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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Kissing

Did the French pioneer tonguing? Do you really want people you dislike doing it to your ass? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Kissing! Did the French invent doing it with tongues? To whom was it done by a rose on the grey? And will it give you cooties? Let’s find out by giving these kissing facts and myths a damn good smooching.

Lie #1: French Kissing Is French

The idea of kissing with tongues significantly pre-dates the idea of France. France originated in the ninth century as the Kingdom of the West Franks, with the name France only being consistently used to refer to the country from the 13th century or so. Kissing with tongues was definitely happening before the 13th century — there are references to it in ancient Sumerian texts dating from some 1,900 years earlier.

However, makin’ out is a bit of a puzzler evolution-wise, as it’s incredibly widespread but not universal. Some anthropologists think it stems from pre-human times and parents feeding their children pre-chewed food by pushing it into their mouths with their tongues, a practice that then became a method of courtship — demonstrating your worth by smooshing some chewed-up berries down your beloved’s throat. Others think it originated as a way of determining a potential mating partner’s value by exposing yourself to their smell and the taste of their saliva in order to judge whether they were healthy. 

But there are societies that never developed kissing at all, let alone tongue-kissing, suggesting it isn’t an instinctive human thing. A 2015 paper in American Anthropologist by Professor William R. Jankowiak — an interesting dude who has devoted a lot of his career to the study of different cultures’ romantic relationships — found that what was termed “romantic-sexual kissing” was actually only present in 46 percent of cultures studied (although, it has, of course, become pretty popular). The study did find a correlation between societies with complex social structures and those that liked tonguin’ one another. 

Why, then, do we credit the French with the invention of really going for it? The phrase came from U.S. soldiers in World War I witnessing the more sexually liberated French doing in public what was generally only done behind closed doors in America. In France, they don’t call it French kissing, although they do have an expression that translates to the unsexily descriptive “kissing at length on the mouth.” In 2013, the term galocher entered French dictionaries to specifically refer to kissing with tongues — it comes from the word for an ice skate, meant to evoke tongues gliding across tongues gracefully. Those wacky French, lapping at each other’s cakeholes willy-nilly! Sacre bleu! 

Lie #2: Ew, Kissing, You’re Gonna Get Cooties

While you might get cooties, the most dangerously non-specific of all childhood illnesses, from a kiss, there are many more casual ways of interacting that leave you open to a lot more cootie-exposure. While a 10-second kiss can transfer up to 80 million bacteria, a handshake can transfer 124 million. Hands go so many grosser places than mouths do — sure, the places mouths go tend to be pretty memorable, but few and far between. Hands go everywhere — scratching asses, touching public toilet door handles, fingering everything in 7-11. A fist-bump, the preferred touch-based greeting even pre-coronavirus of those concerned about encootening, still transfers 10 percent of a handshake’s cooties, so the best solution is to just never touch another human again. They’re filthy. They’re hogs. They’re slime! 

Lie #3: The Berlin Wall Has Some Dudes Making Out on It

There’s a famous painting on the Berlin Wall of two men locking lips. Perhaps you’re a dumbass who thought that it was a fairly problematic image, where Cold War-era graffiti artists were using homophobia as a go-to to express dissatisfaction with their political leaders, like when Stephen Colbert called Donald Trump’s mouth “Putin’s cock-holster,” and only realized you were mistaken when you started researching an article about kissing. Perhaps! What a dumbass you are!

The mural, known as “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love,” was painted in 1991 by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel, based on a real photograph of Leonid Brezhnev (former General Secretary of the Communist Party) and Erich Honecker (former General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany) kissing in 1980. The kiss wasn’t a romantic or sexual one — Brezhnev and Honecker hadn’t just been for a lovely moonlit walk talking about feelings — but a symbol of unity, two powerful Communist leaders expressing their solidarity. It was a “socialist fraternal kiss,” albeit quite a full-on one. (There are, across the world, a lot of mouth-kisses that have nothing to do with sex, romance or familial relationships. A kiss on the mouth can be, depending on where you are, a gesture of peace, greeting, respect or friendship. We’ve all just watched so much TV that as soon as we see people kiss we assume they’re about to, y’know, make fuck-fuck. We need to grow up, probably.)

When turned into a mural, the image was used partly in irony — a regime that had brought so much misery represented by this aggressive show of togetherness, rendered off-puttingly enormous. When satirists do riffs on it using other political pairs — Trump and Putin, Trump and Boris Johnson and so on — it enters slightly sketchy ground, like Colbert’s misjudged gag. Sure, on the one hand, you’re comparing their partnership to the ill-fated relationship between East Germany and the Soviet Union. But on the other, there’s definitely an unsavory element of “Guys kissing! Gross!” involved. Best to avoid ambiguity when it comes to satire and just write things like, “This guy’s a real piece of shit!!!!!!!!!” on pictures of public figures.

Lie #4: ‘Kiss From a Rose’ by Seal Probably Doesn’t Hold Up

It fucking does. It holds a strange place in pop culture where it gets memed a lot and sits alongside ironically revered but ultimately crap stuff, but is way better than the Chuck Norrises, McDonald’s Szechuan sauces or scenes in the Nicolas Cage Wicker Man where he isn’t screaming about bees or punching women while dressed as a bears of the world.

But it’s incredible. It’s a romantic, sexy, mysterious ballad, its lyrics full of ambiguity and open to endless interpretation. Is it about drug abuse? A toxic relationship? A great relationship? Batman? Is it just a bunch of words? Is he singing to a woman, or to a big ol’ bag of coke? Is he a lighthouse? How does a rose kiss a lighthouse? Is he a lighthouse, telling a big ol’ bag of coke about being kissed by a flower? 

Whatever it means, it’s great, a proper banger of a tune that’s somehow both extremely easy and extremely difficult to sing along to, with big join-innable choruses as well as bits you really easily get lost in. It’s vastly better than Batman Forever, the film it appeared on the soundtrack of. The song actually predates the film, and had a Batman-less release and video that largely sank without trace before director Joel Schumacher opted to use it to accompany Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman visiting the thircuth

This took it to, among other things, the top of the Billboard charts. You know what you don’t get a lot of at the top of the Billboard charts? Songs in 6/8 timing. It’s pretty impressive. (N.B. Some claim it is in waltz timing — 3/4 — but according to a classically-trained music industry insider, “In the ‘there’ in the first line of the verse, you wouldn’t put a stress in the middle of the ‘er’ sound, which would be the first beat of the second 3/4 bar, which would suggest that it’s not to be counted in that meter,” so there. Outkast’s “Hey Ya” is in 11/8 and arguably even more beloved though, so whatever. WHATEVER.)

It’s a good song!

Lie #5: ‘Kiss My Ass!’

You probably don’t mean that. If the person you’re shouting it at — let’s say it’s your landlord, and he’s said you have to pay to fix the broken toilet in your apartment even though it’s legally his responsibility — immediately pulls your trousers and underwear down and places their lips against your bottom, it won’t make anything better. Whether it’s a little peck to one of your buttocks or an intense smooch to your anus (in this scenario they’re using their hands to part your buttocks, perhaps), you won’t be happy. 

You don’t like this person. They’re trying to charge you for a toilet that isn’t your responsibility, and now you can feel their stubble lightly grazing your bottom, and the issue of who is to pay for the toilet repair hasn’t been dealt with at all. Your outburst meant subsequent experiences with your landlord were going to be awkward anyway, but the whole “probing tongue to the crack” thing has just exacerbated the whole situation. You’d regret even speaking, really.