Chances are you have probably met someone in your life and felt a certain connection. You may have gone on a date or started a casual conversation or maybe you had known them for a long time but somewhere along the way you probably shared a tradition that could decide the future of your relationship, a tradition that has been practiced for thousands of years, a simple act that means so much, a kiss. You may have felt a spark, or tingle, or goosebumps, or butterflies but chances are there has been someone in your life that when you kissed you felt, well, something. Why is that? Why do we attach so many emotions to such a simple act? Is it a learned behavior or instinctive? Perhaps, most of all, why does it feel soooo good?
There are many theories of how kissing has started, the earliest being the days of the caveman where it is speculated that mothers would (like birds) chew their children’s food for them and feed them from their mouths. This of course psychologically being a sign of affection which could possibly have ingratiated its way into adult practice. More theories, however, seem to be steeped in tradition of courting or the union of two people. One of these theories comes from Central Europe in the Ziller Valley where the exchange of a tobacco leaf could symbolize an exchange of affection, the male would bite the tobacco leaf with half protruding out of the mouth the female would then bite the visible part of the leaf where she would have to touch lips in the exchange `al’a lady and the tramp with the spaghetti. There is also theories from 2000BC that people bringing their faces together was traditional for couples and in Indian cultures they believed that when you exhale part of your soul escapes so that when mouths were pressed together exchanging breaths they were actually exchanging part of their souls.
Science of course has a much more logical and emotionless explanation. In fact the scientific name for kissing is osculation, how very romantic. Scientists still do not know whether kissing is instinctive or learned though they have found some species of primates who kiss though the function of the kiss (whether serving a function or just a symbol of affection). Science also says that everyone has a major histocompatibility complex or MHC which is a genome that controls our immune system, autoimmunity, and reproductive success. This MHC affects women in that they find themselves attracted to men whose MHC makeup is different or opposite of their own, which means scientifically that their children will have better immune systems or chances of survival because of the combination of the diverse MHC. This of course feeds the survival of the fittest theory through the study of genotypes. However, studies in 2005 showed that women taking oral birth control may have the opposite reaction and exhibit more of a preference for men with similar MHC.
There are so many different meanings to this simple act. In Western cultures kissing is a sign of affection done between family members and couples in Eastern cultures kissing is a sign of respect given to elders and people of respectable position in society. In some situations a kiss can symbolize the end of something or a goodbye like mafia cultures “kiss of death” also exhibited in biblical times how Jesus was “betrayed with a kiss” by Judas. Some agreements or oaths are said to be “sealed with a kiss” while other times a kiss can improve your way of life with examples of kissing the blarney stone for the gift of eloquence and kissing religious literature for eradication of sin. One culture, however, studied by George Orwell in 1934, the Burmese, are said to find the act repugnant and do not even possess a word in their language that describes the ancient tradition. The Eskimos display their own version of the kiss by rubbing the tips of their noses together other cultures have come up with different versions as well for kissing such as the butterfly kiss where eyelashes flutter together and the caterpillar kiss where eyebrows meet and rub against one another.
No matter what the tradition or theory, this act is one of the most practiced and least appreciated of all acts in our society. The Romans had three types of kissing that they displayed: osculum which is a kiss on the cheek, two: basium is affection on the lips, and three: suavium a lovers deep kiss. Any one of these take 20 muscles to perform (possibly more if the tongue is used!) and you can convey so much without having to speak a word through this symbol of affection. So exercise those muscles and show people exactly what you think of them while making yourself feel good in the process because we may never know why kissing makes us feel so good but in the end does it really matter as long as it does? I tend to agree with Mr. Henry Finck when he said, “Is not a kiss the very autograph of love?”.