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Why We Kiss

Locking lips is something we’re all pretty familiar with, but where does that urge to plant a big wet one on someone come from? It's not just about having fun. There's some biology to thank, too!
Why We Kiss
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Regardless of its name— kissing, making out, tonsil hockey— locking lips is something we’re all pretty familiar with. But has anyone stopped to think about why we do it? Where does that urge come from to plant a big wet one on a significant other (or whomever else found themselves in front of those lips last night)? Kissing triggers feelings of closeness, sexual excitement, happiness, and even motivation (go get em’ tiger!).

Pucker up, Buttercup — The Need to Know

Kissing, in some form or another, has been going on for over 3,500 years. The first literary evidence of kissing  (or something like it) came from ancient Sanskrit texts. While there are several reasons to kiss, romantic kissing has its motivation rooted in biology. Researchers believe we kiss romantically to help us find Mr. or Mrs. Right, stay committed to that person, and to reproduce. When we kiss another person, neurotransmitters in our brain release dopamine, triggering craving and desire for that person. Serotonin levels also spike, creating obsessive thoughts about partners, as do levels of oxytocin (aka the “love hormone”), eliciting a feeling of bonding and attachment. And one study suggests all this brain action occurs to focus our biological attention on one person (essentially, a potential mate to reproduce with) and stops us from spending too much time and energy elsewhere (isn’t that sweet?) [1].

As most of us know, not every kiss is going to end with marriage and children (and lets give thanks for that!). A whopping 59% of men and 66% of women say they have ended a budding relationship because of a kiss (even more incentive to double check that breath). Another study showed that men were more likely to initiate kissing prior to doing the deed, while women were more likely to steal kisses after [2]. But both genders believed kissing before sexual intercourse with a long-term partner was important (with cuddling and saying "I love you" being the most important after sex) [2].

Eskimo Kisses — Your Action Plan

While finding (and keeping) a perfect match may be our motivation to kiss, there are some pretty nice health benefits as well. Kissing can boost immunity, is a natural relaxant, and also burns calories (what more could we want?). Surprisingly enough, another study showed that frequent kissing, cuddling, and hugging is a significant factor in happiness for men in long term relationships— even more than for the ladies!

But think twice before planting a wet one on just any guy or girl: Swapping spit means sharing 500 different types of bacteria with someone. (Gross, we know.) If that’s not uncomfortable enough, infections like mononucleosis (aka mono) or herpes can be spread by even the most innocent of lip locks. One study suggested an increase in sexual expression, including kissing, is a common factor in the oral transmission of the HPV virus [4]. People with severe food or medication allergies are even at risk for a reaction when kissing, so be aware of what's on those lips before puckering up!

Do you think the science tells it all when it comes to kissing? Disagree? Tell us in the comments below!

 

Works Cited +

  1. Romantic love: a mammalian brain system for mate choice. Fisher H.E., Aron A., Brown LL., Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, 131 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ, Philosophical Transactions of the  Royal Society of London Series B. Biological Scientists, 2006 Dec 29;361(1476):2173-86.
  2. Sex differences in post-coital behaviors in long- and short-term mating: an evolutionary perspective. Hughes S.M., Kruger D.J., Department of Psychology, Albright College, Reading, PA. Journal of Sex Reseearch, 2011 Sep;48(5):496-505. Epub 2011 May 24.
  3. Sex differences in post-coital behaviors in long- and short-term mating: an evolutionary perspective. Hughes S.M., Kruger D.J., Department of Psychology, Albright College, Reading, PA. Journal of Sex Reseearch, 2011 Sep;48(5):496-505. Epub 2011 May 24.
  4. Kissing: hullo hpv. Louis Z.G. Touyz, BDS MSc(Dent) MDent(Perio&OralMed), Faculty of Dentistry, McGill University, Montreal, QC. Current Oncology, 2011 August; 18(4): 167–168.

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