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Health: What happens to your body when you kiss?; So you thought kissing was just about your lips touching his, did you? It may be the most innocent sexual act of the lot but a simple snog sets up a complex chain of events.

Byline: Nathalie Gibbins

Stage 1: the scent of attraction

Who you kiss, how you kiss and where you kiss all affect the significance of the moment. But while all five senses add to the pleasure, smell is the first to be stimulated. `Pheromones are chemicals we smell and this initiates attraction,' says Phillip Hodson, psychotherapist and co-author of How to Make Great Love to a Man (pounds 16.95, Robson Books). `They are odours secreted by sweat glands under the arms and in the groin, that have the power to attract a mate,' he says. In other words, you like the `smell' of people you fancy.

Stage 2: pucker up

It's official: lips are sexy. `The skin of the lips is only half as thick as normal skin,' says psychologist Nick Neave, of the Society of Endocrinology. `When women get aroused, their lips flush, just like the genitals do.' We wear lipstick, not to make our mouths look like vaginal lips, as one theory goes, but to make us look fertile, mirroring their redness at our reproductive peak. And because our mouths process information (about food, for example), lips carry lots of nerve endings, making them super-sensitive.

Stage 3: love on the brain

Many women say they'd rather be kissed than have sex. According to Dr Andrew Scholey, senior lecturer in psychology at Northumbria University, the reason kissing feels so nice is because of the disproportionately large area of brain dedicated to lip and tongue movements. `Only finger or hand movements occupy as much brain space. The genitals have a much smaller area in comparison.'

Stage 4: when sparks fly

The moment your lips meet is often described as `electric', and that's exactly what it is. Studies using electrodes on people's lips during a kiss showed electric currents flowing along the nerves from the brain to all of the 34 facial muscles. Hence, those tingly sensations.

Stage 5: mouth-watering

As your kiss gets more intense, so does the production of saliva, which may create ugly slobber trails, but also helps prevent tooth decay. `Kissing is nature's cleaning process, it stimulates saliva flow which brings plaque levels down,' says Dr Jacinta Yeo from the British Dental Association.

Stage 6: hormone heaven

In exactly the same way as drinking alcohol, kissing stimulates the primitive part of the brain involved in automated functions (the four Fs: feeding, fighting, flight and, um, mating). `As you kiss, signals received by nerve endings in the lips are sent to the limbic system, which releases hormones that tell the pituitary glands to produce gonadotrophin. This hormone attaches itself to the ovaries, causing the release of oestrogen and testosterone, which increase sexual excitement,' says Dr Scholey. Another hormone released now is oxytocin - the bonding hormone. It is also secreted during breastfeeding and orgasm, and promotes caring feelings towards your partner or baby.

Stage 7: hot stuff

`Your growing excitement causes levels of the hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin to rise,' says Dr Hodson. Adrenalin causes blood to switch from the stomach to the limbs, ready for flight or fight and banishing hunger pangs. As your blood pressure increases, blood rushes to the surface, making your body warmer and creating a rosy glow. At rest, your heart beats about 60 to 80 times a minute, but mid-kiss this accelerates to over 100. Your lips swell and redden, due to arteries pumping blood out faster than the veins can return it to the heart.

Stage 8: take me now

As adrenalin increases, levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin fall. Far from reducing sexual pleasure, this keeps you focused and less likely to want to break off to make a cuppa. As serotonin drops, so do your inhibitions, making you more impulsive.

Stage 9: feel-good factor

Your kiss has reached its peak and your body's working overtime to stop you thinking that going to bed with Norman No Mates isn't such a great idea. `Your body rewards itself for reproducing, so it makes you feel nice by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain, which intensifies your desire so you crave more,' says Dr Hodson.

Stage 10: let there be love

Finally, the natural amphetamine phenylethylamine is released. This is also in chocolate and roses and gives the sensation of falling in love: butterflies in the stomach, low appetite and excitement. That light-headed feeling is from the release of endorphins, the brain's natural opium-like substances. Phew! We challenge you to remember all this next time you're having a snog.

A kiss too far...

Frog kiss

Popular with Californian teens, this is touching tongues quickly like a frog catching a fly.

Electric kiss

Turn the lights off (you may see sparks fly) and stand about 3ft apart. Rub your feet on the carpet to build up a charge of static electricity in the body, and pucker up. It depends how dry the air is, but up to 4,500 volts of electricity can be discharged between you.

Lip-o-suction kiss

Popular in Puerto Rico, focus your attention on the lower lip, kissing and sucking it hard.

Butterfly kiss

So romantic your lips never touch. Instead, you flutter your eyelashes gently on his cheek. Ahhh.

Biting kiss

Playfully nipping the ear lobe, lips, the tip of the nose and the chin. It's exciting, according to William Cane, author of The Art of Kissing (pounds 6.95, St Martin's Press) as it demonstrates pent-up sexual energy. He reckons about 78% of men and 84% of women like to bite or be bitten during a kiss. Softly, we assume.


One of the reasons kissing feels nice is because of the disproportionately large area of brain dedicated to lip and tongue movements - the genitals have a much smaller area in comparison


As your blood pressure increases, blood rushes to the surface of the skin, making your body warmer and creating a rosy glow. At rest, your heart beats about 60 to 80 times a minutes, but mid-kiss this accelerates to over 100


It's official: lips are sexy. `The skin of the lips is only half as thick as normal skin. When women become aroused, their lips flush, just like the genitals do'
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 17, 2001
Previous Article:[1] Advice: Sex clinic.
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