On International Kissing Day, pucker up for the (mostly) gross history of kissing

Kissing may have come from mothers chewing food and forcing it into babies’ mouths.


Anthropologists can’t get to first base with the origin of kissing.

It may have been kiss feeding, where mothers feed infants with handy pre-chewed food.

Or cavemen may have been checking out eligible young cavewomen by smelling and tasting their saliva.

Then again, some anthropologists argue that kissing was learned.

Until the West passed on the pucker, tribes like the Somalis, the Lepcha people of Sikkim and Bolivia’s indigenous Sirionó didn’t kiss.

The Mehinaku of Brazil called kissing “gross” and asked why anyone would “share their dinner.”

Only about 90% of the world’s population kisses now.

Puckering Up (Politically)


In his 5th century BC Histories, Herodotus writes that the Persians greeted equals with a kiss on the mouth.

Men of lower status had to make do with a kiss on the cheek.

Meanwhile, the Egyptians refused to kiss the Greeks on the mouth at all.

The Greeks ate beef.

This was a big no-no for the Egyptians who believed the cow to be sacred.

The Romans were passionate about kissing.

They spread the smacker to most of Europe and parts of North Africa.

A Roman kiss wasn’t just a kiss.

There was the osculum, which was a kiss of friendship often delivered as a peck on the cheek.

There was the basium, a more erotic type of lips-to-lips kiss, and, finally, the savium.

This was the kiss of passion that later became known as the “French kiss.”

Kissing was so much a part of Roman culture that kissing laws were passed.

If a virgin girl were kissed with passion in public, she could demand to be awarded full marriage rights from the man.

Kissing (Culturally)


There are about 298 colonies of bacteria in the mouth.

No wonder the Himalayans don’t kiss on the mouth or exchange saliva at all.

In a few cultures like Africa and the Sudan, where they believe the mouth is the portal to the soul.

You would avoid it too if you thought a kiss might invite in death or steal your spirit.  

Mothers from the Manchu ethnic group used to show affection for their children by performing fellatio on male babies.

This was not considered a sexual act, while the Manchu regarded public kissing with revulsion!

Throughout the Middle Ages, kisses put you in your place.

A king’s subjects would kiss his ring and robe, his hands, or even the ground before him.

Basically, the further you landed from the lips, the lower the status.

As many didn’t know how to read and write, a kiss was also used to seal contracts.

People drew an “X” for their name on the document and kissed it to make it legal.

That’s the romantic origin of the X put on Valentines or letters to symbolize a kiss.


Wondering how many types of kisses are there today?

German neuroscientist Onur Güntürkün spent two years watching people kissing.

He recorded 124 “scientifically valid kisses.”


For lots more on the story of smooching, check out this fascinating book by Andrea Demirjian.


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