Why Do We Kiss? Science Explains Why People Kiss To Show Affection

What makes this intimate act so fascinating?

Pecking, smooching, French kissing, and playing tonsil-hockey — there are as many names for kissing as there are ways to do it. Whether we use it as an informal greeting or an intensely romantic gesture, kissing is one of those ingrained human behaviors that seem to defy explanation.

Its many purposes — a blow and peck for good luck on dice, lips to the ground after a rocky boat ride, kisses in the air to an acquaintance, and the long slow smooches of Hollywood — have different meanings yet are similar in nature.

Why is it that we love to pucker up? Why do we kiss at all?

Kissing is more than just showing affection.

Philematologists, the scientists who study kissing, aren’t exactly sure why humans started locking lips in the first place. The most likely theory is that it stems from primate mothers passing along chewed food to their toothless babies.

The lip-to-lip contact may have been passed on through evolution, not only as a necessary means of survival but also as a general way to promote social bonding and as an expression of love.

But something’s obviously happened to kissing since the time of the chewed food pass. Now, it’s believed that kissing helps transfer critical information, rather than just meat bits.

The kissing we associate with romantic courtship may help us to choose a good mate, send chemical signals, and foster long-term relationships. All of this is important in evolution’s ultimate goal — successful procreation.

Kissing allows us to get close enough to a mate to assess essential characteristics about them, none of which we’re consciously processing. Part of this information exchange is most likely facilitated by pheromones, chemical signals that are passed between animals to help send messages.

We know that animals use pheromones to alert their peers of things like mating, food sources, and danger, and researchers hypothesize that pheromones can play a role in human behavior as well.

Although the vomeronasal organs, which are responsible for pheromone detection and brain function in animals, are thought to be vestigial and inactive in humans, research indicates we do communicate with chemicals.

The first study to indicate that chemical signals play a role in attraction was conducted by Claud Wedekind, over a decade ago. Women sniffed the worn t-shirts of men and indicated which shirts smelled best to them.

By comparing the DNA of the women and the men, researchers found that women didn’t just choose their favorite scent randomly. They preferred the scent of a man whose major histocompatibility complex (MHC) — a series of genes involved in our immune system — was different from their own.

Having a different MHC means less immune overlap and a better chance of healthy, robust offspring.

Kissing may be a subtle way for women to assess the immune compatibility of a mate before she invests too much time and energy in him. Perhaps a bad first kiss means more than first date jitters — it could also mean a real lack of chemistry.

Men are sloppy and women are choosy when it comes to kissing.

Behavioral research supports this biological reasoning. In 2007, researchers at the University of Albany studied 1,041 college students and found significant differences in how males and females perceived kissing.

Although common in courtship, females put more importance on kissing, and most would never have sex without kissing first. Men, on the other hand, would have sex without kissing beforehand; they would also have sex with someone who wasn’t a good kisser.

Since females across species are often the choosier ones when it comes to mate selection, these differences in kissing behavior make sense.

Men are also more likely to initiate French kissing, and researchers hypothesize that this is because saliva contains testosterone, which can increase libido.

Researchers also think that men might be able to pick up on a woman’s level of estrogen, which is a predictor of fertility.

Why do people kiss? It’s more than just biological reasons.

But kissing isn’t all mating practicality — it also feels good. That’s because kissing unleashes a host of feel-good chemicals, helping to reduce stress and increase social bonding.

Researcher Wendy Hill and colleagues at Lafayette College looked at how oxytocin, which is involved in pair-bonding and attachment, and cortisol, a stress hormone, changed after people kissed.

Using a small sample of college couples that were in long-term relationships, they found cortisol levels decreased after kissing.

The longer the couples had been in a relationship, the further their levels dropped. Cortisol levels also decreased for the control group — couples that just held hands — indicating that social attachment, in general, can decrease stress levels, not just kissing.

Looking at oxytocin levels, the researchers found that they increased only in the males, whereas the researchers thought it would increase in both sexes.

They hypothesized that it could be that women need more than a kiss to stimulate attachment and bonding, or that the sterile environment of the research lab wasn’t conducive to creating a feeling of attachment.

