Love Hurts: Hickey Today, Stroke Tomorrow?

By Erica Gleeman on April 19, 2017

Azovtsev Maksym/Shutterstock

Hickey: “… also sometimes called a love bite or kiss mark, is a bruise caused by biting, aggressive kissing or sucking of soft skin, usually around the neck or on the arm. Throughout your body, you have many different types of blood vessels that help transport blood around. The smallest blood vessels in your body are called capillaries. When somebody sucks very hard on soft skin, they can cause the capillaries just beneath the surface to rupture, letting blood seep out into the surrounding tissue. So, hickeys, like bruises, are actually broken blood vessels just under the surface of the skin that blood has come out of. The blood that has collected and clotted under the skin is generally red at first but then, as it is no longer getting oxygen, the blood dries out and turns into a darker purple or brown color.”


Despite the highly detailed physiological description, hickey’s invariably reveal one thing: A round of intense sexual contact. For generations, hickeys have been the singular, tell-tale sign that a sexual encounter included more than simply a chaste kiss. With two consulting partners, a hickey almost always represents vigorous, almost primal love-making, connoting a powerful physical connection between the pair. On college campuses, where individuals probably enjoy more frequent and direct contact with potential sex partners than any other time in life, hickeys are a common sight. Whether one party views them mark as a sign of sexual conquest or pride, or another sees them as signifying deep love and commitment, these brownish-purple markings are practically just another fashion accessory at most universities.

In general, the partner who gives a hickey finds the domination that comes from biting into another person’s flesh sexually titillating – and in some cases, a way to show control over the other person. At the same time, lovers who enjoy receiving hickeys likely experience some sexual gratification from an act that can be physically painful and even humiliating. Not surprisingly, the neck, the most common body part to plant a hickey, can be a highly sensitive erogenous zone. The neck, of course, is also the most visible body part after the face. Therefore, displaying a hickey sends a clear memo to onlookers. The neck becomes a virtual message board for passion, regardless of the depth of commitment felt by either partner. While some people are reluctant to reveal such intimate signs to the public, others wear them proudly – even though they would never consider a regular bruise a symbol of beauty or pride. Typically, the less devotion someone feels for the person who left the mark, the more likely she is to try and camouflage it. Make-up concealer can do the trick.

Photo by Henri Meilhac via Unsplash

Think hickeys are harmless, particularly on college campuses, where hickeys are a commonplace? Think again.

Yet beyond the glaring appearance of hickeys, and their varied connotations about a couple’s relationship, one fact often remains hidden: Not only are they painful, but they can be dangerous. And most students caught up in a heated affair are often unaware of that fact; unlike unwanted pregnancies, STDs and other risks associated with intimacy, both sex education classes and parents trying to inform their budding adolescents tend to ignore the subject of hickeys. Yet hickey’s can carry a huge peril. When extremely intense sucking on soft skin causes the capillaries below to rupture, letting blood seep into the surrounding tissue and producing the tell-tale hickey mark, the seepage also can trigger a blood clot. That result can lead to a stroke or even death.

Hickey Horror

Such cases are extremely rare, although two incidents have been reported in the last few years. Last August, a 17-year-old boy in Mexico City began convulsing at dinner with his family a few hours after his 24-year-old girlfriend had planted a large hickey on his neck. Doctors determined a blood clot had formed and travelled to his brain, killing the youth, according to a report in the UK Sun. In 2011, a 44-year-old woman in New Zealand lost movement in her left arm after having a stroke. When doctors noticed the “faded love bite,” the Sun reported, they concluded that damage to a major artery in her neck caused the paralysis.

Does this mean you should be afraid of hickeys? No.

Such devastating risks are rare, but lovers should proceed with caution, doctors say. In addition, partners should be aware that visible bruising can last up to two weeks. Moreover, painful swelling due to inflammation can result. In those cases, an ice pack normally alleviates the discomfort. However, if pain persists, sufferers should seek medical attention.

Sexual-related injuries are actually quite common on a day-to-day basis. Hickeys are just one of many sexual exchanges that can cause either physical or psychological distress. Common injuries ranging from unplanned pregnancies and STDs, to torn ligaments and muscles, to broken bones to heart attacks, carnal catastrophes can and do occur in the heat of passion. Who knew love could hurt so much?

Erica Gleeman is a New York native, but was raised in Boca Raton, Florida. She is a senior at Florida State University currently pursuing a degree in English - Editing, Writing, and Media with a minor in General Business. The Editing, Writing, and Media track re-conceives the English major for the 21st century. It still preserves the traditional core of English, the creation and interpretation of texts, by combining practice in writing and editing with the study of cultural history and criticism. However, it transforms both writing practice and critical study to confront the new challenges of digital technology, visual culture, and the Internet. The Editing, Writing, and Media major uniquely prepares for communications related skills.

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