Sealed with a kiss: How to have the perfect wedding smooch
Vows have been taken, rings exchanged - it's time to pucker up. But should it be a demure peck or a passionate Gone With The Wind drop?
The true love kiss or 'knee trembler' is a one-off sort of pucker, it is intimate, sensuous, utterly romantic and even sublime.
This 'kiss of all kisses' albeit elusive, is woven into every fibre of human culture. It is a staple sweetmeat in the mediums of art, literature, poetry, film, photography and music but does it actually exist or is it the stuff of fairy tales?
According to Dr Henry Gibbons, kissing is defined scientifically as the "anatomical juxtaposition of two orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction," a practice known as 'osculation', from the Latin word osculum, 'mouth' or 'kiss'. Physically, one requires the use of all 34 facial muscles, along with 112 postural muscles, which are drawn together in an action similar to a drawstring purse being pulled tight.
Consider too the amount of bacteria exchanged in an open-mouthed 'love' kiss (apparently anything between 10 million and a billion colonies of the stuff). Yet despite the pitfalls of kissing - cold sores, strep throat and even meningitis - the kiss is recognised as an important gesture of social affection engendering intimacy and trust between two people. In Western society the true love kiss has been used to symbolise sexual love and intimacy throughout the ages. Socrates declared: "There is nothing which stirs up the fire of love so much as kisses."
Indeed, depending on the depth of passion, a kiss can ignite a plethora of emotional, sensual and physical reactions, from the dilation of one's pupils to the pounding of one's heart. What other gesture engages all of the senses? The lips are one of the most sensitive areas of the body and packed with nerve endings.
It will come as no surprise then to learn women use kissing as a device to assess potential mates. The fairer sex have a superior sense of taste and smell to men. Research has shown we prefer men with immune system proteins that differ from our own which in theory can lead to healthier offspring. Claus Wedekind, a Swiss zoologist, successfully tested this theory. However, it did not work on women who took the birth control pill, who tended instead to select men with genetically similar traits to them. This makes sense as, hormonally, the pill mimics the state of pregnancy - a time when most women feel safest with family.
In contrast and, perhaps predictably, men use kissing as an indicator of how lucky they may get.
"The decision to kiss for the first time is the most crucial in any love story," declared author Emil Ludwig. "It changes the relationship of two people much more strongly than any final surrender; because the kiss already has within it that surrender."
Of course kissing with confidence is not innate. Many frogs have to be kissed before we find our prince. We practise perfecting the pucker from a very young age. From nursery school on there's kiss-chasing. Teen years are spent pursuing kisses and planting kisses until finally we find our perfect match.
From a Western perspective our notion of 'Happy Ever After' is sealed with a kiss, the wedding kiss; a very public and profound recognition of one of life's most important milestones; marriage. Its significance harkens back to ancient Roman times when contracts and documents were formalised with a kiss. Spiritually, the wedding kiss symbolises the exchange of souls between the bride and the groom, fulfilling the Christian scripture that "the two shall become one flesh". "Soul meets soul on lovers' lips," wrote the romantic poet Shelly.
Yet this belief is far from universal. In the 19th century some African tribes believed the opposite was true. The mouth represented a portal to the soul, thus one could steal souls by kissing. In these societies, mouth kissing was viewed as disgusting and the act of exchanging saliva revolting.
As for wedding-kiss customs, these differ depending on boundaries, culture and religion. There is a tradition in Croatia whereby couples forgo kissing each other and instead kiss the crucifix, which represents the source of true love. In Sweden and Denmark when the bride leaves the wedding table all the female congregants line up to plant a cheeky kiss on the groom and then the custom is repeated when the groom leaves and the male guests queue to kiss the bride.
In Japan, where public kissing is traditionally taboo, the groom typically pecks his bride on the left cheek. Some cultures forgo the wedding kiss altogether, in Muslim ceremonies, displays of affection between the sexes are a wholly private matter.
Certainly, there is more to the kiss than the meeting of lips. In fact, our entire lives are punctuated by kisses between family and friends as well as with romantic partners.
So, is a true love kiss the stuff of romance or one of life's elixirs? Well, I'm a sucker for a pucker and believe it is both transformative and a life restorative. As The Shoop Shoop Song goes: "It's in his kiss!"
Lana Citron is the author of 'A Compendium of Kisses', published by Harlequin
How to have the perfect wedding smooch
1. Practice, practice, practice - this is something you don't want to mess up.
2. Do not rush the moment. This is your moment but your guests are also expecting to be moved.
3. Aim for an intimate stance rather than a display of red-hot passion. God forbid someone shouts out: "Get a room!"
4. Careful with those hands - a light embrace usually is preferable to a tight clinch. Arms dangling at the side are not a good look. Keep in mind the photographer and all those cameras pointed your way.
5. Steer clear of sloppy, wet kisses. You're aiming to elicit congregational 'aghhh's' not 'eughhhs'.
6. Take your time, linger just long enough for the photographer to get that great shot. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes famously went for a marathon three-minute kiss!
7. Keep your eyes closed or focused on each other - eyeing up guests is not recommended.
8. Do you have it in you to pull off a Gone with the Wind swooping dip or are you more the poised puckering pair? Decide in advance and stick with it. Make sure you are both comfortable.
9. Breath - keep it fresh and sweet.
10. At all costs avoid the Glaswegian Kiss - otherwise known as a head butt!