Kissing, therefore, plays a role not only in mate selection but also in bonding.

At an Association for the Advancement of Science meeting on the science of kissing, Helen Fischer, an evolutionary biologist, posits multiple reasons for lip-locking. She believes that kissing is involved in the three main types of attraction humans have: sex drive, which is ruled by testosterone; romantic love, which is ruled by dopamine and other feel-good hormones; and attachment, which involves bonding chemicals like oxytocin.

Kissing, she postulates, evolved to help on all three fronts.

Saliva, swapped during romantic kisses, has testosterone in it; feel-good chemicals are distributed when we kiss that help fuel romance; and kissing also helps unleash chemicals that promote bonding, which provides for long-term attachment, necessary for raising offspring.

No, not all humans (or species) partake in kissing.

Some mammals have close contact with each others’ faces via licking, grooming, and sniffing, which may transmit the necessary information. And although chimps may pass food from mother to child, the notoriously promiscuous bonobos are apparently the only primates that truly kiss.

And while it’s thought that 90 percent of the human population kisses, there’s still the 10 percent that doesn’t.

So, it seems that as much as we use kissing to gather genetic and compatibility information, our penchant for kissing also has to do with our cultural beliefs surrounding it.

Whether we live in a place where kissing is reserved for close acquaintances, or somewhere where a casual greeting means a one, two, or three cheeker, one thing does remain highly consistent: the side to which people turn while kissing.

It’s almost always to the right. A 2003 study published in Nature found that twice as many adults turn their heads to the right rather than the left when kissing. This behavioral asymmetry is thought to stem from the same preference for head-turning during the final weeks of gestation and during infancy.

One of the best things about kissing, however, is that we don’t have to think about any of this. Just close our eyes, pucker up, and let nature takes its course!

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15 Crazy Facts About Kissing We Bet You Didn’t Know

All the making out facts you were afraid to ask.

Making out. Puckering up. Smooching. Snogging. Lip-locking. Tongue-wrestling. Rounding first base. Sucking-face. Whatever you call it, kissing is one of our favorite parts about falling in love.

We’ve already given you the scoop on what the ladies really think of kissing, dished on the secret health benefits of kisses, and given you invaluable tips on how to kiss and make out. Now, we’re taking it one step further with an impressive list of eyebrow-raising facts about kissing and interesting tidbits about smacking lips.

Consider it your introductory Philematology 101 class (which, you’ll come to find out, is the scholarly study of kissing).

1. Your kissing style originates in the womb.

See a kiss in any Hollywood movie, painting, or sculpture and more often than not, you’ll see couples leaning in to the right. Why is that?

A German researcher observed over 100 couples and noted that two-thirds of them tilted their heads to the right. The scientific community at large theorizes that this instinct originates from the womb when we naturally tilted our heads to the right.

2. Kissing takes serious muscle power.

One kiss requires 146 muscles to coordinate, including 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles. A team of British researchers — Elaine Sassoon, Annabelle Dytham, Robert Scully and Professor Gus McGrouther from the Rayne Institute in University College, London — studied kissing couples under an MRI scanner and found that a kiss mostly involves the orbicularis oris (the muscle around your mouth).

“Not only do you use your facial muscles in kissing, but approximately 112 postural muscles as well,” Professor McGrouther said to The Telegraph. Yikes, sounds like a serious facial workout!

3. Our love of kissing comes from rats.

Kazushige Touhara and colleagues at the University of Tokyo believe that our affinity for kisses descends from an ancient rat. Mice and men have a surprisingly similar genetic makeup — sharing a common ancestor that lived sometime between 75 and 125 million years ago.

This ancient rat-like creature went by the name of Eomaia scansoria (Eomaia, Greek for “ancient mother,” and scansoria, Latin for “climber”). The science team theorizes that this creature would rub noses with a mate to sample his or her pheromones and signal desire. So, basically, human kissing is really rodent behavior. Who knew?

4. The history of “X” behind XOXO traces back to the Middle Ages.

We use “XOXO” as an affectionate afterthought to our signature all the time in cards and love letters, but not many people know its origin story.

