A Kiss is Not Just a Kiss
We’ve been kissing one another for thousands of years. But is smooching more science than art, more biology than poetry?
“A man’s kiss is his signature.” — Mae West
A kiss is not just a kiss. There’s the romantic kiss, the social kiss, the air kiss, the kiss that conveys affection, familial ties or deep respect.
The ancient Romans were big on romantic kissing, but the Greeks viewed kissing more as a way to pay homage or give social recognition. In Biblical times, washing and kissing another’s feet was considered a gesture of humility and respect. The Black Stone of Mecca, a relic considered holy by Muslims, has been polished smooth by centuries of kissing. Today, kissing is a near universal behavior, with many of us puckering up under the mistletoe, to seal a marriage and to ring in the New Year.
Humans have been kissing — for any number of reasons — for a very long time, according to scientists. But where did the custom come from and why exactly do we do it?
There are several evolutionary theories that could explain why people are attracted to the lips of other people, Sheril Kirshenbaum, biologist and author of The Science of Kissing, said at the ideacity 2011 conference in Toronto.
Women are from Venus — and men are easy?
Women place more importance than men on the act of the kiss itself, according to Kirshenbaum. By contrast, men tend to see kissing as a means to an end — or, in other words, as foreplay for sex. And studies have shown that by kissing, men pass along small amounts of testosterone through their saliva, priming their mate for sexual intercourse.
Sixty six per cent of women reported they ended a budding relationship because of a bad first kiss, she said. For men, this number was 59 per cent.
What about the cootie-factor?
Kissing is thought to engender passion and facilitate reproduction, as well as feelings of comfort and well-being — but what about the possible problem we don’t like to think about: spreading germs? Kirshenbaum devoted an entire chapter of her book to this issue, and she said that as long as bacteria and viruses aren’t getting into the bloodstream, kissing presents little risk to our health. (Unless, of course, you’re into the recent vampire trend that’s popular among some teenagers. Unlike kissing, ‘biting’ and sharing blood presents very real dangers since germs that are essentially harmless in our saliva can be risky once they get into your bloodstream, Kirshenbaum said.)
In fact, kissing can be good for our hearts in more ways than one – by fostering more intimacy and satisfaction in our relationships and reducing cholesterol levels and overall stress. (See 10 reasons to have sex tonight.)