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The science of kissing

We kiss. We kiss to say hello. We kiss to say goodbye. We kiss to say I love you. In this write-up, student Lubomir Polach delves into the science and culture behind the passionate embrace and the peck on the cheek

Kissing is a social phenomenon that is common in many cultures all over the world.

Especially young people often feel insecure when it comes to kissing. For those, who never kissed before, it seems to be the most difficult thing on Earth – that’s why you can find a lot of instructions on how to kiss in youth magazines and on the Internet.

However, once you start kissing you will find out that it is not a science at all, right Well, actually, it is! It’s called philematology. Philematologists study not only the physical, but also the social and cultural aspects of kissing.

The cultural kiss

A kiss is basically an expression of affection, but there are a lot of different kinds of kisses and they have different meanings in different cultures.

In many European countries it’s usual to welcome family and friends with kisses on the right and/or left cheek – while in Japan people never kiss in public. In many Asian cultures kissing is reserved for sexual foreplay.

There are also some cultures in Africa and Asia where kissing is completely unknown.

Saliva health check

Philematologists also explore the origins of the phenomenon of kissing. Little is known about that by now.

One of the initial theories says that kissing began with the Romans. When Roman husbands returned home in the evening, they kissed their wives to see if they have been into wine. However, this theory was proved wrong, as it was found out that kissing was known by the ancient Indians, Persians and Greeks long before the Roman civilization.

Some modern theories go even further back in time. They assume that in prehistoric times it was important to find a partner with a strong immune system. As our saliva contains a lot of different bacteria and other substances, our ape-like ancestors would taste each other’s saliva in order to find a healthy mate.

Face gymnastics

Although we don’t know how exactly the phenomenon of kissing occurred, there’s a lot of other things we do know. For example, during a five-second long French kiss up to 11,000 bacteria can be exchanged between partners.

This, however, is not a reason to stop kissing at all. Quite the contrary! Kissing is healthy. The contact with different bacteria strengthens our immune system.

Skin blood supply raises by 30 percent, up to 29 facial muscles are moving, and about four calories are burned per minute, but kissing is more than just a facial workout.

Politicians pucker up

Kissing is an object of cultural value as well. One of the first commercial movies ever shown to the public in 1896 was called ‘The Kiss’.

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The 47 seconds long film only showed two people kissing each other and caused a big uproar among the population.

The kiss between the Soviet and German communist party leaders Brezhnev and Honecker became an icon for the political situation of a whole generation. Also, if you think about movies like ‘Titanic’ or ‘Spider Man’, what is the first scene that comes to your mind?

Men are only after one thing

Philematologistis also discovered differences in kissing between men and women. 92 percent of women, but only 52 per cent of men kiss with their eyes closed.

Psychologists from the New York State University found out that men and women also kiss for a different reason. While men kiss to raise their chances of having sex, women kiss to create a stronger bond in a relationship.

But which sex is the better kisser?

”For what I know from my own experience, women kiss more softly and creatively,” says Julia, a student from Vienna.

Mike, a student from Brussels, who kissed a man once at the Love Parade, has a different opinion: ”It’s the same. When you close your eyes, you can’t tell if you are kissing a man or a woman.”

According to scientists, men prefer moist kisses with more tongue activity, while women like it dryer. However, it really depends on your personal preferences what you consider a good kiss.

Kissing is fun

Besides all the scientific facts, let’s not forget the most important thing about kissing. Kissing is fun! When two lips touch each other over 100 billion nerve cells are activated and a lot of endorphins are set free.

So if you want to avoid winter depression – you know what to do. And if you’re still looking for inspiration, here’s a selection of five legendary movie kisses:

5. Titanic

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4. The Notebook

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3. Notorious

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2. Ghost
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1. Lady and the Tramp
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