Why Do We Kiss?

by on February 14, 2016 at 10:23 am in Music, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

Smithsonian: [K]issing helps heterosexuals select a mate. Women in particular value kissing early on. Saliva is full of hormones Gustav-Klimt_The-Kiss_ArtExand other compounds that may provide a way of chemically assessing mate suitability—that’s the biological brain stepping in.

…While kissing, couples exchange 9 milliliters of water, 0.7 milligrams of protein, 0.18 mg of organic compounds, 0.71 mg of fats, and 0.45 mg of sodium chloride, along with 10 million to 1 billion bacteria, according to one accounting.

Women are also more likely to say that a first kiss could be the decider for selecting a mate. Can the biological drive overcome the perception that your chosen one is a bad kisser? Wlodarski says it’s hard to separate the two, but that “I would hazard a guess that if someone thinks someone is a bad kisser it’s because their smell wasn’t right,” he says. Women have to be more selective because they face greater consequences when they make a poor mating decision—like having to carry a baby for nine months, says Wlodarski.

…Not every culture is down with the full-on mouth kissing enlivened by a wandering tongue. That seems to be a modern, and Western, convention, perhaps from the last 2,000 years, says Wlodarski. A study published in 2015 found that less than half of the cultures surveyed engage in romantic, sexual kissing.

There’s evidence—at least from written history—that in the past, kissing was primarily mutual face or nose rubbing, or even sniffing in close proximity. In Hindu Vedic Sanskrit texts, kissing was described as inhaling each other’s soul.

1 Art Deco February 14, 2016 at 10:33 am

And, next, Dr. Tabarrok will give us pointers to an explanation for love letters courtesy forensic chemists who have analyzed the composition of the ink on the paper.

2 prior_test February 14, 2016 at 11:18 am

Come now, love letter paper quality is extremely important in not only how the ink appears, but for its signalling of how appropriate the writer of the letter would be able to provide for children in the future. This undoubtedly being yet another example of evolutionary psychology in practice, where by simply just agreeing on the pivotal role of paper in primate behavior – particularly on the savannah – the theory works just fine.

Otherwise, the whole explanation would collapse as being just another just so story.

3 Mark Thorson February 14, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Complex social behaviors always have a simple biochemical explanation. Every biochemist knows that.

4 Urso February 15, 2016 at 3:35 pm

hilarious.

5 Steve Fritzinger February 14, 2016 at 10:36 am

For this speculation to hold up, they’d have to demonstrate similar behavior in other mammals, especially other apes. There’s no way such a complex behavior, so central to reproduction, could have evolved this late in human development.

So, the question is, do chimps swap spit?

6 Nathan W February 14, 2016 at 11:35 am

No.

Finding it across lots of primates would close the case scientifically, but it is not necessary for it to be true.

But humans are different from other primates. Not sure? Just look. We don’t need to find identical traits in chimps to conclude that we in fact have those traits.

7 anon February 14, 2016 at 12:38 pm

The article says that in many cultures, kissing is substituted for sniffing and nose rubbing. So why would chimps need to kiss if they could sniff each other, which was apparently prevalent among humans at one time. I’ve seen chimps sniff each other; it achieves the same thing.

8 GoneWithTheWind February 14, 2016 at 11:11 am

A study on ‘kissing’ is fated to be wrong. When I was a kid 60+ years ago kissing was what we did rather than jumping into bed as they do today. Don’t get me wrong, when I was 16 I was hoping to jump into bed with my date but what I got was kissing. We would kiss for hours. My incentive as a male was I enjoyed it and I was hoping it would lead to more which it often did (not sex but more along the lines of 2nd base). I believe the female incentive was not too dissimilar. They enjoyed it, it allowed them to slowly move to 2nd base without seeming to be too easy and it wasn’t going to make them pregnant. Were the females picking life mates based on kissing? I doubt it. When you are young you pick a mate based on chemistry and maybe a few down to earth things like status, likelyhood of being a good provider etc., not kissing

9 A Definite Beta Guy February 14, 2016 at 11:27 am

Kissing IS chemistry.

Also, women enjoy kissing more: https://www.quora.com/Does-one-gender-like-kissing-more

10 MR Sex Expert February 14, 2016 at 1:07 pm

In addition to the theories cited in the article, women like kissing more because:

1. Kissing allows women more time to decide if they want to go further. There are costs to sex in status (“she’s suuuch a slut”), pregnancy risk, higher chance than male of getting STD. Ability to kiss is likely perceived by women as correlated with talent in bed, so it is a way of assessing the benefits of sex before putting out.

2. Women internalize romantic narratives from our culture more than men. Kissing is a symbolic gesture of love in Western romance, so women like to emulate those narratives in their own romantic lives.

3. Men derive the majority of their sexual pleasure from climax and ejaculation. Women derive sexual pleasure in a more distributed way, throughout the entire sexual experience, kissing included.

4. This one’s a little obscene: women require lubrication to prevent damage to the vagina walls and resultant pain. Kissing allows for more time for sexual arousal and thus more lubrication to prevent pain and increase pleasure.

