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A Sigh May Be Just a Sigh, but a Kiss is Still a Kiss

January 06, 1997|STEPHANIE SHAPIRO | THE BALTIMORE SUN

The kiss wasn't captured on film, immortalized in bronze or celebrated in song. It didn't inspire poetry or longing sighs in darkened movie theaters. In fact, as kisses go, it didn't amount to much. Just a 6-year-old boy giving a classmate a peck on the cheek at an elementary school in Lexington, N.C. Still, it was enough to land Johnathan Prevette in hot water and make him the most notorious pint-sized kisser since Georgie Porgie.

Given the cultural and historical significance of kissing, perhaps it isn't surprising that Johnathan became a national cause celebre. Kissing, in all its forms, exerts a powerful hold over our imaginations. Even more than sex, kissing is the ultimate act of intimacy. But don't take our word for it. Consider the ways the kiss has shaped our world--or our perception of it.

Birds Do It, Bees Do It?

Well, not exactly. But elephants do it, in the most unusual of ways. They stick their trunks in each other's mouth.

A Kiss Is Still a Kiss

Unless it's a pat, lick or rub--the equivalent of kissing in isolated cultures. Still, more than 90% of the world's peoples do it the familiar way: lip to lip.

A Brief History of the Kiss

The earliest written traces of urban civilization dating from 3500 BC include recipes for beer and tax records, but zilch on kissing.

* Rubbing noses

The first written reference to kissing comes from India, circa 1500 BC, in which Vedic verses refer to the quaint custom of pressing noses together as a show of affection.

* The Joy of Kissing

Two thousand years later, the Kama Sutra, arguably the world's first how-to sex manual, records examples of erotic kissing and kissing techniques.

* Friendship kissing

From India, the kissing bug spread to Persia, Syria and Assyria and on to Greece and Rome, where friendship kissing was all the rage in Caesar's time.

* The kiss of betrayal

Kissing took on a far more sinister cast when Judas kissed Jesus after the Last Supper. But Judas' betrayal didn't sour Christians on kissing.

* The holy kiss

Kissing became an act of reverence in Christian rites. But the holy kiss got out of hand, and about 1311 the Roman Catholic Church outlawed certain kisses. Kissing with the intent to fornicate was a mortal sin. Kissing for carnal delight was a venial sin. Kissing in reverence to God was A-OK.

* The French kiss

The first romantic kiss took place in medieval French literature. Kissing played a central role in medieval ritual. Men kissed, sometimes on the lips, to pay homage, seal a bargain, express political and familial affinity. Knights, abiding by the chivalric code, were versed in the art of kissing, be it on the hand or any other appropriate body part.

* Modern smooching

The current rage for blowing air kisses suggests that kissing is in danger of losing its tactile significance. Still, interest in kissing remains intense. When William Crane, author of "The Art of Kissing" and "The Book of Kisses," tours college campuses, his appearances draw as many as 700 screaming, cheering students.

Source: Vaughn M. Bryant Jr., anthropologist at Texas A & M University

Big-Screen Kisses

* Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres in "The Sheik"

* Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in "Flesh and the Devil"

* Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in "Gone With the Wind"

* Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in "From Here to Eternity"

* Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in "Pretty Woman"

* Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick Swayze in "Ghost"

Artistic Kisses

* "The Kiss," bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin, 1886.

* "The Vampire," lithograph by Edvard Munch, 1895.

* "Kiss II," painting by Roy Lichtenstein, 1962.

* "Motherhood," painting by Maguerite Gerard, 1795-1800.

Top 40 Kisses

* "Kisses Sweeter than Wine," Jimmie Rodgers, 1957

* "Sealed With a Kiss," Brian Hyland, 1962

* "Shoop, Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)", Betty Everett, 1964

* "Kiss You All Over," Exile, 1978

* "Kiss," Prince, 1986

* "Kiss From a Rose," Seal, 1995

Kisses We'd Rather Forget

* Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley

* Bob Packwood and just about every woman he knew

* Marlon Brando and Larry King

* Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev

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