Thoughts To Live By…

Archive for February 16th, 2009

In the time you spend each morning calibrating your hair gel, you could be doing something more important, with a much better payoff: eating breakfast. Mom was right (and it’s okay to admit it): Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

It keeps you slim: Breakfast eaters are less likely to be overweight than breakfast skippers, and successful dieters are also more likely to be breakfast eaters.

It keeps you healthy: Eating breakfast may reduce your risk of serious illnesses like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, and it strengthens your immune system so you’re more resistant to common ailments like colds and the flu.

It keeps you sharp: Memory and concentration get a boost from breakfast. A study on children found that kids who eat breakfast score higher on tests and are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. It should help you at the office, too.

The Perfect Meal
You say you eat breakfast? Good boy. Even so, it’s likely you’re doing it wrong. “Most men make the mistake of eating too little in the morning, and then get so hungry they go overboard and eat a giant meal later in the day,” says Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist in Irvine, California, and author of Stealth Health.
A typical breakfast is just a couple of hundred calories, mostly in the form of simple carbohydrates that spike blood-sugar levels and leave the body starving for energy a couple of hours later.

Even a classic fiber-rich breakfast — say a cup of raisin bran with blueberries and skim milk — provides less than 300 calories and only about 10 grams of protein. An ideal breakfast needs to be much larger — between 500 and 600 calories. And it needs to be packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including at least 20 grams of protein and at least 5 grams of fiber. That will give your body a high-quality, long-lasting, steady supply of energy to help you through the morning.

Author: Elizabeth Ward, Men’s Health
Source: http://health.yahoo.com/nutrition-overview/instant-breakfast/mens-health–4874.html

Picture: http://www.killsometime.com

Are female orgasms essential to continuing the human species?

Lauri Rotko/Gorilla Creative Images/Getty Images Where does the female orgasm fit in terms of procreation and human evolution? See more pregnancy pictures.

The question of whether female orgasms are essential to the survival of humanity might seem a lot like asking whether puppies really need to be that cute. Who cares? Life is better for having them around.

For a long time, that was pretty much the response to the question of why women can have orgasms during intercourse — why not? It’s tough to even begin to explore the topic from an evolutionary standpoint. We can’t ask a female gorilla whether she experiences a period of physical ecstasy at some point during intercourse. Most biologists do believe that male nonhuman primates experience something akin to orgasm, often judging from a marked change in their body language at the time of ejaculation [source: Discover].

The human evolutionary rationale behind the male orgasm is obvious. For males, orgasm and ejaculation go hand in hand. With such extreme pleasure immediately preceding the ejaculation of sperm into the vagina, a male is very effectively encouraged to spread his seed. And, the more mates a male has, the more offspring he creates. A man who experiences orgasm during ejaculation is far more likely to put extraordinary effort into finding sexual partners than the men who ejaculate without any accompanying extreme pleasure.

The physical process of the female orgasm, on the other hand, is far more difficult to explain in terms of evolution. It’s not like orgasm is connected to the release of an egg into the uterus. And a female can only get pregnant once in a given period of time, so sheer number of partners is less of an issue in terms of species survival.

So why is the orgasm part of the female sexual experience? Is it in fact an evolutionary adaptation, selected for its contribution to species survival, or is it a lucky break? And if it is an adaptation, what survival advantage does it offer? In this article, we’ll explore these questions. We’ll take a look at several of the top scientific theories about why women experience orgasms, see what the latest research has to say about it and find out whether the female orgasm could be on its way out.

Before we examine the why, it’s helpful to look at the “what.” When a woman has an orgasm, what’s happening in her body?

Sperm Retention Theory

Men and women experience similar physiological changes during orgasm, the climax of sexual intercourse. It typically lasts less than a minute [source: Discover]. In both sexes, the rectum contracts at intervals of approximately 0.8 seconds; there is less voluntary muscle control; and lots of muscles all over the body start to spasm. And then of course there’s the laundry list of pleasure chemicals, like oxytocin, norepinephrine and serotonin, that saturate the brain like a flash flood of indescribable joy. In women, the muscles in the vagina and the uterus go through a series of contractions, as well [source: Discover].