Historians trace it back to the Middle Ages when most people couldn’t read or write. The peasants used to mark “X” as a stand-in signature and then kissed the document as an added gesture of sincerity.

5. A king once decreed that kissing be outlawed.

On July 16, 1439, King Henry VI banned kissing in England. His reasoning? It was to curtail the spread of disease in the kingdom. Duly note that his mental breakdown around 1453 required his wife, Margaret of Anjou, to assume control of his kingdom. (So that’s the level of crazy we were dealing with at this time.)

This went on to spur a lot of other weird smooching bans all over the world. Later in 16th Century Naples, not only was kissing in public banned, but it was punishable by death as well.

6. French kissers caused commuter headaches.

Oh, the French. Apparently in the early 20th Century, so many French commuters were getting frisky on the train that they had to ban kissing altogether.

So whenever you feel the train slow to a stop and hear the conductor’s drone voice call out over the intercom that the train has stopped “due to a sick passenger aboard the train ahead,” you might have an idea of what’s up.

7. The luck of the Irish comes with a kiss.

Call it the (germ-infested) luck o’ the Irish. Over 400,000 tourists gather to kiss the Blarney Stone near Cork, Ireland, every year — dubbing it the most “unhygienic” tourist attraction in the world. According to local legend, those who bend over backward to kiss the stone are “greatly” rewarded with “the gift of the gab,” essentially meaning flattery.

So if you’re looking to obtain the name of sweet talker, you might want to take a trip to Blarney Castle. But be warned! It’s been said that people have fallen to their deaths attempting the superstitious feat.

8. We almost didn’t have epic movie kisses.

. . . Some of the greatest kisses in Hollywood history almost never happened. Why? Back in 1930, a set of censorship regulations called The Hays Code prohibited acting couples from kissing in a horizontal position (as in, lying down). Also, married couples had to sleep in twin beds on screen and, if kissing action did happen on beds, one actor had to have their foot on the ground.

Oh yeah, and they couldn’t kiss for longer than three seconds. Not exactly the picture of romance, right?

Well, directors had a way around this. While filming the 1946 film , Alfred Hitchcock had Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant repeatedly kiss, briefly disrupted by dialogue and movement. It’s now considered one of the sexiest movie scenes of the time. Luckily, this pain of a ban dropped in the late 1960s.

9. People make careers out of the science of kissing.

Just in case you were so into kissing that you wanted to make a career out of it, the study of kissing is better known as philematology. And someone who studies kissing wears the title of osculologist. (That sounds like a cheesy bro T-shirt.)

10. This couple’s record-breaking kiss is incredible.

According to the Guinness World Records, the record for the longest-lasting kiss goes to Ekkachai and Laksana Tiranarat of Thailand. These champion smoochers locked lips for 58 hours, 35 minutes, and 58 seconds. (No word on if they got bathroom breaks, but we’re thinking that would have been a mood-killer.)

11. Kissing saves lives.

If your man isn’t big on PDA, this might convince him otherwise. A famous study once determined that men who get a peck on the cheek from their wives before heading out to work lived five years longer than their kissless counterparts

12. The Italians are expert kissers. Everyone else? Not so much.

C’mon guys, this is a depressing statistic. According to The Normal Bar, only a little over half of the world’s lovers kiss passionately. Take notes from the Italians. They know their romance.

13. The average person spends two weeks of his or her life kissing.

Experts estimate that the average person will spend 20,160 minutes of his or her lifetime kissing. In other words, that’s your senior spring break in college. So what happens in Cabo becomes a statistic.

14. Looking for The One? Kiss this many guys…

That’s a lot of frogs to find your prince. But that’s the price of true love, right? A British study commissioned by eHarmony to release with The Rose Project tracked the number of dates, breakups, and one night stands it takes for men and women to find lasting love — and kisses weren’t left out of the equation. It determined that it takes 15 kisses for women and 16 for men.

15. Kissing has amazing health benefits.

Making out with your partner is just what the doctor prescribed. Kissing burns calories (specifically, about two to three per minute), strengthens your immune system, relieves aches and pains, and prevents cavities! I mean, who knew how healthy swapping spit could be?

