An Ode to Hickeys For Valentine's Day, there's the heart-shaped candy, the chocolate kiss, and the hickey? We talk to an array of people about the "love bite" and find that some hold this special kind of bruise close to their heart, while others are appalled by the very word.
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An Ode to Hickeys

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An Ode to Hickeys

An Ode to Hickeys

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Okay, gulp. You can see the signs of Valentine's Day everywhere today. Jewelry ads, heart-shaped chocolates, long-stemmed roses. Suddenly there goes your whole economic stimulus check.


But Alex, what's that adage? The best things in life are free? One of our producers, Vanessa Romo, came across a gift that's delivered for free but comes at a price.

VANESSA ROMO: I've never understood grand romantic gestures like sky writing your Valentine or popping the question on the Jumbotron at a Laker game. But the other day I saw something truly impressive. Smiling behind the counter of my local Starbucks was a barista with a hickey on her neck so big, it looked like a map of the former Soviet Union. That's right, a hickey. I've always had a really strong aversion to hickeys.

Unidentified Woman #1: Gross.

Unidentified Man #2: Hickey? A visible hickey.

Unidentified Woman #2: I dated a guy with the last name hickey.

Unidentified Woman #3: But not a serious hickey.

Unidentified Man #2: I guess it depends on the size of the hickey.

Unidentified Man #3: Love bites are great.

Unidentified Woman #4: Tiny little bites on the neck.

ROMO: Ooh. My first thought was...

Unidentified Man #4: Ick!

ROMO: And apparently I'm not alone.

Unidentified Man #5: I start to begin to wonder.

Unidentified Woman #5: This is really gross.

Unidentified Man #6: It's some kind of sucking monster, I don't know.

Unidentified Man #7: It says I have absolutely no class.

Unidentified Woman #6: A certain like...

Unidentified Man: #8: Lack of privacy.

Unidentified Woman #7: Forethought.

ROMO: But then I thought, how does that happen? I mean really, what's happening physiologically? So I called a doctor. Hi, Dr. Syd.

Dr. SYDNEY SPIESEL (Yale Medical School): Hi. How are you?

ROMO: That's Dr. Sydney Spiesel, DAY TO DAY's resident medical expert.

Dr. SPIESEL: What happens is actually pretty simple. The administerer of the hickey applies lips to the neck and produces a vacuum. The little capillaries in the skin break and they cause what doctors call ecchymosis and what normal people call a bruise. This is really a little bit of blood deposited under the skin.

ROMO: Sounds kind of gross.

Dr. SPIESEL: Not to the people who are participating in it, I imagine.

ROMO: So basically this souvenir of a moment's passion, a long moment's passion, this ecchymosis, is actually a physical injury. And yet upon closer examination, is it possible there's a sweeter side to a minor hematoma?

Unidentified Man #9: It's a natural thing, you know.

Unidentified Man #10: For the next day or two that person will...

Unidentified Man #9: If two people are in love...

Unidentified Man #10: Have to explain who you are, what you mean to them.

Unidentified Man #9: Why shouldn't it be shared?

Unidentified Man #11: You know, displaying affection and having...

Unidentified Woman #8: I really hate them.

Unidentified Man #12: I think we're going to have a difference of opinion about this.

Unidentified Man #13: It's really fun. It's one of the best things in life. That's why I live.

ROMO: That's why he lives. Well, whatever side you're on, here's one popular remedy.

Unidentified Man #14: Get you a nice silver spoon, let it get real nice and cold, and apply it on your neck with some pressure for about five to 10 minutes.

ROMO: But does it work? Here's Dr. Syd's prescription.

Dr. SPIESEL: There are two ways of dealing with this. One is a very high collar. And the other is very good covering make-up.

ROMO: So there you go. And if none of these work, just stay home...

Dr. SPIESEL: Probably somewhere between one and two weeks.

ROMO: Listen to the doctor. Happy Valentine's Day, everybody. For NPR News, I'm Vanessa Romo.

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