Bobbittmania takes a grip on psyche of Latin lover

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Rome - These are anxious times for the Latin lover. To believe the results of a new survey, he is less likely to be strutting up and down piazzas courting female tourists with cries of "signorina bella" so much as sitting at home with his legs fir mly crossed to protect his masculinity, writes Andrew Gumbel.

Ever since Lorena Bobbitt did the dirty on her husband 18 months ago, Italian newspapers have reported more copycat cases of emasculation than any other country outside the Bobbitts' native United States.

Italmedia, the think-tank which carried out the survey, says the phenomenon has become more common in the wake of the Bobbitt case, with one emasculation reported somewhere in the world every two weeks on average, adding up to a total of 34 cases.

Almost certainly it is not the phenomenon itself which has become more common as much as the media interest. "There's been a real thirst in the media for lopped off members, especially in Italy," says Italmedia's director, Marco Merlini.

Seven Italian men have suffered the cruellest cut, putting the country first-equal with the US in a world league table. Britain comes third with four cases, followed by Germany, Brazil and India on two each.

What makes Italy doubly bizarre, though, is that none of the emasculations reported was committed in anger by a vengeful female. Two were self-inflicted, one by a young man abandoned by his beloved, and the other by a Sicilian grieving for a friend killed by the Mafia.

The rest, astonishingly, were accidental. Nowhere else in the world have couples been so careless with kitchen knives.

The serious point to make on all this, according to Mr Merlini, is that Italians, with their tendency to macho vanity, appear more prone than anyone to the fear of losing the organ most dear to them.

"The newspapers have all played on this anxiety," he says.

"These are uncertain times for the traditional male. The Bobbitt case has proved a potent symbol of this, but conversely it has also allowed men to reassert themselves by opening a taboo subject up to discussion.

"It is no accident that Italian magazines started carrying cover photos of naked men after the Bobbitt affair broke," Mr Merlini added. "The fact that John Bobbitt regained the use of his member was also highly significant in the collective Italian unconscious."