A momentary peck on the cheek, a prolonged kiss on the lips or a fond caressing of the hand with the mouth, the seemingly simple action of a kiss today has pervaded every spectrum of our existence- from the basic to the complicated, involving complex emotions while dwelling at times on even premises of nothingness, such as a passing gesture in courtesy mandated by culture and not necessarily stemming of more personal a desire or as a custom necessitated by traditions with such basis that we might not even ascribe to. And yet, humans kiss very often, more so today whether it be in the instantly interpreted facet of the romantic or the continuing ‘passions’ of the platonic or even in a show of affection and goodwill, even when there might be none present to titillate the senses enough into enacting that contact by the lips.
Very often though, the kiss is equated with an expression of romantic love, though when and how this form of physical filiality came to be associated with just one of the many types of love does not have any definite marker. Regarded at times to be a learned behavior and on other instances to be a biological ‘need’ ingrained into humans specifically, for not many other species of animals exhibit this tendency to press their lips into action for whatever purpose, it though is quite a revelation that despite it being not regarded with high opinions by many cultures of the modern world, kisses have found their rootings in times that can very safely be referred to as periods in history. While Sumerian poetry and ancient Egyptian love poetry makes for instances of times when kiss was rendered a romantic connotation, it is quite striking to discover that the love gesture so readily accepted in the Western world and not so gladly looked upto in the eastern part of the globe however had its origin in the latter! The earliest reference to kissing-like behavior comes from the Vedas, Sanskrit scriptures that informed Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, around 3,500 years ago, and therefore is attributable to India from where it is believed to have spread to Europe after Alexander the Great conquered parts of Punjab in northern India in 326 BCE. Even the ancient Indian epic, The Mahabharata has an account related to lip kiss. The demarcation of kisses though, as to what part of the love spectrum it alluded to, was most probably first set forward by the ancient Romans who classified kisses as osculum, basium and suavium, referring respectively to a kiss on the hand or cheek, on the lips and as one of passion. Amongst all such myriad inklings providing insight into the genesis of kisses, one thing however is certain- kisses have always been an integral part of human relationships, regardless of the grounds on which they are fostered and nourished.
Which is why despite the prominence of the lips in the kissing act, this particular part of the face isn’t the exclusive entity yielding the power to cause flutters in us and lend us the warm emotions that such acts of physical closeness are capable of in all their profound realisations. While with all things love is associated the French identity making therefore the French kiss the most recognisable way of going about a kiss in erotic romance and passionate love, there exists other types of kisses, even within the ambit of romantic relationships that more dreamily sum up the expanse of this act that can render the feel good vibes. The most charming of them all has to be the angel kiss which is when your partner kisses your eyelids in an unusual gesture of love. Even when this is a kiss that is expected to be arousing and inherently romantic in nature, the fact is that an angel kiss can bring about a sense of comfort, peculiarly perhaps in being a quirky way of expressing the love feels.
Kisses on the hand are another very popular way to express affection, not necessarily romantic love even when it can indeed be intended for such effect as well, but it isn’t just the ulterior of the palm that humans have restricted themselves to in all their kissing pursuits. A surprisingly pleasant sensation of the kiss can be induced by switching to the wrist instead that which is a more sensual play along the traditional safe zone of the hand, since blood flows close to the surface of the skin on the wrist and is therefore more likely to render you the erotic chills!
Another very endearing means of kissing, even when it does not involve the lips at all, is to do it the way Eskimos do, with their nose rather than their mouth. Also called a nose kiss or nose rub, this is a way of expressing affection, generally of the friendly kind, by pressing the tip of one’s nose against that of the other. Specifically called the kunik in certain Eskimo cultures such as those of the Inuit, this version calls for the pressing of the nose and upper lip against the skin of the cheeks or forehead and breathing in, such that the recipient’s skin or hair is suctioned against the nose and upper lip. Evolving as a gesture of friendly greeting more out of necessity since the freezing areas where the Inuits reside meant that only their nose and lips are left exposed, this is a rather distinctive form of the kissing experience. Similar such instances of the Eskimo kiss being a cultural element can be encountered in other areas of the world such as in some southeast Asian existences as well as in the way of life of the Mongolian nomads of the Gobi Desert. Deserving special mention would be the hongi practice of the Maori people of New Zealand and of the Hawaiians that includes apart from the act of pressing together of the noses also a simultaneous touching of the foreheads.
