What’s in a Kiss?

The Kiss RodinKisses are shared around the world and throughout all walks of life. Whether a brush of lips on a newborn’s forehead or a full-body experience that leaves you weak-kneed and gasping for air, humans seem hard-wired to do it, dream about it, and include in every romantic tale ever written.

Part of the reason we pucker up so much is clearly biological. Our lips and tongue are more densely packed with nerve endings than any other part of the body. Our skin also is thinnest there, so we feel sensations more acutely. Every lick and nibble. At such close proximity we can smell and touch our partner better too, sending a bevy of signals to our brain, pushing out all rational thought.

Electric impulses bounce between the brain, lips, tongue and skin, lighting us up like a pinball machine at full tilt. Pulses quicken. Breathing becomes shallow, and our pupils dilate as if we’d been drugged. Among other chemicals, a neurotransmitter called dopamine gives us a natural high and causes us to crave more, which is the same reaction triggered by taking cocaine.  Is it any wonder kissing can be so addictive?

But our evolutionary predilection toward smooching goes beyond a quick high. The very future of our species may depend on it! Or at least our lips. Researchers in Scotland found a connection between the fullness of women’s lips and higher estrogen levels, so men’s scientifically documented attraction to a lush pout may be one way mother nature guides them to the most fertile mates. At least it’s not all about our cleavage.

Kissing is also part of our culture’s mythology.  Tales of succubbiSuccubus Blues stealing men’s souls with a single kiss have been around since biblical days. What better way to warn sons away from loose women?  Men were no less demonized either. Afterall, blaming an unwanted pregnancy on a visit from an incubus is so much easier than fessing up to a roll in the hay with the stable-boy.  And if the success of Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series is any indication, the appeal of a shape-shifting seductress whose lips have the power to kill will be around for a long time to come. Just don’t use it as an excuse when your wife finds another women’s bra behind the headboard.

Kissing isn’t always the villain of folk tales, however.  True love’s kiss saves the heroine of many a fairy tale from Sleeping Beauty to Snow White, and even a hero from a beastly case of bad manners. After reading the Frog Prince, how many little girls made a beeline for the nearest pond, when only last week they begged their father to kill the “slimy thing” junior hid in their bed?

So what’s in a kiss? The potential for both love and heartbreak. The power of life and death.


Happy V-day everyone!

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