Spain Daily Life - Tourism

A kiss may be just a kiss, but when you engage in the popular Valentine's Day activity, you are taking part in an activity which is a lot more recent, and with a lot more interesting history, than you may realize, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

"Kissing is really only a few hundred years old," Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University and one of the world's foremost experts on the history and culture of kissing, tells News Radio 1200 WOAI.

He says Henry VIII would not have engaged in romantic kissing with any of his famous six wives, nor would the legendary lover Don Juan have puckered up with any of the women he is said to have been romantically involved with.

Bryant says for most of European  history, kissing for romantic reasons was unknown.  It was generally seen as a sign of respect, or a public acknowledgement of a person's place in the hierarchy of society.

"The reason you would kiss the Pope on his ring instead of on the face or anything, is you are publically acknowledging that you are not of the same rank."

He says people would kiss the crucifix, kiss the queen on the hand, or kiss to show military fealty in the days before insignia.  

A lieutenant, for example, might be kissed on the hand, while a general would be kissed on the feet.

People would also, for example, kiss the ground to celebrate the successful completion of a sea voyage.

Bryant says romantic kissing was introduced to Europe only in the Age of Discovery, when explorers visited India, and returned with sexy texts like the famous Kama Sutra.

"The area of India, northern India, is the place where we find the earliest references to kissing," he said.

Bryant says Alexander the Great, who reached the Ganges River in his conquests in the 300s BC, was also introduced to romantic and sexual kissing.  He brought it back to Greece and Rome, where it was practiced for many centuries, much in the way we practice it today.

But he says fear of disease, and Christian piety, stopped romantic kissing dead in its tracks.

"In the 600s, Pope Innocent III forbade kissing," he said.  "He ruled that if you kiss for the purposes of sexual enjoyment, that was a mortal sin."

Kissing was also downplayed as a way of romantic expression throughout the Middle Ages due to fear of transmitting disease, and the fact that most people in that era had horribly decayed teeth, which made mouth to mouth contact unpleasant.

Bryant says kissing is still frowned on in many cultures.  

In the South Pacific, for example, they prefer the 'sniff kiss,' as a form of greeting, where mouths don't actually touch.

And he says in many traditional cultures, people abhor kissing because they feel that it amounts to 'sucking the life force out of the body.

"They don't mind going to bed with you, that's fine," he said.  "But, for God's sake, don't kiss me."

So Happy Valentine's Day, and give some thought to the interesting history of today's most popular activity.

IMAGE' GETTY