K-I-S-S-I-N-G: Tidbits from the History of Kissing

The Kiss (c. 1907) by Gustav Klimt

No one really knows where the first smooch came from. One less-than-romantic theory suggests it began with ancient mothers passing chewed-up food to babies, which is 1) not sexy, and 2) gross. And kissing isn’t universal: People in Japan and Siberia only started kissing relatively recently, and some sub-Saharan African societies still don’t do it.


A thousand years ago, ceremonial kisses were much more common than today. There was the holy kiss of peace, exchanged to symbolize unity in Christ; the kiss of veneration, bestowed on holy objects; you even got a kiss when you received an academic degree. By 18th century, however, much of that ceremonial pecking had been replaced by handshakes, oaths, and written documents. One ritual kiss is still as popular as ever: that of couples sealing their marriage vows.


The erotic significance of the kiss didn’t come dominant in Europe until the 17th century. Not coincidentally, that was around the same time that dentists in France first promoted the use of toothbrushes. (Yes, the French were on the cutting edge of dental hygiene!) Before toothbrushes, the average European mouth was such a grim place that 16th-century maids often carried clove-studded apples when courting, insisting their suitors take a bite before attempting a kiss.


German psychology professor Onur Güntürkün spent two years watching people make out in public parks and airports, eventually observing 124 “scientifically valid” kisses. He concluded that people are twice as likely to tilt their heads to the right when kissing than to the left. What’s the deal? Turns out our kissing proclivities are determined way in advance of the junior prom: According to Güntürkün, the direction you turn your head while in the womb will likely be the direction you tilt your head when kissing.


Kissing has been banned repeatedly. Roman emperor Tiberius outlawed kissing in public ceremonies, hoping it would help curb the spread of herpes. In 16th-century Naples kissing was punishable by death, and in 1439 Henry VI banned it to combat the plague.

In 2004, Indonesia passed laws that ban not only public nudity, erotic dancing, and “sex parties,” but also punish public kissing with up to five years in prison. Flashing carries a stiff penalty, too: “I see London, I see France …” but if Indonesian police see your underpants, you could be fined up to $25,000 …


Behind the Kiss: Famous Silver Screen Smooches Revealed

Gone with the Wind
While it’s probably the most famous kiss in movie history – Rhett kisses Scarlett fiercely, then carries her, protesting, up a grand staircase to bed – Vivien Leigh’s ability to keep it together was astounding. According to Hollywood insiders, Clark Gable’s halitosis on the set was so bad, Leigh didn’t want to kiss him at all!

You’re in the Army Now
Not to be confused with the 1994 Pauly Shore film of similar name, this 1941 flick holds the record for the longest unbroken kiss in Hollywood history. So, how long is almost too long for Hollywood? Jane Wyman and Regis Toomey locked lips for a good three minutes and five seconds.


At 48 minutes, Andy Warhol’s experimental film is easily the longest picture about kissing: It consists of one static shot, twelve real-life couples, four minutes each. And while Warhol’s weird, obsessive focus is almost unwatchable, we’re still waiting for his sequel, Second Base.

The article above, from mental_floss' book Scatterbrained. is published in Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!

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The anecdote about Tiberias is drawn from Suetonius, who wrote "De Vita Caesarum," or more vulgarly known as "The Twelve Caesars."

Here is the excerpt (translation via the University of Chicago's website):

"He issued an edict forbidding general kissing, as well as the exchange of New Year's gifts after the Kalends of January. It was his custom to return a gift of four-fold value, and in person; but annoyed at being interrupted all through the month by those who did not have access to him on the holiday, he did not continue it."

Nothing in there about preventing STDS.
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I'd like your reference for Tiberias outlawing kissing, please. I'm in a history class that *just* went over Tiberius, and I think the teacher would appreciate another tidbit to give to the class.
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The record for longest movie kiss actually isn't You're In the Army Now. The recent movie film Kids In America now features the longest screen kiss in (at least) Anglophone film history.
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Tom Robbins in Wild Ducks Flying Backward states that kissing started in Medieval times when the man upon returning home, kissed his woman to determine if she had been dipping into the Mead Barrel, a sort of early breathalyzer.
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