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Healthy vibes: Italian pharmacies sell sex toys


If you want to buy something, uh, personal, in Italy you have to show your face.

62% of Italians have never used the Internet. Hence they are used to having to broadcast intimate needs to the crowd at the neighborhood pharmacy.

Green light for vibrators.

All the better now that Italian pharmacies sell vibrators.

If it’s any indication of sexiness in a city, “personal massagers,” as they are calling them, have become available in 500 Rome pharmacies (some probably in moaning distance of the Vatican) but only five carry them in Milan.

Fortunately for me, one of these rare, enlightened pharmacies is just around the corner. Up front, next to cough drops and diet bars, sits the brand-new, discreet vibrator case with the word “Play” written in English.

“Have they sold?” I ask.

“Oh yes. If you want one, call first to make sure we’ve got it in stock.”

“Right. Sure. Can I have a look?”

Up front and personal, the pharmacy counter.

With just a tad too much enthusiasm for my taste, the young clerk takes them out of the case and puts them on the counter.

The owner of the pharmacy, he says, is a with-it 50-year-old who thought they would sell.

He was right: they have only two out of three available models available (one of each, at that). Customers? Women, age 20-40, who wouldn’t be caught dead in a sex shop.

At first, the pharmacy is mercifully empty. As we examine the models (prices start at €70, circa $90, and up) and gels that go with them, an elderly woman trundles in demanding attention. She wants to measure her blood pressure on the machine.

I’m left with a counter full of masturbation paraphernalia, hoping she’s too much of a prude to know what it’s for, thinking it would be better to just slink out.

As he straps her in, I turn to go and he’s so convinced of my interest that he offers to throw in the gel for free.

Guffaw factor aside, vibrators are part of a recent battle about what pharmacies sell. Over the counter medications in Italy are just that — you must ask for them, then they are handed over the pharmacy counter.

Right now, you can’t buy medicine-cabinet staples like aspirin or eye drops anywhere but the pharmacy. One supermarket chain has collected 170,000 signatures to sell non-prescription medicine in stores and the pharmacy association has fought back with a fear-factor campaign about the evils of DIY medicine.

Ask for a cough medicine, for example, and the pharmacist asks who it’s for, what sort of cough. Then he or she rumbles around in the back and hands you a bottle. One. You buy it and leave.

Every expat has a pharmacy horror story. My favorite is a friend shamed out of sex after failing to procure herself a contraceptive sponge.

Spugna, per favore” she ventured at the woman pharmacist in a small resort town in the Cinque Terre.

The lab coated pharmacist put a sea sponge on the counter.

She tried again, “non spugna così” hoping her raised eyebrow would get the meaning across.

Pharmacist then passed her a bag of makeup sponges.

“Um no…” At this point her limited Italian and engulfing sense of embarrassment prevented her from explaining what this particular sponge was for. She turned and fled, red-faced, out of the shop.

This won’t be a big problem in the case of getting jack-happy gadgets.

Repeat after me: un vibratore, per favore.

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 9:33 PM | Permalink

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