Thursday, May 28, 2015

Kissing: Notes on the Ubiquitous Lip Lock




At the risk of belaboring the obvious here, let’s just say that there’s a whole lot more about kissing in a sexualized, intimate context than lots of people realize. In contemporary Western cultures, most of us have been associating such kisses - soul, deep or French, or whatever we want to call them - with our most basic romantic/sexual/partnering behaviors since we first began thinking of such things. Here and elsewhere, the kiss in its romantic context seems almost a taken-for-granted sort of ritual, one that most people engage in without much thought as to what’s actually going on during the lip-locking process.

In fact, about 90% of the world’s cultures kiss, an overwhelming percentage, to be sure, but certainly not inclusive of everyone. There are groups in Sudan, for instance, who regard kissing as a flat out dirty, nasty habit and don’t engage in the practice for that pretty compelling reason. Other groups regard the mouth as the portal to the soul from which a person’s true essence is able to come and go. These folks refrain from kissing to help insure that the soul remains intact and firmly entrenched inside the person to whom it was given.

A look back in history lets us know that the word itself comes from the ancient East Indian word “busa”. In fact, the first written reference to the act appears in early Vedic scriptures around 1500 BC where a very colorful description refers to people sniffing with their mouths.  However, the indigenous people of a South Pacific island known by its inhabitants as A’ua’u Enua had no knowledge of kissing until sometime in the 18th century when Europeans arrived there with all manner of sociocultural “enlightenment” - as well as disease.

Depending on the situational context, there are myriad varieties of kisses, including those that signify platonic connection, oath-taking, friendship, kinship, respect, religious devotion, and so on and in no small measure, kissing in all its many manifestations is a human behavior that’s proven to be an integral, satisfying part of a wide variety of human interactions.

Yet, under the rubric of sexualized partnering, most of us would agree that the kiss takes on certain specific attributes that aren’t usually present in the slight, non-invasive sort of “peck on the cheek” kissing that happens between relatives, friends, casual acquaintances, politicians interacting with the infant offspring of fawning constituents, and so on.
In those instances, even when there’s deeply significant emotion in play such as between close family members, kissing is operationally, at least, a fairly straightforward affair that doesn’t involve the exchange of saliva or the oral penetration of one party by another party’s tongue.

For the record, a “regular” kiss involves a mere couple of facial muscles; by contrast, French kissing or soul kissing, the kind extolled in steamy romantic fiction, involves all thirty-four muscles of the human face.

But if you’ve ever wondered what’s actually going on in the sort of intimate kissing that takes place between lovers, or in the kind of anonymous hookups that are often the lurid grist of so-called XXX-rated fare, here’s the thing: like it or not, the kissing facts, such as they are here, just might give you pause.

While no one’s really certain about the evolutionary roots of kissing, some scientists argue that kissing evolved from the early practice called kiss-feeding, wherein mothers chewed food in order to render it digestible for their babies and then passed the chewed food from their own mouths into their babies’ mouths via a “kiss”. Part of this belief is the notion that one of the reasons we contemporary humans find kissing pleasurable now is a hardwired recollection in the marrow of our bones, recollection of the pleasurable feeling our ancestors received from having been "kiss-fed" during infancy, way back at the dawn of humanity in the shrouded mists of time.

As it turns out in the here and now, there’s a lot more going on in our kissing mouths than simply the wet and sloppy expression of a deeply pleasurable carnal desire. The open access journal Microbiome cites the work of researchers Remco Kort, Martien Caspers et al which suggests that some 80 million bacteria are exchanged in the course of a typical 10 second long intimate sort of kiss. Also according to that study, partners who kiss frequently, on an average of nine times daily, also wind up significantly sharing their salivary microbes in an ongoing way.




But the Universe is infinite in its wisdom, right? As proof of this, there’s evidence to suggest that sexualized kissing – soul, deep or French, or whatever we want to call it, serves to enhance our immune systems, by virtue of microbe exchange, in some pretty profound ways. In fact, the ubiquitous nature of kissing is credited with helping to raise the overall immune levels of the world’s human population.

We also know that kissing increases levels of oxytocin and endorphins, the body’s chemical bases for feeling good. It increases dopamine, as well, enhancing our human tendency for romantic attachment; this is true for LGBTQI partners and straight ones alike.




Moreover, some researchers believe that kissing involves some very persuasive olfactory-based information-gathering. SUNY Albany’s Gordon G. Gallups argues that kissing enables people to make subconscious determinations about the suitability of a partner for long term coupling, raising kids, and so forth based upon subtle cues conveyed through a kissing partner’s scent. 

Surprisingly, some pretty interesting genetic information may be passed along this way as well. Specifically for heterosexual partners, there’s some evidence to suggest that women prefer men whose immune system proteins are different from their own, and it’s possible that women can “smell” these differences in proteins while doing what…? Kissing, of course!

All that having been said, you can be sure there’s more – lots more about the quasi-universal lip lock, and science being the awesome demystifier that it is, more comes to light seemingly each day.


But I can’t end a post about kissing without a caveat of sorts…  Included in A Compendium of Kisses by Lana Citron, it’s the woeful and cautionary tale of a woman in China who, alas, killed her lover via a rat-poison tainted kiss when she suspected of him of cheating on her. Oh my…




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