Why Do We Kiss?
Many of us do it multiple times every day. We kiss good morning, goodnight, hello, goodbye. A kiss comes in many forms: a peck on the cheek, the air kiss, a kiss on the hand, as well as those of a more romantic variety. But, why do we do it? Where did the idea of touching one’s lips to another come from? Our motivations to kiss vary just as much. Is a biological or social?
A Google search for “kiss”, not surprisingly, has over 500 million hits. What is surprising (to me, anyway) is that the first page is almost entirely dedicated to the 70s heavy metal band. Searching “why kiss” turns up 634 million. (Apparently, I am not the only one wondering.)
According to Wikipedia, “a kiss can express sentiments of love, passion, affection, respect, greeting, friendship, peace and good luck, among many others. In some situations a kiss is a ritual, formal or symbolic gesture indicating devotion, respect, or sacrament.” The website further explains that anthropologist have two theories: kissing is instinctual or it derived from mothers chewing and feeding food to their infants (yuck!). The earliest known written reference is in the Old Testament and we apparently have the Romans to thank for spreading the custom far and wide. (Wiki states “The Romans were passionate about kissing.”)
Kissing is seen everywhere in our culture. In music: in the above-mentioned band and in countless songs across all genres. In art: many paintings, drawings, sculptures depict humans engaging in a kiss. Movies show us the “foot-popping” kiss, the “fireworks” kiss,” true-love’s” kiss. The film The Princess Bride begins and ends with a discussion of one of the greatest kisses in history. Kisses are even featured in children’s literature: In Else Holmelund Minarik’s A Kiss for Little Bear (one of my childhood favorites), the entire story is about a kiss. Little girls hear how kissing a frog will turn it into a prince. We have even found a way to “kiss” remotely, by “blowing a kiss” or with a serious of x’s or lip prints on a card. And the Hershey Chocolate Company makes it possible for all of us to make kisses part of our daily lives.
Google is an amazing thing. Through it, one can learn a lot about kissing (perhaps too much, certainly more and in more depth than I want to necessarily see). Many seem to agree that it is instinctual, that it satisfies a hunger for love and affection. The greatest focus is on the romantic kiss.
Apparently some people have taken the “why” question to heart. This group of people call themselves philematologists and they formally study the anatomy and evolutionary history of kissing. Apparently not every culture indulges in this particular practice. About 10 percent of the human population does not kiss (amazing!), which supports the theory that kissing is learned (that mouth feeding thing, ugh).
WebMD gives quite a bit of information about kissing, claiming that it has quite a few health benefits. The site quotes Michael Cane, author of The Art of Kissing, who “lectures” on kissing at colleges around the country. (I don’t’ remember books or lectures like that when I was in college!) He says, “Kissing is passion and romance and what keeps people together.” The website makes the argument that kissing, by its very nature, creates intimacy and trust, as people are physically close to one another. Kissing can create a bond, reduces stress and boosts self-esteem.
Other reasons to kiss include as ritual, as a sign of respect or friendship, in greeting, as part of a religious practice, as a sign of peace. A kiss is not always for a person. People have been known to kiss floors, the ground, religious icons, rings and pets. Sometimes, as in the case of the Blarney Stone, people even go to extreme lengths. Certain holidays seem to encourage the practice. Mistletoe and Kissing Balls appear around Christmas; the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve is a traditional moment to share a smooch.
An interesting statistic: Two-thirds of all people turn their head to the right when kissing, according to psychologist Onur Gntrkn of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany (dicovermagazine.com).
The website thirdage.com claims:
“Kissing burns calories. Kissing is indeed a form of exercise. Not only does it promote flexibility and tone the muscles of the face, lips, and cheeks, kissing genuinely burns calories. Kissing for twenty minutes might not burn calories like the same time spent on a treadmill, but it will burn the same number of calories you took in eating a half dozen M&M’s.”
I never eat only 6 M&Ms…