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Philematology- The Science of the Kiss

“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”- Ingrid Bergman

I love to kiss. When I think back to living in France in my 20s, the most memorable part of my time there was all the kissing that occurred. I got to kiss everyone: strangers, friends and of course, lovers. Participating in that social ritual that demanded that one come in close was what I missed most when I left. I had no idea that there was a science and study of kissing when I started this article and I must admit that I feel a bit miffed that we can consecrate a science to kissing, philematology, and people still balk at the idea of loveology. Still, the more I learn about kissing, the more legitimate the science becomes. Kissing is the building block of intimacy. Done with intention and passion, the kiss is the most profound of all our communication devices and the pathway to sustaining loving relationships.

Think back to some of the hottest sex you ever had and you might remember that you were fully clothed and that the sex happened entirely between the lips – and what lips we have for the job. It turns out when you study philematology that human lips have the slimmest layer of skin on the body and are among the most densely populated with sensory neurons of any bodily region, more so than fingertips or even genitalia. That isn’t the only place where the human body is wired to kiss. Half of our cranial neurons influence the kiss by releasing a cascade of neural messages and chemicals, which create the intense euphoric sensations and the vital signals about the sexual/mating potential.

And, no – it’s not just in your mind: everyone has a racing heart and finds him or herself breathless and maybe even a bit sweaty. It turns out that kissing is its own kind of fitness workout that both burns calories and requires significant muscular coordination. In fact, a total of 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles are used during a kiss. How can you not be completely present when you are deep in a kiss? It’s no wonder that ancient lovers believed that a kiss would literally unite their souls because the spirit was said to be carried in one’s breath. Two people fully entwined in each other’s kiss are united in connecting to the exclusion of all else.

Some philematologists would argue that kissing serves as a vital function in survival of the species. Try to imagine kissing someone who smells offensively to you. How our unique scent blends with a potential mate tells us volumes both consciously and subconsciously about our genetic compatibility or the lack of it. This is why the first kiss can sometimes be the kiss of death for a new relationship. If the scent attraction is off, the relationship is generally doomed. Our attraction through our nose may be our most primitive, but it is also the most important in finding out who are worthy partners.

The origin of the kiss remains a mystery, but the nourishment and oral satisfaction that kissing provides may well be linked to the long history of prehistoric mothers who, through the act of ‘mouth feeding,’ transferred pre-masticated food to their infants. No surprise then that in several languages the word for kissing is synonymous with pre-mastication and the word “sweet” is the epithet most commonly applied to kisses. Freud believed that our desire to kiss is a subconscious drive back to the suckling experience at the mother’s breast. Certainly the first and most loving kisses most of us remember is in the hands of the woman we called mom.

It is no surprise that kissing is good for you. Studies show that increasing the frequency and dare I say the intensity of kissing in your relationship is found to lower your stress levels and increase your satisfaction with both your relationship and your life. Another study showed that a little kiss before you leave home may actually save your life. Men who kissed their wives before leaving for work were in fewer car accidents and were in a higher income bracket than men who avoided this domestic ritual. Someone once said that kisses are like tears, the only real ones are the ones you can’t hold back; so in the pursuit of a better and more perfect study of philematology – don’t.