These contractions of the vagina and the uterus are the basis for one of the many evolutionary explanations of the female orgasm — the sperm retention theory. Some researchers hypothesize that when the vagina and uterus contract, they retain more sperm, possibly due to the way they close up and related to some sort of suction created by the contractions. This suction could reduce the amount of sperm that drips out of the woman’s body after sex, meaning more sperm would get a shot at reaching an egg.

Another theory in the sperm-retention realm states that an orgasm tires a woman out, causing her to lie on her back for a long time following sex. This would theoretically cause more sperm to stay inside her than if she were standing up, with gravity taking effect.

Critics point out, though, that there is no proof that either contractions or lying prostrate actually aid in sperm retention. (Some even say that the contractions produce an expulsion force, not a suction force [source: Discover].)

Sperm retention is still a pretty popular theory, although others also have a lot of followers. The most talked-about hypotheses include:

Orgasms encourage women to have sex. The more a woman mates, the more likely it is she’ll become pregnant and continue to populate the species.

One interesting piece of evidence for this hypothesis has to do with the way, in some nonhuman primate species, males kill other’s young but not their own. Some research suggests that orgasms cause females to mate with as many males as possible, causing confusion as to which baby belongs to whom. Since the males don’t know which kid is theirs and which isn’t, they won’t attack, and the orgasm-experiencing, promiscuous females’ genes are passed on more than others [source: Discover].

Orgasms help women choose the best mate. Because most females don’t always have orgasms during intercourse, perhaps they provide some sort of selection criteria. Perhaps at one point in human evolution, achieving orgasm during sex indicated the strength, health and attentiveness of a male partner, meaning a female could determine a mate’s suitableness by whether or not she had an orgasm.

The orgasm hormone oxytocin causes suction. One of the chemicals released during orgasm is oxytocin, which also is associated with lactation, among other things. In one study, when the uterus was injected directly with oxytocin, it tended to suck up fluid. Perhaps orgasm is a selected adaptation because oxytocin encourages the movement of ejaculate into the uterus, the same end result of the sperm retention theory.

Orgasms encourage pair-bonding. Chemicals released during orgasm, including endorphins and oxytocin, tend to make mates feel closer to each other — more connected, bonded and happy together (see How Love Works to learn about it). Evolutionarily speaking, this adaptation could cause mates to stay together to care for their children, increasing the chances of survival for their offspring.

These are all possible explanations for why females experience orgasm even though it’s not directly connected to conception. One of the latest theories goes in a totally different direction, though: Perhaps there is no evolutionary reason for women to have orgasms. What’s their purpose, then?

Pleasure for Pleasure: The Initial Development Hypothesis

The big talk in the scientific community right now surrounds the theory that women have orgasms for no reason at all. It’s not an adaptation. It’s a wonderful accident stemming from the initial phase of fetal development.

This theory was talked about a lot in the 1970s, and it has recently been revived. The initial-development hypothesis states that women have orgasms because men have orgasms. In the earliest stages of pregnancy, the fetus isn’t gendered. The hormones that determine sex haven’t kicked in yet, and the nerves laid down for future sex organs in this initial period are exactly the same in all fetuses. When a fetus becomes female instead of male, it still has the nerve pathways that allow for orgasm during sexual intercourse.

I­f this theory is correct, and the female orgasm isn’t an adaptation selected for survival of the species, does that mean it’ll be phased out?

Orgasm as Cure

From ancient times at least through the 1800s, women who deeply craved sexual intercourse were believed to be experiencing a sort of madness. The diagnosis was something along the lines of “hysteria.” The cure? Orgasm — achieved with help from a skilled doctor if the patient had no (skilled) husband to treat her. An article published in The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality in 2000 connects the development of the electronic vibrator to this orgasm cure. Apparently, it was invented partly to ease the burden on the doctor, who surely got tired during this treatment — it could take up to an hour for a woman to climax [source: EJHS].

There’s no consensus on the staying power of the female orgasm. Some say evolution tends to phase out unnecessary traits, so some day, many, many, many years in the future, females might no longer experience orgasms. Perhaps sexual pleasure, short of orgasm, will be enough to keep women getting pregnant.

