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Summer Guide 2011

In (the) heat

The psychology, anthropology and politics of the summer fling

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: Photo: Bill Rauhaser, License: N/A

Photo: Bill Rauhaser

"Three on a Beach" by iconic Detroit photographer Bill Rauhaser appeared in The Family of Man, a photography exhibition curated by Edward Steichen shown in 1955 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Find this photo and more in the beautiful book 20th Century Photography in Detroit, available at

Summer Guide 2011
  • In (the) heat The psychology, anthropology and politics of the summer fling | 6/15/2011
  • Juggalos in the mist A retreat to the wilderness turns weird in a heartbeat | 6/15/2011
  • Killer prose By day, he's a Detroit business writer. On his time off, Tom Henderson is a chronicler of the sensational, the lurid | 6/15/2011
  • Feed your head Detroiter lit-lovers share their summer reads | 6/15/2011
  • Life's a beach Summer highs to look forward to | 6/15/2011

"Look for a lack of consistency and follow-up. Are you staying in or are they taking you out on dates? Are they introducing you to their family and friends? The hard part, though, is that people are very good at lying, they'll too conveniently keep people out of their life if that's what they want."

So, it is in our nature to fling for fun. And like most fun things, this kinky kind comes with its own set of consequences. And maybe it's not for everybody, though Ryan would disagree.

Still, why is it the summer fling and not the winter tryst?

For starters, it's a sensually charged time of year. "There's skin showing and the skin is warm from the sun. Maybe it's wet, too," Ryan says. "And flowers are blossoming like crazy. What are flowers but the genitals of plants? Every time you smell a flower, you're picking up a sexual cue from another being."

Scott's approach is a tad more pragmatic: "There's less focus on work and responsibilities, especially if you're a student," she says. "Summertime, a summer job, or vacationing to a hot place, you're wearing revealing clothing and you're partying, drinking, which lends itself to spontaneity. You're more likely to act out your fantasies." These geographic circumstances, she says, can lend to a sense of anonymity, which turns us on. "Depending on the situation, you can take on a different persona and pretend to be something you're not," she says, warning that with Facebook and Twitter "that lie might be hard to maintain."

Ryan says we can't help ourselves, that the summer brings about engrained impulses to engage in erotically charged rituals. "You find it in large scale societies and you'll find it in hunter-gatherer societies, too," he says, noting socially acceptable fling arenas such as Mardi Gras, Carnival in Rio, American college frat parties and spring break vacations:

"Our modern sexual structures are in direct conflict with our sexual predisposition. We need look no further than the mild-mannered girl who finds herself in Cancun for spring break and enters the wet T-shirt contest. We find ourselves in these constrained and sexually conflicted social situations all the time, so any opportunity to break out of that, for a week or just one night, is welcomed."

So, that's why girls go wild? Sort of. But alcohol plays a significant and undeniable role. Anyone who's ever seen an infomercial for those sexually exploitative soft-porn DVDs featuring college co-eds knows this. And what happens the next day? You've heard it before: "I was drunk so it doesn't count."

"This leads to alcohol abuse," Ryan says. "It's common among repressed gay or bi-sexual men who get wasted and seek out homosexual encounters," Ryan says. They were drunk. They had fun but couldn't reconcile their actions and emotions the next morning.

"That gives them the excuse to go get drunk again. A free pass in their minds," Ryan says. "The alcohol only enables them to evade social constraints instead of confronting them, which in turn retards social progress."

And who wants to spend their summer retarding social progress?

Maybe it's the people who don't understand or are afraid of the power of a free body. As Ryan sees it:

Boxing from the left, the libidinal liberals. In the right corner, we have repressed Republicans (including the radical right terrorists who condone killing abortion doctors).

But wait: Isn't this supposed to be an article about summer flings? How'd we end up on politics, you ask?

It comes back to understanding ourselves and being tolerant of others, Ryan and Hedva say.

"In the last decade, there's been huge acceptance for gay rights, an incredible push for gay marriage, and the acceptance of the legitimacy of homosexuality as a biological reality, not some central decision that people make. I think polyamory is the next gay," says Ryan.

Hedva agrees: "Our culture has a lot of moral judgment about people who have multiple partners, who don't settle down, who are not interested in having children. That all goes against the grain. Somebody who is gay can kiss somebody from the opposite sex, but won't be erotically stimulating for them. Likewise, somebody who prefers serial flings or a polyamorous lifestyle might find their sexual energy in having the freedom of sexual expression in multiple partners."

Never more so than when the days are long and the nights are warm.

And for those so inclined, Ryan offers a final bit of guidance:

"When it comes to a fling, it's important to keep in mind Dan Savage's campsite rule, which he usually applies to people who engaged in sexual relationships with someone younger: Leave them in better shape than you found them, no diseases and no drama. Don't leave your garbage behind and stamp out any fires. A fling can be a true win-win scenario. And one more thing: Young men need to learn that the best way to get into a woman's pants is to respect her."

What's sun got to do with it?
It's in the stars

Looking at the astrology of the summer fling from the perspective of the Northern Hemisphere, July is mainly Cancer, and August is mainly Leo. Cancer is an emotional time. We're looking for a sense of connection, comfort and belonging. And Leo expresses individuality, creativity, unbridled affection and sexuality. We can look at both of those signs at play and see exactly what happens in the short-term fling: There's the desire to feel connectivity, fostered by Cancerian energy. And that quest for freedom and self-expression comes through romantic play fostered by Leo. Leo also promotes risk-taking and gambling. If the fling is an affair, that's a big risk, gambling on whether or not your primary partner is going to find out, and if they do find out, whether they're going to stick around. Astrologically, that's all solar energy at play. But there are always other forces, like the moon, influencing what motivates and moves us. And the moon goes through each sign of the zodiac every month. The weeks it moves through Cancer and Leo, during the months of July and August, present a powerful alignment that could foster a summer fling. —Dr. Beth Hedva, from an interview with Travis R. Wright

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