An interview with Dr. Federico Bianchi di Castelbianco, a leading psychologist and psychotherapist in Italy specializing in child development.
Just one verse each day.
“I’ve finally been uncorked!”
With this expression, an Italian high school girl declared to everyone in her school’s volleyball courts – in a rather urbi et orbi manner, if you will – that she was no longer a virgin. In a recently published article on the subject in Italy’s Fatto Quotidiano, however, this was perhaps the only euphemism that one might read. The world described in that piece is one in which pre-adolescent girls engage in sexual experiences with a disconcerting casualness – all the while exhibiting a certain aggressiveness against their male counterparts – for no other reason to claim bragging rights about it with their peers. It is a sort of “social sex,” composed of pre-written scripts that are put into practice in a nonchalant way, all for the sake of status. But how does this maelstrom of hormones and emotions, so heedlessly thrown to the wind, impact the sensitivities of these young women? Aleteia spoke with Dr. Federico Bianchi di Castelbianco, a leading psychologist and psychotherapist in Italy specializing in child development.
Dr. Bianchi, according to this study, virginity appears to be seen as a burden by young girls. Is this really the case?
This research has brought up a valid point, but that is of little significance unless we take the big picture into account. Let me explain: at one time – say about twelve years ago – losing one’s virginity by the end of high school was the trend. After that, it dropped to 16 years old; now, it stands at 14. But the question we should ask ourselves is: where is this consistent trend coming from? If we see the issue of sexuality as a whole, we must start from a premise that is what gives rise to many consequential situations. In talking to the young – by this I am referring to a study we did on thousands and thousands of youth of both sexes – we saw that boys, for a few years now, have been separating sexuality from any notion of consequence. This is the root of the problem.
The hook-up culture has led to the prevalence of “friends with benefits” – that guy or girl that one might call for a sexual romp with the understanding that there would be no emotional connection between the individuals beyond that. This showed that there was a mutual choice, conscious and clear, to keep sexual expressions free of emotional attachment. That moment when sex can be declared an affectionless activity, it becomes nothing more than a more or less physically gratifying gymnastics routine. Obviously, if that is the case, the shedding of one’s virginity becomes all the better, because it holds no value in such circumstances. This mentality places no value in the sexual act itself. So if a girl happens to have sex with four different people in a week, she regards it as if she went to dance with four different people. The act does not have any emotional value.
What are the dynamics between these youngsters like?
It so happens that many parties and other seemingly amicable encounters become opportunities to engage in sexual activity devoid of any connections to consequences. One “game” they might do, for example, is to hide in the closet, and then whatever happens happens. Or everyone kisses everyone, without exception. There’s another element worth noting, too: before, homosexual experiences were more frequently seen in males than in females, since males were the ones who would typically go to college, engage in military service, etc. But today, the rate of female homosexual activity has risen to nearly the same level. The only determinant of whether one continues to engage in such behavior is whether one perceives it as having been an experience worth repeating – that is, how did the experience feel for this individual? There is no sense of right or wrong in all this; it is simply a measure of physical pleasure.
What do you make of such explicit language as that of the girl in the schoolyard, shouting about her sexual experience to the four winds?
It is unsurprising that the language is so raw. If I close the sexual act to any aspect of feeling, what I have left is something that is simply brutal and mechanical. The language then goes on to qualify the mechanics of the act, and so one finds therein nothing but that which brutalizes, imposes, overpowers, and disgusts. If I’ve stripped the act down to its physical component, when I talk about it, I would do so in terms that reflect this absence of feelings.
Returning to a subject that we have touched on before – that of homosexuality – the concern is not whether there exist boys and girls with homosexual tendencies. The problem is that the social messages that develop as a result of this are that “being gay is good and fun,” while “being straight is boring.” Let me offer an example from a decade ago, when Madonna and Britney Spears kissed each other in a very passionate manner during a public concert in the United States. Within a week, there were thousands of cases of girls following suit – and this in Italy alone.
Would you say that it is mainly females who have changed their attitudes towards sex?
Women used to give sentimental value to the act. When the boys decided that it was not so, the language surrounding the topic became accordingly crude. The problem is that such rhetoric then becomes a point of reference, and this is something that youth have not come to understand. It means that a girl must then engage in ever more perverted acts in order to claim that she has had sex. She must, for instance, go at it with two or three boys at once; otherwise, her words will be taken as an exaggeration of reality. Unfortunately, the words they translates into practice.
14 seems to be the current age by which it is expected that a girl will lose her virginity. The reality is that it is not unheard of for males to talk about having girls touch them sexually as young as age 12 – and this shows a reversal in the assumption that boys are always the initiators. Second, we have noticed that girls aged 14-15 will often go to their parents and request to change schools. This is because during middle school or during the first year of high school, the prevalence of uninhibited and easy-going behavior surrounding sex has led to shameless and overwhelming sexual advances from boys. The girls become ashamed of this, but do not explain it to their parents. As a result, they end up having to endure a very uneasy experience.
Do these girls ever manage to reunite their sexuality with feelings of affection?
Yes; it is often the case that these girls will eventually come to
reject the existential void of relationships where the classic friend is no longer enough. They start asking for something more intense and meaningful, and they come to seek a cohesive unity to the man with whom they fall in love. But the problem that follows is that even if this feeling is not reciprocated, these women will submit to even the worst treatment from the men they love – and this comes in part as a result of the violent image of sex that many of these girls have engrained in their minds.
Let me give you an example: I’ve talked to some young women who were beaten by their boyfriends, and they told me they were happy. When I asked how this was possible, they said: “If he beats me, it means he cares about me.” We are now seeing a departure from common sense. At that point, it is not so simple as to cite a factor related to age or a specific event; the situation in its entirety is fundamentally flawed.
Think back to the girls who at 13 years of age feel compelled to lose their virginity, and who regard sexual activity as if it were a form of exercise that they participate in with unparalleled ease. Some of these girls move on to prostituting themselves a few years later. I used to wonder how it was possible for adults to live such a stupefied existence. But then these young women would reveal just how utilitarian sex had become for them: “I did not do it because I was desperate; I did it because I wanted money to with which to lead an easy life.”
English translation by Alberto González.