Others disagree entirely: If it’s true that women have orgasms because nerves associated with orgasm are laid down in the initial stages of fetal development, when there’s no gender assigned yet, females will have the capacity for orgasm as long as men do. And considering how strongly the male orgasm is selected for in survival of the species, the corresponding female orgasm would be around for a long, long time.

by Julia Layton

Source: http://health.howstuffworks.com/female-orgasms-human-species.htm/printable

What happens in the brain during an orgasm?

George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images Sneezing: an alternative to orgasm?

Although the reasons for having sex of any kind are varied and complex, reaching orgasm is usually the goal. Because we’re all so different, coming up with a universal description of an orgasm is impossible. The one thing that most people can agree on is that it’s an incredibly, intensely pleasurable experience.

So what is it? When in doubt, go to the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictonary defines an orgasm as “a sudden movement, spasm, contraction, or convulsion […] a surge of sexual excitement.” Merriam-Webster gets more descriptive, stating that it’s “an explosive discharge of neuromuscular tensions at the height of sexual arousal that is usually accompanied by the ejaculation of semen in the male and by vaginal contractions in the female.” The famous sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey once said that an orgasm “can be likened to the crescendo, climax, and sudden stillness achieved by an orchestra of human emotions … an explosion of tensions, and to sneezing” [source: Geddes].

Dr. ­Kinsey’s comparison to sneezing might be debatable, but other than that, all of these definitions are basically correct. They’re just a few of the many different attempts to describe exactly what it means to have an orgasm.

Nearly every aspect of the orgasm — what’s required to have one, why some people can’t seem to achieve one, why we have them at all — has been the subject of much research and debate. What happens to the body during an orgasm is pretty well-known, and it’s no surprise that the brain plays a big part in reaching one. But researchers are still in the process of figuring out exactly what’s happening in the brain during an orgasm. Let’s start with looking at the messages that the body sends to the brain.

Orgasms and Nerves

Without nerves sending impulses back to the spinal cord and brain, an orgasm wouldn’t be possible. Just like any other area of the body, the genitalia contain different nerves that send information to the brain to tell it about the sensation that’s being experienced. This helps to explain why the sensations are perceived differently depending on where someone is being touched. A clitoral orgasm, for example, differs from a vaginal orgasm because different sets of nerves are involved.

All of the genitalia contain a huge number of nerve endings (the clitoris alone has more than 8,000 of them), which are, in turn, connected to large nerves that run up through the body to the spinal cord. (The exception is the vagus nerve, which bypasses the spinal cord.) They perform many other functions in the body in addition to providing the nerve supply, and therefore feedback to the brain, during sexual stimulation. Here are the nerves and their corresponding genital areas

  • hypogastric nerve – transmits from the uterus and the cervix in women and from the prostate in men
  • pelvic nerve – transmits from the vagina and cervix in women and from the rectum in both sexes
  • pudendal nerve – transmits from the clitoris in women and from the scrotum and penis in men
  • vagus nerve – transmits from the cervix, uterus and vagina

The role of the vagus nerve in orgasms is a new discovery and there’s still much that’s unknown about it; until recently, researchers didn’t know that it passed through the pelvic region at all.

Since most of those nerves are associated with the spinal cord, it would stand to reason that a person with a severed spinal cord wouldn’t be able to have an orgasm. And for a very long time, that’s what people with these types of injuries were told. However, recent studies show that people with spinal cord injuries — even parapalegics — can reach orgasm. Dr. Barry Komisaruk and Dr. Beverly Whipple of Rutgers University conducted a study on women with severed spinal cords in 2004. They discovered that these women could feel stimulation of their cervixes and even reach orgasm, although there was no way their brain could be receiving information from the hypogastric or pelvic nerves. How was this possible? An MRI scan of the women’s brains showed that the region corresponding to signals from the vagus nerve was active. Because the vagus bypasses the spinal cord, the women were still able to feel cervical stimulation.

So during sexual stimulation and orgasm, different areas of the brain receive all of this information that lets it know exactly what’s happening — and that what’s happening is very enjoyable. But until recently, we had no way of knowing exactly what was happening in the brain at the exact moment of orgasm. We’ll check out the latest research next.