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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How to Kiss: 20 Secrets Good Kissers Know

During a hot hookup sesh, kissing might not be your top priority — you might want to get right down to business. But TBH, kissing can sometimes be the most important part of any intimate moment, and there are so many different types of kisses and kissing positions you can try out. To make sure that you learn to kiss to your fullest potential, we’ve gathered the best tips and tricks on how to be a good kisser and *wow* anyone you touch lips with!

It’s honestly pretty difficult to tell if you’re actually a good kisser (even celebrities have awkward kissing tales). And sometimes it’s just about the chemistry and ~tension~ between you and your bae. But we’re here with advice that will leave you confident AF in your kissing abilities regardless of the situation. Here’s how to kiss a guy (or girl), and impress the heck out of them doing so.

1. Good kissers keep it #real.

The #1 must for how to be a good kisser: You actually want to kiss. If you’re kissing someone only because it feels like what you “should” be doing ~in the moment~ or because you feel weird pressure, then STEP AWAY FROM THE FACE.

2. Good kissers respect consent.

A well-timed “Can I kiss you?” can be swoon-worthy. Boundaries are important — you gotta make sure that you and bae are on the same page.

3. Good kissers understand the importance of setting.

Like your English teacher says: setting = time + place. Is the right spot for a first kiss at your grandma’s house, or in the middle of an argument, or when you have the flu? Probably not. But what about on camera? These first-time kissers decided to have their first ever big smooch documented for the world to see. Check out how a first kiss really happens…

4. Good kissers stay fresh.

Another important tip for how to kiss a guy (or girl): Would you want to be thisclose to someone’s face space only to find that their mouth smells like the dumpster behind Olive Garden? Kay. If you’re anticipating a trip to MakeoutTown, avoid the stank-inducing foods like garlic, onions, processed Cheetos-like cheese, etc. It’s basic manners.

5. Good kissers Keep Calm and Carry Balm.

No one can hate when your gloss game is strong, but actually mashing that onto a human’s face is gross and cruel and no. Bae is probs trying to kiss your actual lips, not your Melon Mango Primer, so stick to that good ol’ neutral lip balm.

6. Good kissers talk it out.

Listen, #aintnobodygottime for bleh makeouts. Good kissers skip to the good parts by taking control and mentioning the things you do like (“So, that tongue move you just did. Yasss.”), and show them alternatives to the things you don’t. (“Hey, instead of that … toothy … situation you did with my lip, how about you just graze it gently, like this?”)

7. Good kissers move ~like you’re my miiiirrror~.

  • I’m not mad at envisioning J.Timbs when kissing anyone, and
  • Bomb-dot-com kisses are a mirror dance — meaning, mimic: Slow down, take note of the things bae does, and gently do it back. Bust out moves you’d want them to do to you. Remember that the show’s not all about you: You’re both in control of this dance.

8. Good kissers know: Less is EVERYTHING.

Thinking too hard about going for some ~sexy trick~ you learned is how makeout seshes end up feeling like dental cleaning. How to be a good kisser? Start off small and slow, and only #turnup if you feel like it’s right. Oh, you’ll know.

9. Good kissers ARE ANTI-HICKEY.

Question: Who thought it’d be sexy to literally be a mouth vacuum? Oh, no one? GREAT — then we’re officially retiring The Hickey. Be nice to Bae’s neck: Small kisses down from the jaw or gentle lip-brushes FTW.

10. Good kissers know that lips-only are for basics.

  • Under the jawbone.
  • Soft spot behind the earlobe.
  • The UGH-so-cute little dip in the collarbone.
  • Tip of the nose.
  • Inside the wrist.
  • Forehead.
  • Shoulder.
  • CLOSED EYELID. #THEPOSSIBILITIES.

Give the both of you a second to mouth-breathe again and freakin’ explore!

Megan Tatem

11. Good kissers take the long route.

Consider this a Google Maps for your meggouts:

1. Start at the lips, kissing (NO TONGUE) gently down towards the chin, then all along the jawbone, towards the ear. From here, give their earlobe a little nip, or whisper softly … “So when are we getting Chipotle?” (Optional.)

