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Licking refers to passing the tongue over a (solid or liquid) surface, typically either to deposit saliva onto the surface or to collect liquid onto the tongue for ingestion. Many animals both groom themselves and drink by licking.

Compared to most other mammals, licking has a relatively minor role for humans . The human tongue is relatively short and inflexible, and is not well adapted for either grooming or drinking. Instead, humans prefer to wash themselves using their hands and drink by sucking fluid into their mouth. Humans have much less hair over their skin than most other mammals, and much of that hair is in places which they cannot reach with their own mouth. The presence of sweat glands all over the human body makes licking as a cooling method unnecessary.

Nonetheless, licking does play a role for humans. Even though humans cannot effectively drink water by licking, the human tongue is quite sufficient for licking more viscous fluids. The practice of licking dishware and cutlery clean, though often considered uncivilized, is nonetheless quite common. Some foods are sold in a form intended to be consumed mainly by licking, e.g. an ice cream cone and a lollipop.

There are a number of other uses for licking in humans. For example, licking can be used to moisten the adhesive surfaces of stamps or envelopes. In sewing, thread ends are commonly wet by licking to make the fibres stick together and thus make threading them through the eye of a needle easier. Another practice considered uncivilized is licking one's hand and using it to groom one's hair.

Licking, like other forms of oral contact, can also be an important element of human sexuality (see oral sex). In a less sexual way, licking can be part of physical intimacy, for example with the French kiss or necking.


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