Kiss: Lip-lock

A kiss is much more than lip-service to romance; it is, in fact, the nicest thing about it.

French kiss

It's just a word, but a magic word. Kiss!

Whether it is the passionate kiss of a lover, a desperate one between two, a deliberate kiss meant to seduce the other or the more niche versions like the eye kiss and the lip kiss, the neck kiss and the wet kiss, the biting kiss, the sliding kiss or the very lusty French kiss, a kiss is still a kiss.

For the lip-fumbling beginners, there's also the gentle Eskimo kiss, or the butterfly kiss which doesn't involve your lips at all. But, all in all, a tangling of tongues is one of the best things of being in love.

Historical lip parade

Anthropologists say that 90 per cent of people in the world kiss. People also look forward to their first romantic kiss and remember it fondly and in graphic detail all their lives. Anthropologists also say that primates have always kissed, not only to express affection and love for each other, but also to make up and reassure each other and develop and strengthen their social bonds. This act seems to be an instinctive act and yet psychological, social and physical factors play a crucial role in it.

Physiologically, you are using an unromantic sounding muscle called orbicularis oris. It runs around the outside of the mouth. It enables you to change the shape of your mouth when you talk and it also helps cockle or pucker your lips when you get into that lip-lock. Then, there are other several equally boring-sounding muscles which monitor the way you pull your lips, the corners of your mouth, the way you move your tongue, or let your jaw drop a bit. A simple pucker uses two muscles, the upper and lower orbicularis oris, while a passionate kiss uses all 34 facial muscles to get that heady feeling.

Speaking of heads, most people tip their heads to the right while kissing and scientists believe that this preference for the right starts even before we are born. It is related to the fact that we tip our heads to the right when in the mother's womb. It serves a practical purpose: it helps us avoid banging our noses against each other during the lip-lock.

KISS, RIGHT AND LEFT

One study showed that people who leaned to the left while kissing were people who were emotionally less intense than those who leaned to the right. About 80 per cent of men and women observed turned their heads to the right during  this romantic moment.

The study quoted Dr Julian Greenwood of Stranmillis University College, Belfast, UK, saying one theory that people who turned their heads to the right were revealing their left cheek, which was controlled by the right cerebral hemisphere — the more emotive.

Kissing involves very sensitive parts of the body, the lips and tongue. These parts are choc-o-bloc with nerves and are highly sensitive to stimulation. When you kiss or are kissed, it causes the brain to experience a surge in norepinephrine, dopamine and phenylethylamine [PEA]. These neurotransmitters attach to the so-called pleasure receptors in the brain to create feelings of euphoria, giddiness and a feeling of elation.

If you want to measure the chemistry between you and your prospective lover, a kiss is an ideal vehicle. It can help analyse how effectively s/he stimulates pleasure centres in your brain, spark "excitement" all over your body, pump up your heartbeat, put butterflies in your stomach, and tingle your toes. Our brains also have special neurons that help us find each other's lips in the dark; this is why we reach where we want to reach even in pitch darkness!

Smooch swap

On the downside, kissing is rather unhygienic. Between 10 million and one billion colonies of bacteria are swapped with each smooch. Thankfuly, saliva contains anti-bacterial chemicals that kill most bacteria before they are exchanged. In some people with food allergies, however, a kiss can trigger hives, wheezing or flushing with light-headedness, itchy eyes and blisters where the lips have touched. At times, women are said to suffer from razor burns when they kiss men; the redness and the swollen tenderness of skin near the lips comes from the man who isn't clean-shaven, especially if the kisses are prolonged.

Other options are less exciting to give you a special feeling. Butterfly kisses or the gentle Eskimo kiss don't involve really; but, they reach the feeling of love and tenderness effectively. From the point of view of good health, it's not a bad idea to alternate passionate kisses with tender ones elsewhere on the face. In fact, this variety seems to be the spice of kissing. Too much passion, excessive tongue, wet slobbery kisses in desperation, too busy hands can take away the ardour and make a kiss a put off. So does self-consciousness. Braces cannot be a deterrent, but lip rings are said to be painful. And, so is bad breath!

A tradition lingers

Kissing is also social. A peck on the cheek is said to indicate a casual kiss. If you linger over it, the kiss can acquire the colour of being more-than-friendly. Kissing is, of course, not approved in many cultures, especially in Asia, Africa and parts of South America. While Kamasutra refers to a kiss as a kiss, it is considered improper to kiss in public in our country. The Chinese didn't kiss until Westerners introduced it. In both China and Japan, kissing is considered an essentially private activity.

In ancient Rome, couples were betrothed by kissing passionately in front of a group of people - one reason why modern couples kiss at the end of Christian wedding ceremonies. Ancient Romans kissed their friends and family members to greet them. Citizens kissed their rulers' hands.

Kissing was also religious. Early Christians often greeted one another with a holy kiss. Which, according to tradition, meant a transfer of spirit between two people. Researchers believe that such a kiss established familial bonds between members of the community. The entire world kisses today, in private or in public. Scientists say that people spend, on an average, two weeks of their lives kissing.

Here's more. A one-minute kiss is said to burn 26 calories. However, there do exist strange laws regarding kissing as you'd, perhaps, find in books. In Indiana, US, it is illegal for a man with a moustache to "habitually kiss human beings." About other laws, one doesn't know.

This explains the universal belief of true romantics - kiss, but do not tell!

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Gayatri Pagdi
Gayatri Pagdi is a Mumbai-based health journalist. Her areas of interest include emotional, mental and spiritual health.

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