The young and the old did it and still do it. Egyptians, Romans and Greeks did it, as did the Puritans in Colonial New England.
Romantics perfected it; chimpanzees do it; the Victorians long ago in England dreamed about it—and then when no one was looking, did it—even on Valentine’s Day.
They all kissed romantically, passionately and longingly—and, most likely quite often. Kissing is nearly universal. Men and women in most cultures love to kiss, and a review of the history of kissing reveals a long and lusty legacy.
“It’s logical to conclude kissing is very ancient, very primitive and very common,” says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University.
Fisher, for 10 years, was a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Then she wrote a book, Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, published by Ballantine Books.
If Fisher isn’t a top authority on love, lust, mating and kissing, she’s very close to it. But another author, Diane Ackerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, has also explored this sub]ect in some depth in her book, A Natural History of Love.
Fisher found kissing to be older than humanity itself. Well-acquainted chimps and orangutans kissed before men and women arrived on the scene, and still do. Some of these animals even French-kiss today, sometimes in front of zoo visitors.
Kissing has a lovely, luscious, lusty background, Fisher maintains, and she estimates more than 90% of all peoples on record engage in kissing. However, until they became Westernized, kissing was reportedly unknown among the Somali, the Lepcha of Sikkum, and the Sirionon of South America.
Asian cultures regard kissing as a much more private activity than Western cultures do. The Japanese media frequently castigate young people in Tokyo, who defy unwritten social rule against kissing in public.
Japanese lovers are supposed to do a polite bow when they greet each other in public, leaving the kisses to take place behind pulled drapes and closed doors.
Researcher-author Ackerman described Finnish tribes who bathe together completely nude, but regard kissing as indecent. She also mentioned certain African tribal people whose lips are decorated, mutilated, stretched or in other ways deformed, who nevertheless don’t kiss.
“A kiss is the height of voluptuousness,” Ackerman writes, “an expense of time and an expanse of spirit in the sweet toil of romance, when one’s bones quiver, anticipation rockets, but gratification is kept at bay on purpose.”
“Then, all this builds up,” Ackerman adds, “to a succulent crescendo of emotion and passion.” So one could say—without any tongue in cheek or tittering at all—a kiss, indeed, can be a lot more than just a kiss. Did you ask, “A kiss is just a kiss?”—no way.
However, researchers found another interesting phenomenon about kissing. Historically, painters have depicted kissing as something negative, rather than as a tender exchange between the sexes.
Northern European painters, for example, occasionally showed peasants drinking, carousing around, and kissing. But their strokes carried a strong moral message—nice people don’t just do that. Such strokes were left for other folks.
Pop music has given us too many kisses to count—Hall and Oates’ “Kiss On My Lips,” Barbra Streisand’s “Kiss Me In the Rain,” Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Passionate Kisses,” even the defunct theatrical rock group KISS.
Concludes Fisher, “Kissing is a lot older than marriage, but is not more ancient than romantic love. That’s because romantic love comes out of nature itself.”
Now, on Valentine’s Day again this year, we can properly conclude a kiss, indeed, is more than just a kiss, and the best way anyone ever thought of to say “I Love You.”