pregnancy prevention, with a combined 20 per cent of the women surveyed relying on the withdrawal method or “good luck.”
Know this: condoms are readily and cheaply available at supermarkets and pharmacies. If you need to buy some after regular store hours and cannot get to a 24-hour pharmacy, consult this list of vending machines around town.
Dental dams (dighe dentali), a feminine device used to prevent STD/STI transmission during oral sex, are less prominently displayed than condoms, but generally available in pharmacies. Call your neighborhood pharmacy to verify they have them.
If you’re in need of a standard birth control pill prescription without a full gynecological exam, see Dr. Stephen Kerr at Studio Medico del Cinghiale (piazza Mercato Nuovo 1, across the street from the Porcellino market; tel. 055 288055 or cell 335 8361682).
Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) like the intrauterine device (IUD) are not particularly popular in Italy, with only 4 per cent of women* using them, despite strong endorsements by the national president of the Italian Medical Society for Contraception (Smic). But this fit-it-and-forget-it method is available—speak with a gynecologist (see next category for recommendations) for further information.
Lastly, if you need an emergency backup birth control method, also known as the morning-after pill, it’s now available over the counter in Italy; prescriptions are only necessary for minors. According to Swg-Health Communication, a staggering 79 per cent of women in Italy are completely unaware of this fact. Ask the pharmacist for ellaOne, a ulipristal acetate tablet that delays egg release and must be taken within 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. (Take it as soon as you can, however).
The Norlevo option is also available without a prescription, but is only highly effective in the first 12 to 24 hours after risky intercourse. For further clarification about the differences between the two pills, speak with a pharmacist.
Prefer to keep pap smears, HPV screenings and intimate questions in English? Dr. Barbara Brodbeck (via della Fortezza 6, tel. 055 470521) is in Florence throughout the week, but also offers appointments in Scandicci on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons (tel. 055 256660). She can be reached by cell from 9am-7pm daily (335 8353612), and also speaks German, French and Italian. Another Anglo-friendly option is Dr. Angelo Scuderi (tel. 055 574404; cell 348 3033496), who’s in the Obstetrics & Gynecology unit at S. Maria Annunziata and also has his own practice at viale Alessandro 72.
Through the Infectious Diseases operating unit of the Azienda Sanitaria di Firenze, HIV tests are available anonymously and at no cost—even for non-residents—at the following ASL (national healthcare service) centers: Ospedale S. Maria Annunziata, via dell’Antella 58; Ospedale Nuovo S. Giovanni di Dio, via di Torregalli, 3; Poliambulatorio, lungarno Santa Rosa 13; and Poliambulatorio Le Piagge, via dell’Osteria 8.
Appointments are required and can be made by calling 055 6936512, 9am-noon and 3-6pm Mon to Sat. In particularly urgent situations, call 055 6936233 at night and on holidays.
Alternatively, volunteer-run queer community association IREOS (via de’ Serragli 3, tel. 055.216907, www.ireos.org) offers the test—including a fast finger-stick option, although unavailable until autumn 2017. The “traditional” exam, which has a three-week wait period, is usually offered once per month, and comes with an anxiety-reducing conversation with a volunteer. Booking is required; sign up by writing to email@example.com.
Although open to all, the IREOS test is primarily offered for members of the LGBTQI community. The group also offers free HIV informational sessions and prevention advice every Monday from 6-7.30pm. Booking through the same email address is recommended.
For those living with AIDS, the Infectious Diseases operating unit offers numerous in-home services. Phone them for further information.
Couples having difficulty conceiving have two primary authorized places to turn in Florence: the private Italian Fertility and Sexuality Center (CIFS) (via della Fortezza 6, tel. 055 470521) or the public Medically Assisted Procreation department at Careggi (viale Morgagni 85, tel. 055 7949369).
ISSUES OF SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION
“Dysfunction” is a dirty word, so let’s clarify: these are things that may or may not need fixing, depending entirely on an individual’s or couple’s wishes. If you or your partner is facing a range of issues—such as anorgasmia, vaginismus and dyspareunia, erectile dysfunction, difficulties with intercourse after childbirth or before/during menopause—and deems it a problem, the previously cited CIFS can help; see their website for a list of all the services provided. English-speaking gynecologist Dr. Barbara Brodbeck also has her practice here.
In addition to offering social activities and supplying information on health concerns particular to the LGBTQI community, local associations IREOS and Azione Gay e Lesbica both have psychological consultation programs—strictly inclusive and supportive—aimed at dealing with any problems and anxieties related to sexual orientation or gender identity, from familial backlash to self-acceptance. At Azione Gay e Lesbica, two free initial consultations can be provided at the organization’s headquarters (via Pisana 32/34); additional sessions with an association-backed doctor, if desired, cost 30 euro.
IREOS, in addition to offering services in collaboration with numerous psychologists, hosts conversation groups for LGBTQI individuals and their friends and families. Participation is free once you sign up for a membership card (10 euro; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978 and is regulated by Law n. 194, in which both anonymity and privacy are protected. Both the abortion pill (different from the morning-after pill) and surgical methods are offered, but a hospital request from a primary physician or gynecologist is needed before you can make an appointment. You’ll need to schedule a visit with your doctor and ask for the certificato medico di richiesta di interruzione di gravidanza (IVG).
At Careggi, terminations are carried out at Pavilion 7, the Maternity and Gynecology unit, in the “Legge 194” clinic. You can call them between 11am-1pm Monday through Friday at 055 7947729 with any questions.
Foreign-born women, whether registered with the national health service or not, should call the Ufficio Spedalità Stranieri (tel. 055 7949840) for information specific to their situations. Non-EU citizens whose immigration documents are not properly in order may request the Straniero Temporaneamente Presente (STP) or the Europeo Nuovo Iscritto (ENI) documents. No further identification is necessary.
Once you have collected the required documents, to make an appointment, go in person to the main entrance of the maternity ward (pavilion 7) between 10.30am and 1pm. When the time comes, a partner, friend or family member may accompany you throughout the procedure.
The Italian term for STDs is MTS (malattie sessualmente trasmesse). If you are worried about being at risk or simply want a “checkup,” there are easy options. Those most comfortable with an English speaker can see private doctors Barbara Brodbeck, with whom the tests are done on-site and read by a microbiologist, or Stephen Kerr, who provides a prescription for the relevant tests and orders them at a local lab. Alternatively, go to the Centro MTS (tel. 055.6939654) of the Azienda Sanitaria di Firenze. Located at viale Michelangelo 41, the center carries out various tests (not for HIV); for non-residents, costs can vary.
Editor’s note: Information in this article was verified at press time, but is subject to change and not intended to be comprehensive. The Florentine cannot be held responsible for the content, nor the efficacy of doctors and treatments presented.
*According to ISTAT, not Sigo.