“Kiss me, and you will see how important I am.” ― Sylvia Plath.
Such a strange thing to do if you think about it: Putting your face up against another’s and entwining your mouth and tongue with theirs. Yet it is exhilarating and definitely one of life’s highlights for me.
“Smooching”, “tonsil-hockey”, “macking”, “lip-gripping”, “go-sunana”, “ncabuza”, “snogging”, “osculating”, “French kissing”, “making out”, whatever you call it, people are doing it. The science of “sucking face” is known as philematology. When we kiss we are literally tasting one another and figuratively “test-driving” each other.
A deep kiss is a complex olfactory exchange of chemicals, hormones and proteins and a way for us to gauge how virile, or even what state of health our potential partners may be in. That’s because mucous membranes inside the mouth are permeable to hormones such as testosterone, which our clever bodies can detect.
Subconsciously we build a profile on the person that we are kissing as we analyse the chemicals in their mouth in our own oral laboratory.
The first kiss is somewhat of a mystery. Kissing might have originated when mothers orally passed chewed food to their babies during weaning, or it may have evolved from our ancestors seeking out prospective mates sniffing one another’s pheromones for biological compatibility.
Scholars are not sure if kissing is a learned or instinctual behaviour because it is a relatively new pastime in man’s social development and because there are certain African and Asian cultures that did not practise kissing at all.
In nature it is only the Bonobos, the most intelligent primate, which kisses with the tongue as we do. Kissing is often regarded as harmless and the safest thing to do on a debauched night out. But – like chocolate – too much of a good thing may not be beneficial.
Not a fan of going to gym? If I were to grab and kiss you passionately right now, it would be a good work out. We would be using all 34 muscles in the face, most particularly the orbicularis oris, (which Wikipedia describes as “the sphincter muscle around the mouth”) and we’d be burning two calories per minute. The bad news is that we’d also be exchanging between 10 million and 1 billion bacteria.
Deep kissing can transmit many germs, including those that cause cold sores, glandular fever and tooth decay and saliva can transmit various diseases, which means that kissing is a small but significant health risk.
Kissing exposes you to the following viruses:
• Colds – also known as upper respiratory tract infections. You could catch the cold from airborne droplets (sneezes) or from direct contact with secretions (fluids and mucus) from the infected person’s nose and throat. Shoving your tongue down a stranger’s throat may eventually hurt your throat!
• Glandular fever – also known as “the kissing disease”, is the common name for a viral infection more formally known as infectious mononucleosis, caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. The virus is spread through saliva. It may not be the glands that you were hoping to swell.
• Herpes – viruses that are considered part of the herpes family include Epstein-Barr, varicella-zoster (causes chickenpox) and herpes simplex (causes cold sores). These are “keepsakes” or “mementos” that you may not have intended on acquiring from a “close” encounter. Herpes simplex virus can be spread through direct contact with the virus when kissing. Herpes is most easily spread to others when the blisters are forming or have erupted. The virus can be ‘shed’ (spread to others) from the site of blisters even once they have healed. Chickenpox is easily spread from person to person by direct contact, droplets or airborne spread. Just something to consider when you “spot” that “hottie” across the dance floor with a sore on his lip.
• Hepatitis B – kissing can transmit this virus, although blood has higher levels of this virus than saliva. Infection can occur when infected blood and saliva come into direct contact with someone else’s bloodstream or mucous membranes. (Mucous membranes line various body cavities including the mouth and nose.)The risk is higher if they have open sores in or around the mouth. This can be a debilitating disease that will not feel “hip” to have so rather be a “tight ass” if your partner doesn’t seem well (although sometimes carriers will not show any symptoms at all).
• Warts – Yes, believe it or not, warts in the mouth can be spread through kissing, especially if there are areas of recent trauma. That prince you want to kiss may be a frog in disguise. Exercise caution!
• It is very difficult to contract HIV from deep kissing another person who is infected, unless both individuals have open wounds in their mouths and/or simultaneous bleeding gums.
But before you vow never to smooch again remember that there are also certain benefits to kissing.
Deep kissing stimulates saliva which is good for combatting tooth decay and it’s also a great way to boost the body’s immunity and encourage resistance. It’s a fantastic way to bond with another human being and often leads to other activities that are even more enjoyable. “Hubba-Hubba!” It also helps with stress relief because it floods the body with endorphins and other feel-good hormones like oxytocin.
Let’s face it, the fact that there are risks involved makes kissing feel just a bit more thrilling and a touch of danger is sexy. Safety first but a good thrill is a close second.
Health4Men is a project of the Anova Health Institute NPC funded by PEPFAR/USAID. The views in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funders. Health4Men supports sexual health services for MSM (men who have sex with men). For free screening and any information about your sexual health, visit your nearest Health4Men supported clinic. Visit the Health4Men website on www.health4men.co.za, their Facebook page or their mobi site on h4m.mobi.