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All Hot and Bothered : You aren't imagining that strong case of summer lust. Science backs you up.

July 06, 1994|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marieke Veltman, toned and tanned in a bikini, is taking in summer's sensual stimuli: a sunny afternoon, a balmy breeze and buffed men who are practically au naturel .

She points to a guy in a skimpy swimsuit cooling off at a public shower at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades. Rob Heidger, 25, of Santa Monica has what she likes in a man: "Strong back, broad shoulders and a nice tushy."

Veltman, 22, playfully calls it a case of summer lust.

With its longer days and hotter nights, summer has a reputation for arousing the sex drive, stripping away inhibitions--and sometimes clothing.

And there's a scientific basis for these seasonal surges in urges, experts say.

Lyndon McGill, author of "The Mating Game," (Sundial Press, 1992), and lecturer on male-female communication, says that during the shorter, darker days of winter, some men and women suffer from depression caused by seasonal affective disorder. This affects a person's hormone rhythms, he says.

"During the winter months, our urges are more repressed. We're in the survival urge mode. But as the weather shifts from cloudy to sunny, estrogen levels shift from low to high gear. Come summer, we're no longer planting the fruit, we're picking it," he says.

In the same vein, Winnifred B. Cutler, author of "Love Cycles: The Science of Intimacy" (Villard, 1991), writes that men register higher levels of testosterone duringthe warmer months, attributing the increase to "the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun."

Helen E. Fisher, the author of "Anatomy of Love: The Mysteries of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray" (Fawcett-Columbine, 1994), says sights, sounds and scents propel our passion. "The smells of summer--fragrant flowers, lush grass, trees, fresh air, oils that mix with the skin and travel more in the humid air--all make for a lusty season."

Fisher, a research associate in the department of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, says we can blame our increased interest in sex on the limbic system, a part of the brain that "governs our strong primitive emotions such as anger, jealously, fear, disgust and, of course, love and lust."

She says one of the hallmarks of humans is that we can respond sexually year round. "But in the summer, things happen that can trigger more sensual feelings," she says, adding that revealing clothes ranks way up there. "Women's swimsuits are skimpier than a bra and panties. A man's bathing suit is no more than skivvies. It's no wonder people are going from the beach to the bed."

For many--young and old--summertime conjures up the feeling of "school is out," says Dennis Palumbo, a therapist who practices in Sherman Oaks.

Summer, he says, triggers romantic fantasy because there is an impermanence about the season. "Summer is going to end and some people are thinking, 'I've got to have a summer fling before September.' "

But while summer casts its romantic spell, health officials warn not to fall prey to summer flings without practicing safe sex.

"All it takes is a single act of unprotected intercourse to get gonorrhea, chlamydia or AIDS," says Dale Kay of the American Social Health Assn. Kay also is director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention STD national hot line, which answered more than 45,000 calls about sexually transmitted diseases last summer.

"The bottom line is this," Kay says. "If you are going to have sex with a stranger these days, you should not expect honesty. You should expect to wear a condom."

Adam Glickman, founder and president of Condomania, says his shops in Los Angeles, on Melrose Avenue, and in New York's Greenwich Village sell 30% more condoms during summer than any other season.

Dr. Gary Richwald, director of the Los Angeles County Sexually Transmitted Disease Program, said that at the end of the summer, "student health services at schools, private doctors' offices and STD clinics see an increase in venereal diseases."

*

Tiffany Starr, 23, of Venice, has fond memories of last summer. While vacationing in the Bahamas with a group of girlfriends, the actress/model/waitress met "a really nice guy" who happened to be a dead ringer for actor Andy Garcia.

It was fling at first sight, Starr recalls while soaking in the rays on the beach in Pacific Palisades, her cellular phone nearby just in case her agent rings.

Kevin Waterbury, 22, of Santa Monica, is all ears while plopped nearby on the sand.

"We saw each other on the beach and it just went from there," Starr recalls of the two weeks that included water-skiing, dancing, gambling, boating and long walks along the moonlit beach.

"It was a fantasy fulfilled. We never stayed in touch because that was how we both wanted it," she says. "But it will always be a great memory."

Starr says that if she finds herself romantically attracted to a guy this summer, "he's gonna know it."

Waterbury and a friend, Tony Zapata, decline to join a volleyball game, deciding that Starr is more interesting.

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