­

Pleasure Center of the Brain: Light It Up

You may have heard that the brain has a pleasure center that lets us know when something is enjoyable and reinforces the desire for us to perform the same pleasurable action again. This is also called the reward circuit, which includes all kinds of pleasure, from sex to laughter to certain types of drug use. Some of the brain areas impacted by pleasure include:

  • amygdala – regulates emotions
  • nucleus accumbens – controls the release of dopamine
  • ventral tegmental area (VTA) – actually releases the dopamine
  • cerebellum – controls muscle function
  • pituitary gland – releases beta-endorphins, which decrease pain; oxytocin, which increases feelings of trust; and vasopressin, which increases bonding

Although scientists have long been studying the pleasure center, there hadn’t been much research about how it relates to sexual pleasure, especially in women. In the late 1990s and the mid-2000s, a team of scientists at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands conducted several studies of both men and women to determine brain activity during sexual stimulation. The team used PET scans to illustrate the different areas of the brain that would light up and shut off during sexual activity. In all of the tests, the subjects were scanned while resting, while being sexually stimulated and while having an orgasm.

Interestingly, they discovered that there aren’t too many differences between men’s and women’s brains when it comes to sex. In both, the brain region behind the left eye, called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, shuts down during orgasm. Janniko R. Georgiadis, one of the researchers, said, “It’s the seat of reason and behavioral control. But when you have an orgasm, you lose control” [source: LA Times]. Dr. Gert Holstege stated that the brain during an orgasm looks much like the brain of a person taking heroin. He stated that “95 percent is the same” [source: Science News].

There are some differences, however. When a woman has sex, a part of the brain stem called the periaqueductal gray (PAG) is activated. The PAG controls the “flight or fight” response. Women’s brains also showed decreased activity in the amygdala and hippocampus, which deal with fear and anxiety. The team theorized that these differences existed because women have more of a need to feel safe and relaxed in order to enjoy sex. In addition, the area of the cortex associated with pain was activated in women, which shows that there is a distinct connection between pain and pleasure.

The studies also showed that although women m­ay be able to fool their partners into thinking they’ve had an orgasm, their brains show the truth. When asked to fake an orgasm, the women’s brain activity increased in the cerebellum and other areas related to controlling movement. The scans didn’t show the same brain activity of a woman during an actual orgasm.

But what about people who can’t reach orgasm at all?

­Neither Here Nor There: Anorgasmia and Non-genital Orgasms

I­n some cases, we know what causes anorgasmia (the inability to reach orgasm). Drugs like Celexa, Zoloft and Paxil — known as SSRIs, or selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors — are often used to treat depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Like most drugs, however, they can have side effects. For some people, this includes sexual ones, including anorgasmia. But why? SSRIs can decrease the brain’s production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that provides pleasurable feelings and reinforces a person’s desire to once again perform the action that brought him or her pleasure. Sometimes the problem goes away on its own, or it can be resolved by switching to a different antidepressant or taking another drug in addition to the SSRI. However, a small number of people experience post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD) that lasts for days, weeks, months or even years after discontinuing use of an SSRI. The cause of this dysfunction isn’t understood, as stopping the SSRI allows dopamine production to return to normal.

The Dutch studies about orgasms (mentioned earlier), along with others, have also been the basis for continuing research in helping women who are anorgasmic. Dr. Barry Komisaruk at Rutgers University is currently studying women who are anorgasmic and women who are constantly aroused sexually but are unable to reach orgasm. The latter group of women were each put in an MRI scanner where they could see their brain activity on a monitor. Their brain scans showed that the brain thought they were in fact constantly being sexually stimulated. The women then used imagery and other neurofeedback exercises to calm their brains. Dr. Komisaruk believes that anorgasmic women could also learn to read and react to their brain activity to try to reach orgasm.

Perhaps more unusual-sounding than orgasmia is the concept of orgasms that have nothing to do with the genitalia at all. Some people can orgasm from being touched in other places on the body, such as the nipples. In this case, researchers believe that the sensations in the nipples are transmitted to the same areas of the brain that receive information from the genitals. However, people have also reported actually feeling orgasms in other parts of their bodies, including their hands and feet. Several people have even described having orgasms in limbs that were no longer there. One reason may be the layout of the cortical homunculus, a map that shows how different places of the brain’s sensory and motor cortices correspond to the organs and limbs of the body. A person who feels an orgasm in a phantom foot, for example, may have experienced a remapping of the senses because the foot is located next to the genitals in the homunculus. The foot is no longer there to provide sensation, so the area for genital sensation took over the space.

