When Was Kissing Invented? The Surprising History of a Universal Gesture

The origins of kissing can be traced back to ancient cultures such as Mesopotamia and India, but the exact origin is unclear.

Origins of Kissing

Tracing the beginning of kissing is like flipping through the pages of a history without a clear start date.

In Mesopotamia, the Sumerian poems dating back to 2100 BCE are amongst the earliest references, suggesting a social or romantic gesture.

Yet, researchers are not unanimous on whether it was the first kiss as we know it today.

Ancient India offers another thread, with Vedic scriptures mentioning a form of kiss around 1500 BCE.

It’s evident that romantic kissing was significant there; evidence points to texts describing lovers “setting mouth to mouth”.

Kissing seems to pop up independently across different cultures.

In anthropology, it’s thought that humans might have an innate liking for lip touching due to the comfort provided by the touch during breastfeeding.

It’s a reflex that’s observed even in our close relatives, the chimpanzees, who share similar behaviors.

Romantic kissing, however, doesn’t appear uniformly in all societies.

Some researchers argue it’s not entirely an evolutionary act but rather one embraced by certain cultures.

For example, the history of medicine reveals intriguing beliefs about kisses transferring spirit or life force, an idea echoed in various traditions.

In Rome, there were different types of kisses – the osculum was a friendly peep, the basium denoted a more affectionate lip-to-lip contact, and the savolium was a deep, passionate kiss.

What started perhaps as a means of social bonding or as a way to share breath, evolved over centuries into complex symbols of love and affection.

While the exact origin of kissing remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma, the anthropological journey from a maternal act to a universal symbol of love is truly fascinating.

Kissing in Human Cultures

Two figures leaning towards each other, their faces close, with an air of intimacy and affection

Exploring the inception and evolution of kissing across different societies reveals its diverse roles in romantic relationships, cultural rituals, and social norms.

Cultural Significance and Practices

Kissing, in its varying forms, has found a place in numerous cultures throughout history, serving as a gesture with multifaceted meanings. Historical records point to the practice in ancient civilizations like India and Mesopotamia, and it’s even detailed on clay tablets.

It’s believed that romantic and sexual types of kissing originated here, showcased in mythological texts and literary works.

In regions like Egypt, the act of kissing could be seen in a more casual light, appearing in everyday life and greetings among the people.

In a study by anthropologist William Jankowiak of the University of Nevada, it was asserted that a romantic or sexual kiss was not as universally common as one might think, having been found in less than half of the 168 cultures studied.

Notably, in some societies, kissing is a ritual or symbolic act that has little to do with romance.

Cultural differences can be vast — from the clay tablets of the Akkadian empire depicting kisses of nature and gods, to the Romans with their distinct terms (osculum, basium, and savolium) differentiating between the social, romantic, and passionate kiss.

Legal and Religious Perspectives

The intersection of kissing, legality, and religion presents an intriguing landscape.

Christian texts, such as the Bible, often reference the “holy kiss,” which was used as a sign of peace or greeting among early Christians.

With the spread of Christianity, kissing took on a religious solemnity in certain contexts.

The adoption of the kiss in religious ceremonies, for example among married couples, reveals its sacralization in some traditions.

Legally, kissing has also been subject to scrutiny.

Historically, various locales had laws regulating public displays of affection, where kisses could be deemed inappropriate or offensive, thus attracting legal attention.

These regulations were often entwined with cultural and moral expectations of the time.

In modern times, perceptions have shifted, and so have the laws, yet in some parts of the world, kissing in public between unmarried or same-sex couples can still be a contentious issue.

Through examining kissing within the realms of history, culture, and legality, we see the profound ways in which a simple act can be laden with profound significance, variably interpreted as a token of love, a rite of passage, or a contentious act depending on the context in which it occurs.

Kissing and Health

Two abstract forms touching, emitting vibrant energy

Kissing, a simple act of pressing one’s lips against another person or an object, has profound implications on health.

This section explores its biological effects, role in disease transmission, and the noteworthy bacteria or viruses involved.

Biological Effects and Diseases

Kissing can be more than just a pleasurable activity; it can affect our bodies in several biological ways.

It stimulates the release of hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine, fostering pleasure and a sense of well-being.

However, it’s not all positive—kissing also has the potential to spread certain diseases.

Sharing saliva can transmit microorganisms that may cause conditions ranging from the innocuous, like bad breath, to the more severe, such as oral herpes, caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1).

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen revealed that a ten-second kiss can transfer up to 80 million bacteria.

This exchange can impact the microbial environment in our mouths, aligning closely with our partner’s oral microbiome.

Role in Disease Transmission

The role kissing plays in disease transmission is significant, especially when considering contagious viral infections.

The Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1), primarily responsible for oral herpes, is readily passed on through kissing.

Not as harmless as a peck, the transfer of saliva can also spread the Epstein-Barr virus, which is the culprit behind mononucleosis, and other infectious agents like the Human Parvovirus.

Parental kisses, often seen as an expression of love and care, can unintentionally lead to contamination.

For instance, an innocent kiss from a parent to a child can transmit HSV-1, which may stay dormant within the host DNA and manifest later in life.

Evidently, kissing has been a mode of disease transmission well before confirmed in modern medical records.

Assyriologists deciphering cuneiform texts have discovered that the gods were invoked to heal diseases, possibly transmitted through intimate acts such as kissing, already during the Bronze Age.

This historical account confirms the long-standing relationship between kissing and health concerns.