Kissing banned: July 16, 1439
It had been less than a century since what became known as the Black Death had wiped out almost half of Europe’s population, so people on the continent lived in constant fear of another devastating outbreak. It didn’t help that no one really knew what caused it—many medieval doctors saw it as a punishment from God, while some scientists blamed it on “bad air” caused by earthquakes or an unusual alignment of the planets.
By the 15th century, however, there was some suspicion that humans might spread the plague through their saliva. So when another outbreak starts in the summer of 1439, Parliament petitions King Henry VI to end the ceremony of knights kissing the king on the mouth when they do him a service. And as a precaution, the king takes this a step further by banning all kissing with the hope that “small specks” of plague can be kept from spreading.
It’s not known how many people actually heeded the ban, but it is believed that it was around this time that kissing someone on the cheek as a social greeting, instead of on the mouth, started to become more popular in Europe.
It also was not the first time a ruler tried to stop people from kissing for health reasons—the Roman emperor Tiberius outlawed kissing in public ceremonies in an attempt to stop the spread of herpes. Nor would it be the last. In 1562, officials in Naples, Italy banned kissing in public with the hope that it would stop another outbreak of the plague. Those caught kissing could be sentenced to death.
Later attempts to crack down on kissing, though, had little to do with health. In 1910, France banned kissing on French railways because it could cause delays. In 1982, the Iranian Parliament listed “kissing for pleasure” as a list of outlawed moral offenses. In 1991, students at Peking University, China, were banned from kissing, holding hands, hugging, whispering, or holding unauthorized gatherings. And in 2003, Moscow considered a ban on kissing in public places, a ban that would have included even legally married couples and punished the act with fines and jail time. People fought back, protesting the proposed law by kissing perfect strangers on the street in a show of defiance. The proposed law was abandoned.
As recently as last month, dozens of couples at a train station in Ankara, Turkey staged a kiss-in to protest a crackdown on kissing on subway cars.
BTW: The average person will spend an estimated 20,160 minutes—about two weeks–kissing in their lifetime. You burn 26 calories in a one-minute kiss.
More Slices of History
Seat belt patented: July 10, 1962
Birth of SPAM: July 5, 1937
Dancing hysteria: June 24, 1374
First kidney transplant: June 17, 1950
Alcoholics Anonymous born: June 10, 1935
Bizarre stomach experiment: June 6, 1822
Heimlich maneuver born: June 1, 1974
Toothpaste in tubes: May 22, 1892
The Fist Vaccination: May 14, 1786
The Pill Arrives: May 9, 1960
Hello, Cheerios: May 1, 1941
First hit workout video: April 24, 1982
Insulin goes mainstream: April 15, 1923
Polio vaccine celebrated: April 12, 1955