The ABCs of love

The truth about Valentine's Day from A to Z.

Just like love itself, Valentine’s Day is aswirl in mythology, misinformation, fear and fantasy. To help you navigate the romantic minefields, here are the V-Day facts from A to Z.

Aphrodisiacs: There is little scientific evidence supporting the existence of aphrodisiacs, but the capsaicin in peppers is the closest thing. It causes an increased heart rate, blood flow, heavy breathing, and sweating — though it also sets your mouth on fire, and much like love, can leave you in tears.

Birds: In the Middle Ages, women predicted the kind of man they would marry based on what bird they saw first on the 14th. Goldfinch meant rich man, blackbird meant clergyman, dove meant good man, and woodpecker — sorry, miss, that meant no man at all.

Cupid: He used to be depicted as a slender young man with fairy-wings who sharpened his arrows on a whetstone stained with blood. Over time Cupic turned into a chubby cherub, an allusion to the offspring that result from romantic escapades — and a kind of yucky suggestion that a naked infant armed with a deadly weapon is what gets people horny.

Divorce: Divorce filings rise as much as 40 percent around V-Day, as do Internet searches for divorce lawyers. Why is this? February falls on the heels of the winter holidays, always a dependable source of marital strife. With the approach of spring, V-Day is the time many people make good on their New Year’s resolution to start the year fresh — with a divorce!

Economy: In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed St. Valentine’s Day as a feast day from the Roman calendar, officially surrendering February 14th into the custody of Hallmark. Retailers are the new patron saint of Valentine’s, and as a result, romance is something Americans can conveniently purchase. According to a recent study, adults in the U.S. are expected to spend a total of $17.6 billion this V-Day, which works out to around $125 per person (with the average male spending about twice as much as the average female).

Forbidden: The U.S., U.K., Canada, Mexico, France, Belgium, and Australia celebrate V-Day. Other countries? Not so much. Iranian officials threaten to punish those who celebrate the holiday. Members of the Hindu political party in India and Pakistan publicly burn Valentine’s cards. And Uzbekistan, getting ahead of the curve, has proactively canceled concerts and any other activities with that voluptuous V-Day vibe.

Greeting Cards: In 1844, Esther Howland was the first to mass-produce and patent a lacy Valentine’s Day card in the U.S. Now Hallmark, which produced its first Valentines in 1913, creates around 2,000 different cards each year. According to the greeting card company, around 200 million cards are given each V-Day, costing Americans around $277 million. But the first recorded Valentine’s card may not have been so cheery: It was sent in 1415 by the English Duke of Orleans from his jail cell in the Tower of London. (Happy V-Day, wish you were here?)

Heart: A wide variety of primitive cultures have independently described the heart as the factory of human emotions and love. This can be explained by the shared experience of an accelerated pulse, as well as the sensation of your heart skipping a beat during moments of arousal. The origin of the iconic “heart” shape is a bit more mysterious. Some suggest it derived from the seeds of the silphium plant, which was used as an herbal contraceptive. Others believe it represents various parts of the female anatomy. Guess which parts.

Impotence Awareness Day: Staying true to the commercial roots of modern V-Day, Pfizer funded the first Impotence Awareness Day in the U.K. on February 14, 2000. The company did this not so much to raise awareness of erectile dysfunction (ED), the potentially life-threatening medical problems associated with impotence, or the one-third of men between 40 and 70 who suffer from some significant form of ED. They did it — surprise! — to sell Viagra. More Viagra prescriptions are written the week before V-Day than at any other time of the year.

Jewelry: While only about 19 percent of U.S. adults plan to buy jewelry this Valentine’s Day, the $4.1 billion they will spend on these gifts is expected to exceed every other category, including the money spent on romantic evenings out. Bob Serata, of Bernie’s & Son in St. Pete, compares the holiday to Mother’s Day in terms of sales, but adds that it is nowhere near as important for his business as Christmas. Most of his Valentine’s customers are men, and most of them wait to do their jewelry shopping until the last possible minute.

Kissing: A relatively new human behavior, kissing is thought to have several biological benefits. 1. Men pass testosterone to their partners through their saliva, potentially boosting their partner’s libido. 2. Kissing puts partners close enough to smell each other, allowing their subconscious to assess each other’s immune system. 3. A woman’s breath can give clues to her reproductive status. During menstruation, women typically have more bacteria in their mouth, causing bad breath. 4. Kissing helps build a woman’s resistance to a saliva-dwelling pathogen which can cause birth defects if introduced during pregnancy. Isn’t it romantic?

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