Although we now know more about how orgasms impact the brain than ever before, there’s still a lot that we don’t know. For example, scientists are still debating the evolutionary reason behind the female orgasm. But it’s probably safe to say that most people aren’t too concerned about the “why” — they’d prefer to focus on the whos, whats and whens of sex.

Source: http://health.howstuffworks.com/brain-during-orgasm.htm/printable

A healthy-eating plan can be illustrated in many ways, but it’s often found in the shape of a pyramid. Food pyramids outline various food groups and food choices that, if eaten in the right quantities, form the foundation of a healthy diet.

The food pyramid plan

Guidelines for choosing foods are widely represented in various food pyramids. The triangular shape of the pyramid shows you where to focus when selecting foods. Foods to eat the most of create the base of the pyramid, and foods to eat in smaller amounts or less frequently are shown farther up the pyramid.

A food pyramid familiar to many Americans is MyPyramid (formerly known as the Food Guide Pyramid), established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services. Many other pyramids exist, however. These include the Asian, Latin American, Mediterranean and Vegetarian diet pyramids developed by Oldways Preservation Trust, and the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid, just to name a few.

Basic principles of all food pyramids

With the variety of food pyramids available, you may wonder which one to follow. It may help to know that the basic principles of food pyramids are largely the same and generally emphasize the following:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Reduce intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.
  • Limit sweets and salt.
  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, if at all.
  • Control portion sizes and the total number of calories you consume.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine.

Food pyramids place foods in categories — such as dairy products or meat and beans — to help guide your food choices. No single food provides all of the nutrients that your body needs, so eating a variety of foods within each group ensures that you get the necessary nutrients and other substances that promote good health.

Food pyramid differences

Although food pyramids reflect the same general principles of healthy eating, they demonstrate different food choices. These differences reflect dietary preferences, food availability and cultural eating patterns. For example, the Latin American Diet Pyramid might include tortillas and cornmeal within the grains food group, whereas the Asian Diet Pyramid might emphasize noodles and rice.

Other differences include:

  • Food groups. The food groups among food pyramids may vary somewhat. For example, some might group plant-based proteins — soybeans, beans and nuts — separately from animal proteins found in meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. This is because animal proteins are often higher in fat and cholesterol, and some diets limit or avoid animal proteins.
  • Serving recommendations. How food pyramids address servings also varies. The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid, for example, recommends a daily number of servings from each food group. And it specifically defines serving sizes; for example, a serving of cooked brown rice is 1/3 cup and a serving of milk is 1 cup. But other plans offer more general guidelines, such as eating particular foods at every meal, or on a weekly or monthly basis. For example, the Latin American Diet Pyramid recommends that you eat whole grains, vegetables and fruits at every meal but eat red meat, sweets and eggs once a week or less.

How to use a food pyramid

To see how your diet matches up to any of these pyramids, keep a food diary for several days. Then compare how much of your diet comes from the various levels. If you’re top-heavy, work your way toward the bottom of the pyramid by making small, gradual changes, such as eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and limiting fats and sweets.

Here are a few simple practices to help get or keep you on track:

  • Choose a variety of foods from each major food group. This ensures that you get all of the calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber you need. Choosing a wide range of foods also helps make your meals and snacks more interesting.
  • Adapt the plan to your specific tastes and preferences. For example, a serving of grains doesn’t only mean a slice of wheat bread. It can be wild rice, whole-wheat pasta, grits, bulgur, cornmeal muffins or even popcorn.
  • Combine foods from each major group however you like. For example, you might make a meal of tortillas (grain group) and beans (meat and beans group). Or you could top your fish with fruit salsa or serve steamed vegetables over pasta. The possibilities are endless.
  • Select your meals and snacks wisely. Make the most of what you eat by choosing nutrient-rich foods within each group. And if you need to avoid foods from one or more food groups — for example, if you don’t consume dairy products because of lactose intolerance — choose other foods that are good sources of the nutrients found in those foods.

Remember to be open and creative, and go for good taste! Eating well and eating healthy are very compatible.


