Sexual kissing was practised in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt at least 4500 years ago, according to a review of ancient texts.
There is considerable debate about when humans began kissing in a romantic way. Many sources say the earliest evidence of sexual kissing is in Sanskrit texts written in what is now India around 3500 years ago. Some researchers have suggested that sexual kissing spread from there around the world, and the conquests of Alexander the Great are often said to have played a part in this spread.
The idea that sexual kissing spread around the world from one place has, in turn, been linked to changes in the spread of diseases that can be transmitted orally. For instance, a paper published last year suggested that the herpes simplex virus 1, which causes cold sores, became more much common because of “the advent of sexual-romantic kissing”.
But evidence from Mesopotamia and Egypt suggests sexual kissing arose independently in many places and didn’t suddenly spread around the world, says Troels Pank Arbøll at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. “It shows it was known in a much wider area in the ancient world than the people formulating these theories have considered,” he says.
This has been known for decades by the few experts who can read the cuneiform writing system used by several ancient civilisations, but not more widely, says Arbøll. “In the general scientific community, people were not aware of this evidence because it’s not cited anywhere.”
So, Arbøll and his wife, biologist Sophie Lund Rasmussen at the University of Oxford, decided to write a paper describing the overlooked evidence.
While kissing is rarely referred to in Mesopotamian texts, those mentions show it was considered an ordinary part of romantic intimacy in ancient times, says Arbøll. For instance, one text from around 3800 years ago describes how a married woman came close to being unfaithful after a kiss. Another text from the same time describes an unmarried woman vowing to avoid kissing and having sex with a man.
“Considering the geographical distribution, I think [sexual kissing] must have had multiple origins,” says Arbøll. “It’s not something that originated in a single place.”
He and Rasmussen also point out that there is tentative evidence that modern humans and Neanderthals kissed, or at least exchanged saliva in some way. What is more, bonobos also engage in mouth-to-mouth sexual kissing. So it is possible that people have been kissing sexually for much longer than written history suggests. “I think it’s very likely that it goes far back,” says Arbøll.
However, a 2015 study by William Jankowiak at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and his colleagues found no evidence of sexual kissing in hunter-gatherer societies.
“My hunch is that kissing arose or was discovered amongst the elite in complex societies,” says Jankowiak. The elite were able to pursue pleasure and turn sex into an erotic encounter, he says.
Jankowiak did find that sexual kissing is more common in cold climes. This may be because in places where people’s bodies are covered in clothes, the face is the sole zone available to touch, he says.
Source: Humans - newscientist.com