Why Kissing is a Part of Most Cultures and Surprising Reasons Why It’s Important


Kissing requires the use of as many as 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles. A passionate kiss may burn two calories per minute. It’s fitting that delivering a satisfying kiss can be a physically demanding feat, since kissing can potentially have more emotional significance than sex does. Andréa Demirjian, the author of the book Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About One of Life’s Sweetest Pleasures, says,“Kissing is intimate: You’re right there in the space of your soul. It gets to the core of your heart and spirit because it’s such a lovely way to express and receive love and affection.”

Even if a kiss is never just a kiss, its value isn’t solely determined by its emotional significance to the people who are sharing it. Every kiss has a cultural context. Unlike kisses, some cultural beliefs about kissing aren’t easy to impulsively share, and they aren’t universally understood.

10. Sinful Kisses (Asia)

Like many other cultural beliefs, beliefs about kissing change over time. In the 19th century, kissing was considered repulsive in some Asian cultures. According to 19th century anthropologist Paul d’Enjoy, citizens in Thailand and other Asian countries didn’t enjoy kissing at all. Because it often involves connecting one’s mouth with another’s skin, in these cultures kissing was seen as an abomination akin to cannibalism.

9. Kissing Under A Mistletoe (Celtic Tradition)

Because mistletoe can thrive even during frigid winters, the Druids believed it had the power to grant fertility. By the 18th century, members of the English middle class (and their servants) kissed beneath Christmas mistletoe as a symbol of their enduring love, and hopefully their enduring fertility. If a woman refused a man’s advances while she was standing under a hanging mistletoe, the English believed she would have bad luck. A man could pluck one berry from the mistletoe for every kiss he bestowed on his beloved. Once he had plucked the last berry, he had been granted his last kiss.

8. Hogmanay Kisses (Scottish Tradition)

The romantic New Year’s Eve kiss is a symbol of singlism—the stigmatization of single people—in North American and European cultures, since so much significance is placed on finding a partner to kiss each year. Single people may feel inferior at New Year’s Eve parties, but perhaps they’re simply celebrating them in the wrong country. During Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s Eve celebration, each person kisses every other person in the room. According to the Scottish tradition, celebrating a new year should connect both friends and strangers, as kissing undoubtedly will.

7. XO (Ancient Greece and The Roman Empire)

In ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, a kiss could serve in lieu of a signature. A Greek or Roman citizen who could not read could kiss an X the scribe had written at the end of a document. Both the action and the document would be considered legally binding. It is still possible to seal a love letter with a kiss today, since an X can still symbolize a kiss.

6. Forbidden Kissing (Egypt)

In Egypt, kissing someone on the mouth is a form of foreplay. No erotic act should be performed in public, kissing included. This isn’t merely a cultural belief that reinforces the suppression of socially taboo sexual impulses. It’s also a legal matter. Someone who kisses his or her beloved on an Egyptian street could face fining or imprisonment for an act of public indecency. By contrast, two people who publicly kiss each other on each cheek in turn are showing their mutual respect, according to the cultural tradition in Egypt and other Arab countries.

5. No Public Kissing (China, Hong Kong, and Japan)

As previously mentioned, kissing isn’t a physical expression of emotional intimacy in some Asian countries. Though public displays of affection are gaining popularity amongst Japanese milennials, the Japanese have traditionally considered mouth kisses as intimate and as private as acts of lovemaking. In China and Hong Kong, limp (by North American standards, at least) handshakes are a preferred form of greeting, while cheek kissing is considered impudent. As in Japan, milennials in China and Hong Kong don’t always adhere to such formal standards for physical conduct. In contrast to kissing, however, the Chinese have traditionally considered spitting a polite public act, though some Chinese cities banned public spitting after the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic of 2003.

4. Wedding Kisses (Christian Tradition)

The tradition of a couple sharing a first kiss was observed in the Roman Empire. As previously noted, for the Romans, kissing a contract was a legally binding way of sealing it. Before the 19th century, marriage wasn’t a symbol of mutual love and sexual desire between two people. It was a contract between two people that they entered in order to socioculturally and socioeconomically benefit their respective families and communities. Therefore, newly married Roman couples sealed their marriage with a kiss, the same way they would seal any other legally binding contract. Christian couples, by contrast, were entering a contract with God when they married, promising their union would be virtuous and produce children. The Christian priest symbolized God’s role in a marriage by giving a holy kiss to the groom, who would then kiss the bride.

3. Kissing On A Red Step (Mexico)

According to local lore, two lovers in Guanajuato, Mexico lived on opposite sides of an alley. When Ana, a wealthy Spaniard, and Carlos, an impoverished miner, kissed while standing in the narrow space between their two balconies, Ana’s disapproving father caught them. Ana’s father warned her that if he saw her kissing Carlos again, he would kill her. Unable to resist their mutual attraction, the lovers again met in the same spot. When they kissed, Ana’s father fatally stabbed his daughter with a dagger. When Carlos leaped to shield Ana, he fell down the red staircase the lovers used for their trysts, breaking his neck on the third step. According to myth, Carlos’ spirit is watching over any contemporary lovers who stand on the step where he died. If they kiss while standing on the step, he’ll bless them with 15 years of good luck. If they stand on the step without kissing, he’ll curse them with seven years of bad luck.

2. French Kisses (England and The United States)

France’s reputation as an inherently romantic nation originated with its popularization of courtly love in the 12th century. Courtly love is a passionate, chaste love between a knight and a (usually married) noblewoman. By the 16th century, courtly love was no longer a common practice, but France’s romantic reputation was solidified. After World War Two, that reputation became one of the country’s most successful exports. When British and American Allied soldiers returned to the home front after being stationed in France, they colloquially referred to mouth kisses with tongue as French kisses. Even though the French didn’t invent the kissing technique, their ardent example allegedly popularized it amongst British and American soldiers.

1. Masquerade Kisses (Renaissance Italy)

In Renaissance Italy, masquerade balls were a popular pastime for nobles who wished to arrange erotic trysts with anonymity. Shakespeare’s two most famous characters, Romeo Motague and Juliet Capulet, first meet at a masquerade ball in Verona, Italy. However, not all masquerade kisses were clandestine and passionate. At midnight, couples would remove their masks and kiss. The symbolic admission that each kisser had no shameful conduct to hide warded off evil spirits.

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