What’s Behind a Kiss?


We look forward to the first one that marks the beginning of many in our lives. The quality of it is often the make or break of a budding romance. The French contributed their own variety to the act. And sometimes we even do it ‘sitting in a tree’.

The kiss has a significance and presence greater than most realize today, and a history that would probably stump even the masters of the art. For an act engaged in by humans of all shapes and sizes, races and genders, not many truly know – what’s behind a kiss?

Made in India

In today’s media and pop culture, Indians are often portrayed as conservative and extremely modest citizens of the world, ghastly offended and thoroughly abashed at the somewhat liberal attitudes of Americans and other Western cultures. These attitudes especially show when it comes to any topics of the sexual nature. What interests many of these Westerners is that Kama Sutra, an ancient text about human sexual behavior originated in India. Most would consider this text rather risque, at times evoking a blush and a downcast of the eyes of the accidental viewer or reader.

Well, it turns out the country behind the Kama Sutra also seems to have produced of the first lip-lockers of the world. The earliest literary evidence of kissing dates back about 3500 years ago (around 1500 B.C.) in ancient Sanskrit texts from India. Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist from Texas A&M was quoted by the International Tribune Herald in 2006 saying that these texts refer to people “sniffing” with their mouths and lovers “setting mouth to mouth” He theorizes that kissing made its way to the West by way of Alexander the Great who conquered the Indian state of Punjab in 326 B.C.

And before kissing may have been socially acceptable on the silver screen in the western hemisphere, the Indians were smooching in movies as early as 1933. Devika Rani, a leading lady in movies during that time is credited to the first spit-swapper in Indian cinema in the movie Karma. It is speculated that the kiss lasted a whopping four minutes and is thought to be the longest kiss on the big screen in the world. Talk about healthy lungs!

We’re Not Alone

Humans have a tendency to consider themselves the superior race. What – because we can talk, build things, think with complexity, walk on two legs, and kiss – we claim the top spot in the competition of the best living creatures? Well, actually –  almost all animals communicate in their own languages; most have to build their own homes from the ground up; many have better raw survival skills than humans – even as babies; more than one species can walk on two legs; and turns out other animals also know affection and kiss – or something like it.

Because there is not a clear-cut definition for “kissing”, and it can be a term that more accurately describes the act humans engage in of pressing lips to lips or other parts of the body, people should understand that at the most basic level “kissing” is an act of affection. As anthropologist Sheril Kirshenbaum from The University of Texas-Austin and the author of The Science of Kissing said on the podcast Science Friday, there are a lot of behaviors in the animal kingdom, “that look a lot like kissing.”

Some of the species Kirshenbaum mentions are the Bonobo Apes which have been, “spotted to suck on each other’s tongues for about 12 minutes straight.” While this behavior seems a lot like the human kiss, animals like turtles and giraffes have been seen to tap heads or entwine their necks. Humans aren’t the only ones who need love, people!

Righty or Lefty?

The majority of people in the world are born with a tendency to have one dominant working hand: right or left. The rare few have the option of working with both with equal productivity. Regardless of a person’s ‘handedness’, however,  there seems to be no correlation to the direction of the ‘lean’ when going in for the kiss. German researcher Onur Güntürkün, conducted a study in which he observed couples locking lips in public arenas  like beaches, airports, railway stations, etc. in Germany, the U.S., and Turkey.(Obviously PDA wasn’t a discouraging factor for these lovers) What he found was that regardless of a person’s right or left-handedness, two-thirds of kissers have a tendency to lean to the right when smooching.

This finding, Güntürkün told BBC News in 2003, has a correlation to the tendency of babies turning their heads to the right when they are in the wombs.

“There could be one very early habit given to humans before birth which still influences our behaviour for the rest of our life and is visible in subtle habits during, for example, kissing.”

Another expert, Professor Chris McManus of the University College of London says this all makes sense, and told BBC News that 90% of babies, when laid on their backs, “turn their head to the right and stick out their left arm. It’s a reflex.”

Some will argue the history and ‘science’ behind kissing attempts to give explanation to the act of locking lips to a lover or a loved one, when it is simply a phenomenon of life that needs understanding. It is an act of emotion, love, and passion and much like spirituality, is something you have to feel rather than see or study to truly grasp the beauty of it. Even then, now you know a little more about kissing for that next icebreaker. Who knows – you may even get a kiss out of it?

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