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Poets write on it, singers croon about it, movie stars depict it and now scientists are studying it, but the question remains: What is in a kiss?

I had wondered about this even before the age of 12, when my only experience in the hallowed art of smooching came courtesy of my aunt one Easter when I surreptitiously poked my tongue between her teeth, just to see what it felt like. I can't remember. Probably because I blocked it out. Is French kissing your mother's sister incestuous?

Then in sixth grade I enjoyed my first real (as in not with a blood relative) kiss when my girlfriend Andrea and I locked lips in a shopping mall parking lot. No tongue. We wanted to start slow. We'd swap saliva one more time that school year - in the girl's bathroom on the day classes let out. This kiss, a genuine French kiss, would be our last. We broke up that summer, for reasons that are still unclear to me. Perhaps I slobbered.

In seventh grade smooching went full throttle with my next girlfriend, Christina. We started going steady around my 13th birthday and pretty much every week for the next 18 months - be it in stairwells, around corners, at the park or on my couch during sleepovers (thank goodness for libertarian parents) - we'd tongue dance. Kissing was enough to satisfy our developing sexualities. Until the very end, when we evolved into awkward fondling. A real hot number, was Christina. From some Central or South American country whose name I could never locate on a map, even though the land east of Mexico was the topic of social studies class that year. And even though she was only 11 when we got together and 12 when we broke up and I was the first guy she kissed (or so she swore), Christina knew how to boogie. It was in her blood. Like Prince sang, "she wasn't too bright, but I could tell when she kissed me, she knew how to get her kicks." But Christina was bright. In fact she lit up my life with those sweet lips. Some things you just don't got to learn. And fertile, that one. Menarche visited her the summer before she was 12. Had we stayed together after my grade school graduation I'd probably be the father of a 30-year-old by now. 

But some things you do learn. Like how to kiss. If you're a guy. I've had a lot of tutors. For instance, don't slobber. (Thanks, Andrea.) Don't stab with your tongue as though it were a dagger. Rather make it soft and wide. The tongue is not a penis. The time for darting and dashing will come. That is, if you're a good kisser. (My hat goes off to you, Shannon.) A little biting is okay, just don't draw blood. Brush your tongue. Also, use lip balm. And don't grow a beard. My mother says no girl in her right mind would want to kiss me with my bushy mustache. But this is my mother's opinion, which doesn't count, because we will never kiss. And there are girls who do like a little scruff. I'm just not with one right now. But where facial hair is concerned, either grow it out or keep it clean, because the five o'clock shadow can feel like steel wool. (Thank you Farrah.) I too can attest to this one, since after too many martinis a gay family friend tried to kiss me. His mustache made me sneeze. (You're welcome, Marty.)

Kissing has other benefits than merely being an enjoyable way to spend an hour or 2 minutes, depending on how old you are. Smooching reduces allergic responses. So if you're a hay fever sufferer, find someone to snuggle with. I'd take kissing over Benadryl any day. Kissing doesn't make you drowsy. Quite the opposite. It's a real turn-on. Kissing also serves a functional role in mating situations. Though you may not know it, your love interest's labio-lingual proficiency is a huge influence on your selection of a mate. Kissing brings two persons into close enough proximity to facilitate an "olfactory/gustatory assessment." As with other mammals, smelling in humans is a pretty big determinant of who we want to hang out with. Your partner's aroma may be as important in the long run as how she looks.

But something happens as you age. Kissing takes a back seat to other forms of foreplay. Like fellatio and cunnilingus, which I suppose are brands of kissing themselves. Or your priorities change, and fantasy football and shopping for handbags become the be-all, end-all of your day. But we still have sex. For those that enjoy copulating on all-fours (doggy-style, because we are mammals), kissing may not even factor in. It's almost physically impossible in this position. But if you can manage kissing your partner from behind, or even biting on her neck, by all means do so. It's quite sexy. Grab her by the breasts to boot. Kissing may not be as exciting as it was in my teen years, and certainly its role in even the sturdiest romantic matches tends to diminish as its novelty wanes. I don't remember my parents to kiss more than a couple times, and always my father would squeeze his lips into a shriveled pucker as though he were tasting something sour. The opposite of an aphrodisiac. The things a woman has to put up with. But kissing may save your marriage, if you're the marrying kind.

Scientists note that in established relationships, "the contact and physiological arousal initiated by continued romantic kissing is likely to also affect feelings of attachment between individuals over time." Kissing leads to the release of  chemicals (including oxytocin and vasopressin) which are also active in mother-child bonding, as well as dopamine and opioids. These chemicals have all been variously associated with human pair-bonding. No wonder kissing feels so good. It's like doing speed and heroin simultaneously! There's a reason prostitutes don't allow a John to plant one on their punim, if you believe movies like Pretty Woman and Leaving Las Vegas. These working girls want to leave the encounter $200 richer, not hitched and knocked up. Which is bound to happen if you pucker up enough. Just remember to use lip balm.


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