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Lips Can Say Plenty When They're Kissing

February 13, 2001|ELIZABETH LARGE | BALTIMORE SUN

A kiss is just a kiss? Never. Well, hardly ever.

Ask Snow White, who was brought back to life with a kiss. Or Al Gore, who sent a message to his wife, Tipper, and the nation with a passionate kiss at the 2000 Democratic Convention. Or Romeo, whose final words were "Thus with a kiss I die"--thereby sealing his reputation as the most romantic lover ever.

(By the way, the song, often misquoted, goes: "A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh; the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.")

When Julia Roberts, the call girl in "Pretty Woman," says she'll do anything but kiss her clients on the mouth, she's saying something about the intimacy of kissing. And when she and Richard Gere finally connect with a long, slow, tender mouth-to-mouth, eyes-closed kiss, you know this is it. The Real Thing, baby. True love.

You shouldn't kiss off kissing. And when you do, consider it a warning sign. "Kissing drops out of a marriage quicker than intercourse does," says Ruth Morehouse, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the Marriage and Family Health Center in Colorado. "In some ways, it's a more intimate experience."

In order to make kissing meaningful, she explains, you have to put more of yourself into it. Sex, she says, can be pleasurable even if there is no connection.

The nice thing about kissing is that everybody can be an expert. We asked Beth Morrison, 37, who lives in Baltimore, if kissing is something people are born knowing how to do.

Sometimes, she says. "You're a natural at it or not, one way or the other. It's something that's hard to teach."

Any advice?

"Go slow. Soft and slow."

It might be hard to teach, but an awful lot of people are interested in improving their kissing skills. "It's one of the top five questions I get asked around the country," says David Coleman, also known as the Dating Doctor (http://www.datingdoctor.com). Coleman, who lives in Loveland, Ohio, has a new book out called "Date Smart" (Prima, 2000). He once wrote a column listing all the types of bad kissers he could think of: the Ashtray (as the bumper sticker says, "Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray"); the Niagara Falls (lots of saliva); the Deer in the Headlights (eyes open); the Raw Oyster (ugh); the Brander (he likes to leave his mark); the Octopus (all hands); the Grand Canyon (all mouth); and the Twister (use your imagination). Coleman believes people can become better kissers with the help of four Ps: patience, practice, pressure (vary it) and pacing.

At last count, 366,000 Web pages mentioned kissing. (Two Web sites in particular will tell you more than you ever wanted to know: http://www.kissing.com and http://www.virtualkiss.com.) Self-help books abound.

One of the hottest speakers on the college lecture circuit right now is Michael Christian, who wrote "The Art of Kissing," first published in 1991 under the name William Cane. He was inspired to research the subject after a girlfriend told him, "You're not supposed to kiss with your eyes open."

"I was totally bewildered," he writes. "Where in the book of kissing did it say that you had to kiss with your eyes closed?"

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In fact, kissing with your eyes open is one of the exercises Morehouse gives couples who come for therapy.

"Many have never kissed with their eyes open," she says. "Explore what it would be like. It's much more personal, you're making more contact."

Everybody has his or her own idea about what makes a great kisser. And it isn't always what you might expect.

Jeremy Graham, 29, who lives in Baltimore, considers himself a good kisser.

"Why?" he says. "Because I bite."

Um, is that good?

"It seems self-evident."

So what makes a bad kisser?

"Excessive slobber."

One of the great things about kisses is how they help people communicate in a relationship. A particular kind of kiss can convey profound tenderness--or a peck on the cheek can let your spouse know just how angry you are.

It seems hard to imagine, but romantic kissing seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon in the history of mankind, according to Tomima Edmark in "The Kissing Book" (Summit, 1996). Some civilizations never even get around to it. Kissing was almost unknown in ancient Egypt, for instance, Cleopatra notwithstanding. In some African cultures, mother and child kiss but not adults. And before they adopted Western habits, the Chinese considered kissing indecent. Historians credit India and the Kama Sutra, the Sanskrit love manual, with first developing the idea of the kiss as a romantic act sometime after 1500 BC.

Which brings us to the definition of a kiss:

1. " The anatomical juxtaposition of two orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction."

--Dr. Henry Gibbons (1808-84)

2. "What is a kiss? Why this, as some approve; The sure sweet cement, glue and lime of love."

--Poet Robert Herrick

3. "A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous."

--Ingrid Bergman

Take your pick.

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