More than 90% of human societies kiss, perhaps indicating that this ancient expression of love is practised for good reason. Kissing is good for us but impacts us on a far deeper, more complex level that you might expect.
The word ‘kiss’ is from the Old English ‘cyssan’, the proto-Germanic ‘kussijanan’ or ‘kuss’, probably based on the sound a kiss makes.
Kissing throughout History
The earliest references to kissing were found in the Vedic texts of Ancient India dating 1500 B.C. and talk about rubbing noses together. It is thought that someone slipped and ended up rubbing lips which turned into a kiss.
It’s thought that when Alexander the Great conquered India, the idea of kissing spread to the Middle East. This led to its inclusion in such places as the Song of Songs from the Old Testament:
_“May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,
Because [his] lovemaking is better than wine”._
The Romans created three categories of kissing: Osculum, a kiss on the cheek, Basium, a kiss on the lips and Savolium, a deep kiss. Kissing played an important part in Greco-Roman culture, being seen as a sign of respect, thanks, reunion and agreement as well as a rite of inclusion. Kissing at the end of a marriage ceremony can be traced back to Roman times where a kiss was used to signal a contract of marriage.
Early Christians kissed each other in highly specific settings to distinguish themselves from non Christians. The biblical reference: “Greet one another with a holy kiss” is mentioned at the end of I Thessalonians. This religious ritual kiss was used during prayer, baptism, ordination, funerals and monastic vows. Leper kissing during the 12th and 13th centuries became fashionable among medieval ascetics and religious nobility to indicate proof of humility.
Cultural Differences in Kissing
We are still unsure as to whether kissing is a learned or instinctual behaviour. In some cultures in Africa and Asia, kissing is not practised at all.
Although considered childish, more than 95% of men and women like to rub noses during kissing. Often called “Eskimo kisses”, this form of kissing is loosely based on a traditional Inuit greeting called “kunik”. This kiss is also performed by numerous Pacific Islander cultures, including the Maori of New Zealand where it is a ritual greeting.
The term “French kiss” came into the English language around 1923 as a slur on the French culture which was thought to be overtly sexual. In France, it is called a tongue kiss or soul kiss because if done correctly, it feels as if two souls are merging. In fact, several ancient cultures thought that mouth to mouth kissing mingled two lovers’ souls.
The French did not actually have a word for French kissing but the one-word verb “galocher” – to kiss with tongues – has recently been added to the “Petit Robert” 2014 French dictionary. “La galoche” is an ice skating boot, so the new term plays on the idea of sliding around on ice skates, perhaps as our lips do during a kiss.
In some areas of Italy and other Mediterranean countries, friends greet each other by kissing on the mouth, both male and female. Arab men kiss each other on the cheek in greeting. In France, protocol demands a kiss on each cheek and Parisians kiss four times, while the Dutch throw in a third one for good luck.
In strict Muslim countries public kissing does not occur and in some cases people have been arrested for kissing outside the home.
In Vietnam, spouses do not kiss outside the home or in front of their children and parents rarely kiss children, except when they are small babies.
There are cultures in the world that don’t kiss for a variety of reasons, including that they find it dirty. In parts of Sudan they believe that the mouth is the portal to the soul, so they don’t want to invite death. Psychology professor Elaine Hatfield noted that “kissing was far from universal and even seen as improper by many societies.”
Kissing in Films
Kissing in films has received much attention throughout the decades with rules and regulations being enforced by the film studios.
The first on screen kiss was filmed in 1896 by the Edison Company. It was titled ‘The May Irwin – John C. Rice Kiss’, lasted 30 seconds long and consisted entirely of a man and woman kissing close up. The first on screen kiss between a same sex couple was in Cecile B. DeMille’s ‘Manslaughter’ in 1922. The Hayes Code enforced between 1930 to 1968 stipulated that people kissing in films could not be lying down, one person had to be either standing or sitting down and if in bed, one person had to keep their foot in contact with the floor! In addition, all on screen married couples had to sleep in twin beds.