Introduction to How Valentine’s Day Works

Esther Howland, the woman who produced the first commercial American valentines in the 1840s, sold a then mind-boggling $5,000 in cards during her first year of business. The valentine industry in the United States has been booming ever since. Today, over 1 billion valentine cards are sent in this country each year — second in number only to Christmas cards, according to the Greeting Card Association. (The happy day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.)

Around 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to cards, there are millions of boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses purchased (mostly by men) for the February 14 holiday.

When did the Valentine’s Day frenzy begin? Scholars tell slightly different versions of the history of this popular holiday. In this article, we’ll look at that history, with its Roman and Christian roots, as well as holiday traditions that have developed over the years. We’ll also check out some old valentines and some new ones.

Origins of the Day of Love

The origins of Valentine’s Day are shrouded in mystery. According to University of Notre Dame Professor Lawrence Cunningham, scholars have two main theories to explain how February 14 became synonymous with romance:

  • Roman Feast of Lupercalia – This ancient pagan fertility celebration, which honored Juno, queen of the Roman gods and goddesses and goddess of women and marriage, was held on February 14, the day before the feast began. During festival time, women would write love letters, also known as billets, and leave them in a large urn. The men of Rome would then draw a note from the urn and ardently pursue the woman who wrote the message they had chosen. (Apparently, the custom of lottery drawings to select valentines continued into the 18th century, coming to an end when people decided they’d rather choose — sight seen! — their valentines.)
  • The Birds and the Bees? – In the Middle Ages, people began to send love letters on Valentine’s Day. Medieval Europeans believed that birds began to mate on February 14.

There’s also some controversy regarding Saint Valentine, for whom the famous day is named. Archaeologists, who unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, are not sure if there was one Valentine or more. Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred on February 14 — at least two of those in Italy during the 3rd century. The most popular candidate for St. Valentine was a 3rd century Roman priest who practiced Christianity and performed secret marriages against direct orders from Emperor Claudius II, who believed single soldiers were more likely to join his army. Legend has it that Valentine sent a friend (the jailer’s daughter) a note signed “From Your Valentine” before he was executed on February 14 in 270 A.D. (That phrase is still used prominently on today’s cards!)

Early Christians were happier with the idea of a holiday honoring the saint of romantic causes than with one recognizing a pagan festival. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius named February 14 in honor of St. Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. In 1969, Pope Paul VI dropped it from the calendar. However, the blend of Roman festival and Christian martyrdom had caught on, and Valentine’s Day was here to stay.

The First Written Valentines

Verbal and singing valentines began to be replaced by written missives in Europe in the 15th century. The first written valentine is usually attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415. He reportedly passed the time by writing romantic verses for his wife. By the 16th century, written valentines were commonplace.

What were early valentines like?
Early valentines were made by hand, using colored paper, watercolors and colored inks. These valentine styles, some still made today, included:

  • Pinprick valentines – Made by pricking tiny holes in paper with a pin to resemble the look of lace
  • Cutout valentines– Lace-look cards made by folding paper several times and cutting out a lace design with small, sharp scissors
  • Acrostic valentines – Verses in which the first letters in the lines spelled out the beloved’s name
  • Rebus valentines – Verses in which small pictures took the place of some of the words (for example, an eye instead of I)

Cards decorated with black and white pictures painted by factory workers began to be created in the early 1800s; by the end of the century, valentines were being made entirely by machine. Sociologists theorize that printed cards began to take the place of letters, particularly in Great Britain, because they were an easy way for people to express their feelings in a time when direct expression of emotions was not fashionable.

Manufactured cards notwithstanding, increasingly beautiful handmade Valentines were often small works of art, richly decorated with silk, satin or lace, flowers or feathers and even gold leaf. And many featured Cupid, the cherubic, be-winged son of Venus, and a natural Valentine’s Day “mascot.” (If you’d like to read more about Cupid, take a look at Holidays.net: Cupid.)

Some of the more unusual valentines were created by lonely sailors during the Victorian era — they used seashells of various sizes to create hearts, flowers and other designs or to cover heart-shaped boxes.

Valentine Symbols

It’s not difficult to figure out the connection between the heart and Valentine’s Day. The heart, after all, was thought in ancient times to be the source of all emotions. It later came to be associated only with the emotion of love. (Today, we know that the heart is, basically, the pump that keeps blood flowing through our bodies.)