But even in such cherished occurrences as these, it has always been lip kisses that have been celebrated in art and literature and the like, as also in general human parlance relating to this ‘lovely’ activity, not without any reason of course. Someone as enigmatic as Picasso himself had rendered a kiss an elevated ruling in the realm of everyday human pleasures. Indeed, something as simple as a peck on the cheek is an invaluable addition to the stuff that sums up the joys of life. The many nerve endings that land up on the lips, in fact more than anywhere else on the body, is what makes kisses ‘taste’ so darn good, irrespective of whether you plant them on another pair of lips or just on the skin of other warm blooded humans. That’s not all though. Like with so many physical experiences of the body that arise from a strong emotional point, kissing, or any such affectionate and intimate activity for that matter, also triggers the release of a series of feel good hormones and chemicals, or endorphins in the body. The obvious bets are oxytocin and dopamine and serotonin that further intensifies the euphoria of love and the bonding with the other individual resulting from that steady sustainment of the connect. Alternatively, kissing also reverses the levels of cortisol or the stress hormone in the body, meaning that it acts through a two way assertion to ensure that body your body and the mind enjoys a really good time. Kissing therefore is a stress reliever, and despite all the emotions it withholds, is also a physiological remedy as well as a psychological one as can be concluded from the protection that regular kissing provides against depression.
More pronounced physical effects of a kiss can be cited as an increase in the heart rate and a dilation of the body’s blood vessels that leads to more efficient flow of oxygen throughout as compared to what your body would do in an idle state of existence. The dilated blood vessels also helps in reducing blood pressure and also period cramps in women while also having a surprisingly soothing effect on headaches. Other widely reported benefits are related to the viewing of kisses as an exercise of facial muscles, tightening and toning them and helping therefore even in burning calories.
Specifically for those involved in romantic relationships, kissing is even more effective in reducing stress levels and in increasing relationship satisfaction, while significantly downsizing the play of cholesterol in the body. Embarking further on the more intimate terrains of the kissing trail that involves apart from the lips, also the tongue and the mouth in arousing and satisfying erotic desires through means that inevitably leads to an exchange of saliva, romantic kissing, in particular the French style of it, can also lead to an overall stronger immune response of the body while reducing allergic response, the latter of which is also part influenced by kissing’s power as a stress buster. In aiding saliva production by stimulating the salivary glands, kisses can also help keep cavities and mouth infections at bay.
But the evolutionary role of kisses in the context of human continuance has more to do with an aspect of the physicality outside the purview of health. As a life form on earth driven by the desire to procreate to ensure that they pass on the genes to their offspring, kissing might be interpreted as a more developed or rather more convenient way for humans to decide who to mate with. Other members of the animal kingdom are blessed with a more acute sense of smell than humans, which they use to smell out the proteins that are more immune to diseases, and thereby the ones who are the carriers of such proteins as their mating partners without having to venture as close to them as humans do during the act of kissing. Humans, particularly women, take the kissing route out as a chance to smell similar proteins in a male homo sapien to decide who to settle on with as a partner as a primal consideration, though of course the modern day iterations of this exercise in fondness isn’t necessarily an exclusive submission to this adage. More often than not, no one really indulges in kissing their loved ones owing to the numerous benefits that can be reaped out of this act of affection, but rather as an expression of the emotions they harbour towards them. Even within the realm of the benefits that kissing offers, the most mindful ones happen to be those that relate to the psychological aspects of it, of lending warmth and comfort and a sense of belonginess, reinstating perhaps the Vedic notion of kissing as ‘inhaling each other’s soul’.