The longest kiss in film history is ‘Elena Undone’, directed by Nicole Conn. It was between two women and lasted 3.24 minutes. Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty made history by having Hollywood’s first French kiss on screen in the 1961 film, ‘Splendour in the Grass’.
The kiss between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in the Hitchcock film ‘Notorious’ is considered the sexiest kiss in cinematic history. The Hayes Code deemed that they couldn’t kiss for more than a few seconds so Hitchcock directed Bergman and Grant to kiss briefly whilst Grant was answering the telephone.
‘Don Juan’ is the film with the most kisses in film history, with Barrymore kissing 191 different women during the film. He and Mary Astor shared 126 kisses. Kissing is never shown in films in India.
The Physiology of Kissing
The science of kissing is called philematology. It may have originated when mothers passed orally chewed solid food to their infants during weaning. Another theory suggests that kissing evolved from prospective mates sniffing each other’s pheromones for biological compatibility.
How does a kiss work?
A kiss is like a drug triggering a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters to flow through our bodies and brain. Kissing keeps our bodies busy interpreting numerous signals distributed by billions of small nerve connections. As these neural impulses bounce between the brain, facial muscles, lips and skin, they produce a number of neurotransmitters which influence how we feel. During a kiss we activate five of the twelve cranial nerve pathways which are spread out to different parts of our face which help us to see, hear, taste and smell.
Kissing can promote the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which helps us to feel pleasure. It is accredited to creating a feeling of walking on air. Dopamine causes us to crave more of this feel good sensation.
Oxytocin is a hormone triggered by kissing and is believed to be the substance which helps keep feelings of love alight in long term relationships. It is also produced when babies are breast fed and may be linked to the maternal bond the mother feels towards her child during breast feeding. A newborn’s first experience of breast feeding uses movements and mouth pressure similar to kissing and this action can lay the neural pathways in a baby’s brain which continue to be important in adult life when forming powerful, bonding relationships.
A passionate kiss can also raise our levels of serotonin as well as adrenaline, both of which have physical affects on the body, such as causing our blood vessels to dilate as oxygen levels increase in the brain. This, in turn, causes our cheeks to flush, our pulse to quicken and our breathing to become irregular and deepens. Our pupils dilate which may be the reason why we close our eyes during kissing to reduce the amount of light entering our pupils. Some women can experience an orgasm from prolonged kissing without genital contact which may seem unusual but our lips are the most exposed erogenous part of our bodies, containing a huge number of nerve endings which send a flood of information to our brains, making us feel good. Our lips are highly sensitive, being 100 times more sensitive than fingers.
A kiss from someone we love can lower levels of cortisol, a hormone produced under stress, reducing uneasiness and making us feel secure. Research has found that 59% of men and 66% of women have ended a budding relationship because of a bad first kiss. When the chemistry is wrong, people know when to instinctively back away. According to one study, men are more particular about who they kiss than who they go to bed with, indicating that kissing is more about love than sex is.
Not surprisingly, our first kiss can make a deep impression on our memory. Psychologist John Bohannon studied over 500 subjects and discovered that most people remembered more of the details about their first kiss than their first sexual encounter, no matter if it took place five months or 50 years ago.
The most important muscle in kissing is the orbicularis oris, known as the kissing muscle which allows the lips to pucker.
French kissing involves all 34 facial muscles whereas a pucker kiss only uses two.
Passionate kissing burns 6.4 calories a minute and the longest kiss was 58:35:58 hours and was conducted by Ekkachai and Laksana Tiranaraty in Thailand.
When two people kiss they exchange between 10 million and 1 billion bacteria but kissing is good for your teeth as the anticipation of a kiss increases the flow of saliva, giving the teeth a plaque dispersing bath.
Approximately, two thirds of people tip their head to the right when kissing and it has been speculated that this preference begins in the womb during development.
If a kiss can evoke fireworks or the playing of violins or does not come up to our expectations, it acts as the single most universal and humanizing practice we all share. A kiss goes far beyond what words can convey where our relationships are concerned and in expressing our emotions.
So pucker up and get kissing!