It’s not clear when the valentine heart shape became the symbol for the heart. Some scholars speculate that the heart symbol as we use it to signify romance or love came from early attempts by people to draw an organ they’d never seen. Anyway, here are some of the other valentine symbols and their origins:

  • Red roses were said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Also, red is a color that signifies strong feelings.
  • Lace has long been used to make women’s handkerchiefs. Hundreds of years ago, if a woman dropped her handkerchief, a man might pick it up for her. Sometimes, if she had her eye on the right man, a woman might intentionally drop her handkerchief to encourage him. So, people began to think of romance when they thought of lace.
  • Love knots have series of winding and interlacing loops with no beginning and no end. A symbol of everlasting love, love knots were made from ribbon or drawn on paper.
  • Lovebirds, colorful birds found in Africa, are so named because they sit closely together in pairs — like sweethearts do. Doves are symbols of loyalty and love, because they mate for life and share the care of their babies.

How about the “X” sign representing a kiss? This tradition started with the Medieval practice of allowing those who could not write to sign documents with an “X”. This was done before witnesses, and the signer placed a kiss upon the “X” to show sincerity. This is how the kiss came to be synonymous with the letter “X”, and how the “X” came to be commonly used at the end of letters as kiss symbols. (Some believed “X” was chosen as a variation on the cross symbol, while others believe it might have been a pledge in the name of Christ, since the “X” — or Chi symbol — is the twenty-second letter of the Greek alphabet and has been used in church history to represent Christ.)

It became easier to mail valentines in the mid 1800s, when the modern postal service implemented the penny post. Until then, postage was so pricey that most cards were delivered by hand.

Esther Howland struck gold with the first commercial American valentines. Today, there are nearly 2,000 greeting card publishers in the United States.

Other Valentine Traditions

A variety of interesting Valentine’s Day traditions developed over time. For example, hundreds of years ago in England, children dressed up as adults on Valentine’s Day and went singing holiday verses from door to door. In Wales, wooden love spoons, carved with key, keyhole and heart designs, were given as gifts.

The gift of flowers on Valentine’s Day probably dates to the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art called “the language of flowers” to Europe. Throughout the 18th century, floral lexicons were published, allowing secrets to be exchanged with a lily or lilac, and entire conversations to take place in a bouquet of flowers. The more popular the flower, the more traditions and meanings have been associated with it.

The rose, representing love, is probably the only flower with a meaning that is universally understood. The red rose remains the most popular flower bought by men in the United States for their sweethearts. In more recent years, people have sent their sweethearts their favorite flowers, rather than automatically opting for roses. Also making the list of valentine favorites are tulips, lilies, daisies and carnations.

Among early valentine gifts were candies, usually chocolates, in heart-shaped boxes. Companies like Godiva Chocolatiers have made high quality chocolate in artistic designs and elegant wrappings a traditional Valentine’s gift.

Today, just about anything goes for a Valentine’s Day gift, depending on the recepient’s tastes. If you’re trying to move away from the flowers and candy, you can always check out our gift guide for a range of ideas from stuffed animals to the latest gadgets.

What’s New with Valentines?

Apparently, gifts of chocolates and flowers haven’t replaced carefully chosen cards on Valentine’s Day. Since 1915, Hallmark, the undisputed leader of the greeting card industry, has manufactured cards to be mailed in envelopes. Founder Joyce Hall started selling greeting postcards from two shoe boxes as early as 1910. The Norfolk, Nebraska, teenager with the big ideas built a Kansas City business and global empire. Today, Hallmark makes a tremendously diverse range of cards in 30 languages and sells them in more than 100 countries.

Some people still make their own valentines. Most parents think these are the best kind.

The modern valentine card has become increasingly sophisticated, keeping pace with popular technological advances. For example, there are cards that let you record a romantic message, “scratch-and-sniff” cards and cards that play romantic music.

And of course, you can send e-mail valentines. Some sites even offer free personal use of their illustrations or cards. Other technology allows you to send a romantic fax or videotape with a personal valentine message. But choose your valentine carefully — some people find fax and e-mail missives too impersonal and not private enough for this holiday of love. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest!


February 2009
M T W T F S S
« Jan   Mar »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
232425262728  

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 320,030 hits