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I came here to ask this question based on a question in the Spanish language stack based on the origin of the Spanish word joder (somewhat equivalent to fottere, though follar would be closer). In my answer there I learnt the Italian word fottere is quite an old one, but the surprise came when I looked up its meaning.

You see, in Spanish the official defintion of joder is as follows:

Poseer sexualmente a alguien.

I found the equivalent definition here for fottere in Italian:

Possedere qlcu. sessualmente.

But I found that definition only in one dictionary online. In other three dictionaries the definition was:

Possedere sessualmente una donna.

So my question is why are the definitions of Italian fottere so biased towards the man possessing a woman? What happens when the woman takes the initiative, or even when two women make the sexual act? Can't a woman fottere a man or another woman? Is the word used in those cases or do you use another one?

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    I don't know what that anonymous “dizionario italiano” is, but all of the main Italian dictionaries (Treccani, Zingarelli, Devoto-Oli, De Mauro) give only variations on “possedere sessualmente” and, intransitively, “avere rapporti sessuali”, without ever mentioning males nor females. On the other hand, possedere has in itself the connotation of being, so to say, the active part in the sexual act. – DaG Jan 22 '18 at 10:17
  • @DaG it's funny then how I used the first four results from Google when I searched for "dizionario italiano" and those dictionaries ended up not being reliable at all. :-D – Charlie Jan 22 '18 at 10:23
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    Welcome to Italian.SE! – Charo Jan 22 '18 at 10:25
  • Some important dictionaries (Zingarelli, Devoto-Oli) are behind a paywall, so Google won't return them. :) – DaG Jan 22 '18 at 10:42
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The word fottere can be used for a man and also for a woman, grammatically gender doesn't matter.

Obviously the bias you noticed comes from history and tradition, when in the past (and somewhere also now usually) the man is considered stronger and the part that takes the initiative.

Please consider that the word fottere has other meanings in Italian:

fóttere v. tr. [lat. *fŭttĕre, class. fŭtuĕre] (io fótto, ecc.), volg. – Possedere sessualmente; avere rapporti sessuali con qualcuno: Dormirem tutti due senza pensieri; Perché ’l fotter a tutti sempre piace (Berni). Fig., ingannare (to trick), imbrogliare (to cheat) o anche sopraffare (to defeat), ridurre all’impotenza (to reduce to impotence, e sim. (cfr. l’analogo uso di fregare, buggerare e sim.): m’ha fottuto, quel cialtrone!; voleva farmi lo sgambetto, ma io l’ho fottuto (opp.: ma è restato fottuto lui); anche bocciare, vincere: all’esame lo hanno fottuto; il candidato è stato fottuto dai suoi nemici nel partito. Locuzioni: mandare qualcuno a farsi f., andare a farsi f., mandare, andare a quel paese; fottersene di qualcuno, di qualche cosa, infischiarsene, fregarsene. ◆ Part. pass. fottuto, anche come agg., senza un preciso sign. proprio ma usato come epiteto ingiurioso o come espressione di sfogo: sei un porco fottuto; avere una sfortuna fottuta; che caldo fottuto!; quel baron fottuto (v. barone2); non ce l’ho fatta, mondo fottuto!

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  • In Catalan we have also the verb "fotre" which may also have this meaning. But, in colloquial speech, it can also mean "to do" and many other things, so we use it a lot (but only in informal situations). – Charo Jan 22 '18 at 10:34
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    I don't agree completely: saying that “Maria fotte Antonio” seems to suggest more the other meanings of fottere (swindling him etc.), rather than just having sex with him. – DaG Jan 22 '18 at 10:45
  • @DaG: But maybe the interpretation would change if one says "Maria fotte con Antonio"? – Charo Jan 22 '18 at 11:25
  • Indeed, @Charo. Perhaps it's not the most natural way of saying it (Maria scopa con Antonio would sound more natural), but it also depends on one's idiolect. – DaG Jan 22 '18 at 12:59
  • For what is worth, for me fottere is a very uncommon word when used in the literal meaning (both for men and women), in my idiolect scopare is way more natural to use. – Denis Nardin Jan 24 '18 at 13:46
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Fottere comes from the Latin futuere, and it means penetrate vaginally.

So, originally, this could literally only be done by a man to a woman.

"According to the classicist Holt N. Parker (1997), sexual categorization in ancient Rome was based on a fundamental distinction between sexual activity and passivity, with no special attention being paid to the homo/hetero distinction that is fundamental for modern Westerners. 'Active' sexuality in the Roman system meant using the penis to penetrate one of three bodily orifices.

[Cameron, Language and Sexuality]

Nowadays I believe you would use, from less to more crude, fare (al)l'amore con, fare sesso con or scopare (con) - or any of dozens of synonyms - that are more or less gender neutral.

What happens when the woman takes the initiative

I've heard distinctions made as to the initiating party by using the transitive or intransitive form of scopare, or even farsi scopare.

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According to this Online Italian Etymological Dictionary, the proper meaning of the word “fottere” is “to plant” (a seed, etc.); from this, the meaning of “having sexual intercourse” would have developed, but with an easily understandable connection with the idea of penetration. As a matter of fact, “fottere” (qualcuna/o) does not mean “to have sexual intercourse” (with somebody) in its broadest and most general sense, but, more specifically, “to penetrate” (somebody). This explains why, in cultures or in times still dominated by sexual stereotypes, the verb could be defined as “possedere sessualmente una donna”. Of course, it may be the case that “A fotta B” (in the sexual sense, cf. @abarisone’s answer for the meaning of fottere related to cheating) for all the four possible combinations of A’s and B’s genders, although it is likely, in the case of A being a female, that the use of some kind of device is implicitly understood.

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    That etymological dictionary is quite dated and not always reliable. I am not saying that this particular etymology (i.e., the original meaning being “to plant”) is wrong, but I'd like to see an independent conformation, precisely because it's very interesting. – DaG Jan 27 '18 at 16:12
  • Neither this, nor this (of dubious reliability that they are too) seem to confirm. – DaG Jan 27 '18 at 16:15
  • @DaG: Well, actually the Wikipedia source mentions the root “fu-” as a possible etymology. I agree, anyway, that the matter both deserves and requires further investigation. – GuM Jan 27 '18 at 17:38

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