The art and myth of the kiss

By André Matteau

For many of us, there are few physical sensations more pleasurable than a kiss. So why do so many lovers rush through the act of kissing, always expecting it to "lead somewhere"? While couples tend to take their time enjoying the caress of each other's lips in their early days, many relationships are troubled, as time goes on, by the expectation that a kiss must necessarily result in sex.

Kissing is not a universal practice. The African tribes, Chewa and Thonga, on seeing Europeans kiss, said: "Look, they are eating each other's dirty saliva." In tribes from other parts of the world—including Borneo (situated on the Gambia river in Western Africa) and in Birmania, Siberia—the word "to kiss" actually means to smell. For these traditions, the act of kissing is an extension of the desire to smell a lover, a relative or a friend.

Finnish tribes view kissing as indecent; in other African tribes kissing is not customary. In some cultures, people kiss in a restrained fashion, while in others they go at it ferociously, biting and sucking on each other's lips.

Once considering it to be a form of cannibalism, segments of Chinese culture used to be offended by kissing. Even today this attitude still persists in some parts of the world. In May 1974, for example, the Kuwaiti criminal court, pursuing a case in which a girl and a boy under the age of 18 were accused of indecency for kissing in public, declared that it was a criminal offense to kiss in public.

A kiss is the ultimate expression of intimacy. We cradle in each other's arms, we take in each other's bodily fluids—we even get under each other's skin (literally!). Through the act of kissing we open our bodies and ourselves to another.

As a result, kissing is usually accompanied by a range of emotions: tenderness, sensitivity, compassion, concern, confidence, vulnerability, appreciation, the feeling of loving and of being loved, of being both desirable and desired. We take refuge in the warmth of a network of kisses in which sensuality and passion are amplified.

As such, this physical pleasure is a vital source of emotional well-being. We experience the world through our bodies and it's the body that seems to melt away with a kiss.

The myth of the kiss

Some people have tried to explain kissing in scientific terms. Anthropologists insist, for instance, that the lips have erotic appeal because they subconsciously bring forth images of the vulva, reddening and swelling with excitement. As a result, a mouth-to-mouth kiss (accompanied by a slight intrusion of the tongue) can be seen as a symbolic re-enactment of the sexual act.

The myth according to which kisses must necessarily end in sexual relations is as harmful for men as it is for women. Most of the women that we consulted for this article reported the same experience: the inability to caress their boyfriends without raising his expectations that intercourse will necessarily follow. "I can't caress or kiss my boyfriend without him thinking that I want sex. He immediately gropes my breasts, grabs between my legs, and starts touching my bottom. If I say no, he tells me not to start something I don't intend on finishing. 'You turn me on, you excite me, then you drop me,' he says. 'You don't know what you want.' As a result, we don't kiss."

Many women are upset at the fact that, during kissing, so many men want to quickly move on to other sexual activities. For a woman, sexual arousal during kissing doesn't necessarily mean that she wants to have—or is ready for—sex. Kissing is, in and of itself, a pleasurable experience that need not have a definitive "end game."

Can kissing lead to sexual excitement? Yes. But it doesn't necessarily imply that sex must follow. Kissing is a pleasure and it should be enjoyed on its own.

Kissing doesn't necessarily lead to intercourse, but intercourse without kissing would constitute a sensory deprivation! In fact, since all five senses are involved in the act of kissing, it would be a great injustice to deny yourself the pleasures offered by taste, touch, sight, smell and sound.

But in order for embracing and kissing to be pleasant and sexually arousing, you must learn to let things be as they are in the moment. Don't ruin the kissing and touching of the moment by obsessing over what it might potentially lead to. Instead, focus on the feeling of your partner's lips, on her/his smell and on how your bodies fit together so nicely.

Hugs and caresses enhanced by passionate kisses are a gift of the godesses. We hope that they will also become a gift of the gods.


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