Despite the fact that August Rodin’s THE KISS was made of bronze, it captured the intimacy and intense emotion that has grown to be a symbol of love’s beginning and/or the enduring love between two people. Though early artists rarely illustrated kissing, anthropologists assume it has always represented love and close human contact. Even in the animal world nuzzling, licking and kissing are instinctual.
Instinctual or Learned?
Andrea Demirjian in her book “Kissing: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About One of Life’s Sweetest Pleasures,” discusses the argument of kissing’s origins: some anthropologists side with the instinctive, intuitive explanation, citing an evolution from a baby suckling at the breast to mothers chewing food and then passing it to the infant for sustenance. Another theory says early cave dwellers smelled and tasted the saliva of women to discover if they were healthy and capable of procreation. From these actions the kiss evolved and possibly Eskimo nose rubbing. An argument against kissing being instinctual is that researchers discovered cultures in the South Pacific and Asia where kissing was not done until European explorers landed and introduced this activity.
Kissing has been around for a long time. Indian Vedic Sanskrit texts of 1500 BC mention kissing revealing its very early appearance in literature. The Indian religious text Kama Sutra defines kissing as early as the 6th century AD. In the Roman culture, different kisses meant different things. The Osculum was a kiss on the cheek, Basium a kiss on the lips and Savolium was a deep kiss, which today we call French kissing. Kisses instead of handshakes were used to seal legal agreements. Kisses sealed documents and letters and thus we inherited the term “sealed with a kiss.”
During times when people did not know how to read or write they drew an X on the line for their signature to make it legal. Today we sign letters with X for a kiss. Early Christians greeted each other with a kiss to show unity and shared understanding.
The Kiss in European History
Today the European culture still supports a kiss on the cheek for a greeting. Andrea Demirjian relates that kissing on the cheek was probably adopted to rid cultures of confusion. For many centuries the mouth kiss was the form of greeting and one didn’t know what that greeting actually meant: is he interested in me or is he just saying hello? Of course some connections between illness and kissing had to be made with the onset of the Black Death. To avoid the pestilence people began kissing on the cheek, thus avoiding germs, illness and possible death.
Good and Bad Kisses
In writing we often find kissing to be an extremely positive symbol: Sleeping Beauty is awakened from a death-sleep by the kiss of a prince. The Frog Prince who’s been cursed by a witch is able to reclaim his manhood when kissed by a princess. But the kiss of Judas Iscariot marked Jesus Christ for arrest, torture and death.
It’s in the Chemistry
So what’s the real skinny on kissing? When people first meet and date they often talk about “chemistry.” What is or could be going on between these two people? It’s not unlike the sniffing in cave-men times. Kissing truly involves a chemical experience as it elicits the production of neurotransmitters which flood the brain. If the chemistry between two people is right, the kiss begins a chain of pleasurable feelings.
In our culture today kissing does not have to be sexual. We often assign the message: close human contact showing warmth and love. Platonic friends kiss each other. Mothers kiss their children, and kiss a knee or hand that’s been hurt.
Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of “The Science of Kissing” says that all of it matters. “Our lips are packed with sensitive nerve endings. When you look at the amount of our brains involved in the sense of touch, our lips are very overrepresented…Women often say kissing is a way to tell where the relationship is going, and many people remember their first kiss more than their first sexual encounter.”
Thanks to Round Peg photostream
The Kiss Klimt