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

2. Sneak up on bae from behind and kiss from the top of their shoulder, along the curve towards their ear. (And again, The Optional Whisper: “I want to eat an entire pizza with you.”)

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

3. Gently kiss down the forehead, starting at the hairline, along the slope of the nose, ending at the lips. Congrats: You’re now so *goddamn cute.*

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

12. Good kissers can make PDA not-obnoxious.

Bae will def appreciate the sneak-attack smooch:

  • Facing each other on the bus? BOOM, tip-of-the-nose.
  • Approaching them while they’re sitting? BOOM, forehead.
  • Strolling along, holding hands? BOOM, knuckle-peck.
  • Are you vertically challenged and only come up to their shoulder? BOOM, shoulder smooch.
  • Netflix + chilling? BOOM, inside-of-the-wrist lip-graze. (Careful. Tickles.)

13. Good kissers can keep their tongue in check.

First Rule of Tongue: USE SPARINGLY. Start off by just finding their tongue with the tip of yours — almost like a gentle tongue fist-bump — then pull back. Try grazing past the tip of their tongue — then pull back. Circle the tip of their tongue — then pull back. (Drool and breath and blegh happens when you don’t pull back.)

When you’re feeling up for it, you can try running your tongue just along the inside of their upper lip, or pull a quick lick under their top lip in a sort of come-here/teeny-ice-cream-cone maneuver.

14. Good kissers don’t nibble. Anything. EVER.

I’m sorry — the thought of someone “nibbling” on my lip the way I legitimately nibble on straws and pen caps and beef jerky GIVES ME THE ABSOLUTE FEAR. Why do we still tell each other to nibble?! Good teeth action starts with taking bae’s bottom lip between your front teeth, giving a gentle tug, and letting go.

15. Good kissers play with the pre-game.

Before kissing, lean in and swipe your lips past theirs, slowly and lightly, then pull back. Take a one-two pause to bask in Bae’s “OMG WTF I NEED YOUR FACE” reaction before going in for the kill. And for those feeling sass-tastic: If you’ve taken a break and are getting ready to lean back in, build up some anticipation by pulling back a half-inch and smiling, like Not yet, sucker — Deal With It.” Proceed with makeout as scheduled. #sorryneversorry

16. “But what do I do with my hands?!” you ask.

Both on either side of their head — with plans to slide back into their hair.

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

One on their lower back, and one behind the neck (can also venture into Hair Land).

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

Both hands lightly resting on their chest.

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

Both hands on hips, which can sneak around their lower back to squeeze.

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

One hand taking a selfie. (JK – just making sure you’re still paying attention.) (But we’d be super impressed if you could pull it off, JS.)

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

One or both hands pulling on the neck of their shirt a little bit, towards you.

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

A few fingers up and down their spine, down the nape of their neck, or hovering around their cheeks and jaw.

Megan Tatem/Crystal Law

17. Good kissers can manage bad kissers like a pro.

Pause an aggressive kisser by leaning back, putting a hand gently on their collarbone, and approaching v e r y s l o w l y — almost like saying, “Chill. Take it down 4 notches. Like this.” Reroute an overly acrobatic kisser by pulling back, just enough so you can whisper, and say, “I like kissing you like this.” Proceed with what you’d want done to you. (Pray that they’ve read this article and know how to mirror.)

18. Good kissers mix it up.

Just because you kiss your bae one way doesn’t mean you can’t mix things up. Surprise can bet such an exciting element of kissing. Maybe you mix it up from trying no tongue to trying a little more tongue to backing off on the tongue. Feel out the mood to see what kind of kiss would be best.

19. Good kissers know that kissing isn’t everything.

Kissing is AMAZING, but there are so many other ways to show affection. Hold your bae’s hand or kiss their hand even. Say something unexpected and sweet in your crush’s ear. Get them a little surprise gift for no reason at all. Kissing helps to build romance, but there are so many things that keep that fire alive.

20. Good kissers always keep their eyes closed.

Seriously, there’s no reason to have your eyes open while you’re making out! It just makes things super awkward and kind of kills the mood.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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