July 19, 2013 | 2
For better or worse, humans do not have a distinct “mating season.” Healthy females ovulate every month, which means that mating too can take place any time of year. And that’s just the “reproductive” sort of sexual behavior, which is to say, a very small portion of the sexual behavior we merrily exhibit. So then, why the big push for spring flings and summer love?
In a recent LiveScience piece, Adam Hadhazy investigates whether there is any science to summer romance. He highlights the important and indisputable fact that half-naked bodies are sexy, and notes that sun prompts people to get “out and about,” but ultimately produces less than convincing empirical support for seasonal affection. Which is good. There is enough cultural pressure to be fun and flirty during these hot months, really, no one needs “science” echoing the sentiment. And in fact, I think we can go a bit further here. I’d like to argue that science is on the side of singledom this season. Here’s why:
1. Summer snuggles are not as dreamy as they sound.
Over the course of any summer spoon session, there’s that awkward moment in which you transition from grateful to uncomfortable. In the context of an already too-hot room, you grow to loath the sweaty body after which you once lusted and secretly wish this breathing space heater would leave your bed. The situation is unpleasant and, potentially, unhealthy. Increased body temperature, as results from bed cohabitation, has been associated with disturbed sleep and even clinical insomnia. Research suggests that ideal nighttime room temperature is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows the body to subtly cool its core and induce sleep. Any factors prohibiting this cooling—such as the oppressive body heat of a mate—can lead to sustained physiologic arousal and impaired sleep. And sleep impairment itself is associated with a mess of medical complications, including chronic pain, diabetes and cognitive impairment, begging the question: are summer snuggles worth it?
2. Mosquitos can’t resist a romantic happy hour.
Cold beers and rapid conversation at an outdoor table for two. Sounds like a lovely date, right? Mosquitoes certainly think so. These pests are drawn to carbon dioxide in the air you exhale; and since more air is required for quick conversation, witty banter may be giving a come hither signal to more than your date. Further, studies have shown that mosquitoes are more likely to land on individuals who have been drinking beer, a signature of summer courtship. So drink up and speak up—I hear some creatures find that attractive.
3. If the sun is out, so is herpes
The next time you’re admiring the tan of a potential mate, it might behoove you to look a little closer. The ultraviolet (UV) light associated with nature’s bronzer can also lead to outbreaks of the herpes simplex virus. This goes for oral as well as genital herpes, though presumably your genitals see less sun than your face lips. In either region, these sun-induced outbreaks lead to a higher likelihood of disease transmission. So beware of cavorting with the sunkissed, for the warm kiss of the sun can bring the coldest of sores.
4. “Lovesick” may just be food poisoning
Went out to a romantic dinner and now you feel all funny inside? Those could be butterflies in your stomach. Or they could be bacteria (and not the good kind). Hot, moist air allows infectious microbes—including bacterial strains that contaminate food—to grow and reproduce at accelerated rates, leading to a heightened risk for food poisoning during summer months. And although we can take the necessary precautions to rinse and refrigerate foods when cooking for ourselves, dining out puts our fate in someone else’s (potentially bacteria-infested) hands. So all those couples that insist on publicly displaying their affection may be wise to leave room at their booth for Salmonella and E. coli. Think it might be adorable to instead pack some food and head to a park with your boo? Nope. Listeria, the third most common source of death related to food poisoning, is known to infect soft cheeses, hot dogs, prepared salads, and deli meats—in other words, all the makings of a romantic picnic. Looks like any sort of “super cute” meal could be your last. Ramen for one, on the other hand, is totally safe. And definitely not sad.
5. Even safe sex can be dangerous when things get heated.
It goes without saying that condoms are a necessary component of any hot summer fling. However, if the fling is hot enough, the condoms themselves may be at risk. As a biological material, latex can deteriorate as it heats, and exposure to UV-light has been linked to breakage—so those condoms displayed with pride and hubris on your windowsill need a new home. Additionally, lotions and oils, such as sunscreen and tan enhancers, can weaken latex. Indeed, that which protects you from the sun does not offer protection against babies and STDs. As it turns out, sex on the beach is pretty risky—and not just in the “maybe we’ll get caught” sort of way.
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I’m not saying no one should date during the summer. I’m just saying that the glow of summer love might actually be an irritated epidermis, with pink bleeding into red where mosquito bites meet herpes, and that the carrier of this swollen flesh may be an insomniac with cognitive impairment and food poisoning. Sure, the risks are slight; but so is evidence supporting the “science” of summer love, so let’s stop pretending that it’s mating season. Unaccompanied slumber may be cold and lonely, but, hey, at least it’s cold.