A History of the Kiss

Posted: January 4, 2015 at 12:46 pm


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MUSIC/No I dont think I will kiss you, although you need kissing badly. Thats whats wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how. (Gone With The Wind)

Amanda Smith: A smoochy-smoochy, osculating edition of The Body Sphere here on RN. I'm Amanda Smith, bringing you the science and history of kissing. Why do we kiss? Is it instinct? Is it culture? What clues about yourself are you giving, and getting, when you kiss someone?

Okay so let's start with physiology, because human lips are special. Sheril Kirshenbaum is the author of The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us.

Sheril Kirshenbaum: Well, human lips are unique in that they're everted, so they purse outwardly in a way that's different from all the other members of the animal kingdom. And so when we connect through kissing it means something different, and it affects us differently than in any other species.

Amanda Smith: Well, we're going to focus here mostly on lip-to-lip kissing, but there are, of course, lots of other kinds of kisses. In many ancient texts, from Vedic Sanskrit writings to Homer to the Old Testament, a kiss is a greeting. What information is being exchanged, in a way, why have we greeted each other with a kiss going back for who knows how far?

Sheril Kirshenbaum: Well, we always hear about this confrontation between nature and nurtureyou know, is there instinct behind some behaviour or is it culturaland kissing is a wonderful example of both, nature and nurture, complementing each other. So we kiss people for different reasons. We kiss them because it's what we're familiar with, what we see on the street, what we see today in movies and billboards and things. But we also seem to have this instinctive drive to do this. And a kiss can tell us about the health of another person because you're up close and personal, you're getting a sample of their scent, you're getting clues about whetherif it's a romantic kissthey might be someone you're compatible with. And the odds are pretty good that people have been kissing for as long as humans have been around.

Amanda Smith: So does kissingyou know, using your lips to gather a sense or information about another persontheir smell, their feel, their tasteis it understood to derive in any way from breastfeeding?

Sheril Kirshenbaum: So we think that kissing probably arose and disappeared all around the world for a variety of reasons. One of the leading theories about why we do the practice, why it's carried from infancy into adulthood does indeed deal with breastfeeding. A newborn's first experiences with love and comfort and security involve lip stimulation through nursing, if they're nursed, or even through bottle feeding. We're tilting our head in a similar way that we would tilt our head if we were kissing.

In fact more women more frequently breastfeed to the left, causing us to tilt our head to the right, and when it comes to kissing itself more of us are actually turning to the right and tilting our head to the right to kiss. So we do think that might actually be kind of a carryover. We're associating these very positive emotions laid down early in our lives and then carried over into adulthood, so when we want to express ourselves in a similar way or a more romantic way, we give them a kiss.

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A History of the Kiss

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January 4th, 2015 at 12:46 pm