With Valentine’s Day just behind us and likely some smooching especially in the cold weather, it seems timely to explore the subject of kissing.

My wife’s first earth-shaking kiss with me on an early date sent me into orbit and a long and happy marriage. She recently saw an article mentioning the “10-second kiss.” It was a moment of renewal. Like many couples, our kisses often had become a little peck on the way in or out the door, cheek kisses, top of the head smooches, brushing of the lips all kind of a perfunctory way of saying, “I love you.”

Changing that out to a 10-second kiss cost nothing but helped re-awaken the power of a kiss to connect and bond. It seemed like the just the right amount of time. While longer kisses also are wonderful, you never can tell what kind of hanky-panky they may lead to.

So, I suggest to you and your beloved if you’re fortunate to have one nearby, practice some 10-second kissing and see how it changes your day-to-day interactions. Fun, free and frolicky. A 10-second hug can do the same, though COVID has caused the loss of many hug opportunities.

Let us review the anatomy of a kiss. Have you ever seen a homunculus? Every first-year medical student is introduced to this cartoon monstrosity while learning neuroanatomy. The homunculus is a topographic representation of the body of the sensory or motor cortex of the brain. The parts with the largest number of neurons are huge, while other less innervated areas are proportionately smaller. Browse the term homunculus at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1421_Sensory_Homunculus.jpg

In the homunculus, the lips, tongue and hands are particularly gigantic, reflecting their essential role in our lives. Models of the homunculus show lips like those aboriginal folks who utilize some kind of disc to stretch their lips bigger.

So, why are lips featured so prominently on the cortex of the brain, as well as capturing our attention continuously on magazine covers, artwork and advertisements? Soft, sensuous, moist lips in a variety of shapes and shades seem to capture the human imagination and emotions in a way no other body part does, except perhaps the eyes.

And why do we do that kissing thing anyway? Is it because our nerves wire us that way? With all those nerves, pressing of lips releases a lot of feel-good chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. It’s better and safer than a drug.

Evolutionary psychologists note the amount of information exchanged in a kiss can be extremely helpful in assessing a future mate. Temperature, smell, taste and even information about immunity and fertility can be detected subconsciously. We also exchange microbiota and hormones.

Besides those benefits, studies about kissing show it helps us bond with each other, improves our facial tone, reduces stress, blood pressure, cramps, cavities, cholesterol, allergies and headaches while boosting our immunity and self-esteem. It even burns calories.

So go ahead, pucker up and take that 10-second plunge. It may just change your life.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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