5. Finally, kissing sets the tone for the sexual encounter. Diving right into sex signals to the male that his pleasure is paramount. Thus, the male will not make efforts to prolong the sexual experience, to the detriment of the female, who’s amount of sexual pleasure depends more upon the length of the sexual encounter.

11 Moo cow February 14, 2016 at 5:13 pm

#4 graphic is not obscene.

12 anon February 14, 2016 at 11:34 am

Lats year I started dating again (55+) after being single for about a decade. One woman told me right up front that I had to pass her “kissing test” on our first date so she could decide if she would continue to see me.

I passed. So did she!

13 Henrico Otto February 15, 2016 at 8:38 am

Unless it was said in a context where you had already won her over and she was essentially begging you to have sex, you should have told her “That’s a nice trick to try to get me to kiss you, but you’re not there yet.”

Passing her “tests” is setting yourself up for ruin

14 Nathan W February 14, 2016 at 11:37 am

There are lots of nerves in the lips and tongue and it feels good.

I don’t doubt the other more fancy stuff about hormones, etc. might have some peripheral relevance. But I think that’s more relevant in how they might influence ultimate pairing, not the enjoyment of kissing in the first place.

And why would women say the first kiss matters? Not because of all that chemistry stuff. But because they don’t want to be married to a bad kisser and have a live of bad kissing. Revert to point one: there are lots of nerves in the lips and tongue and it feels good.

Also, since it provides quite a bit of utility which is quite equally available to people of all socioeconomic classes, would it be appropriate to paint sexual kissing as a sort of egalitarian technological breakthrough?

15 chuck martel February 14, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Being a good kisser, or even a great one, probably won’t make up for being a bad lay.

16 Hazel Meade February 14, 2016 at 2:40 pm

I was under the impression kissing evolved from mothers transferring food by mouth to their babies. My guess is that there is an oxytocin response and subsequently kissing was used to stimulate bonding between male and female sex partners.

17 Nathan W February 14, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Do you think humans would ever have transferred food from mouth to mouth?

What’s the most evolutionarily similar animal that regularly does this?

Or are you saying that there could be some remaining bit of stuff from some ancestor species where exchanging hormones or eliciting activities or behavioural responses through various oral interactions was relevant?

Dogs, for example, seem to express affection through licking. But we are evolutionarily quite far from dogs if comparing this to the genetic range of difference between humans and various primates.

On oxytocin – I thought it was supposed to be more associated with caring for children sort of responses than the sort of bonding one might associate with physically active sexual partnerships.

18 Hazel Meade February 14, 2016 at 9:58 pm

Apes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premastication

Oxytocin is released during orgasm so it definitely is involved in sexual bonding.

19 Nathan W February 15, 2016 at 1:26 am

Huh. I think I somehow knew that first bit sometime before but completely forgot.

And I had no idea about the second part, I only associated oxytocin with pregnancy because loads of stuff about that was in some bio course i took in undergrad.

20 Cliff February 15, 2016 at 9:42 pm

Humans bro. Dial it back a few thousand years and there was no baby food around.

21 JC February 14, 2016 at 3:05 pm

BS.

22 anon February 14, 2016 at 3:36 pm

Indeed 9ml of water? Bullshit. The mouth doesn’t even contain anywhere near that much saliva.

23 Nathan W February 14, 2016 at 5:08 pm

I imagine they are talking about kissing for more than five seconds. Definitely more than a kick kiss on the lips sort of thing.

24 carlolspln February 14, 2016 at 7:11 pm

Your salivary glands produce between 0.7 -> 1L of saliva

Per day.

25 Bob February 14, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Smithsonian: [K]issing helps heterosexuals select a mate. Women in particular value kissing early on. Saliva is full of hormones Gustav-Klimt_The-Kiss_ArtExand other compounds that may provide a way of chemically assessing mate suitability—that’s the biological brain stepping in.

…While kissing, couples exchange 9 milliliters of water, 0.7 milligrams of protein, 0.18 mg of organic compounds, 0.71 mg of fats, and 0.45 mg of sodium chloride, along with 10 million to 1 billion bacteria, according to one accounting.

If this were the case, then kissing would a major vector of horizontal transmission for microorganisms and pathogens, and the kissing would likely be an expression of manipulation by the pathogen, similar to how the rabies virus makes infected hosts bite other organisms.

26 Nathan W February 14, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Ever heard of the flu? Or the common cold? You can get those from kissing.

27 carlolspln February 15, 2016 at 5:07 am

You’re not going to learn about immunology here

try this http://www.amazon.com/How-Immune-System-Works-Series/dp/1118997778/ref=zg_bs_227192_10

28 Chip February 14, 2016 at 4:22 pm

Are makers of male sexbots incorporating the importance of kissing into their designs.

29 Edward Burke February 14, 2016 at 7:26 pm

Jonathan Swift, c. 1731: “Lord, I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing!” (Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, Dialogue II)

30 Todd K February 14, 2016 at 11:18 pm

“Not every culture is down with the full-on mouth kissing enlivened by a wandering tongue. That seems to be a modern, and Western, convention, perhaps from the last 2,000 years, says Wlodarski.”

This is a little disturbing. According to Wlodarski, Jesus was right at the cut-off of introducing “a wondering tongue” into Western Civilization.

I have to believe that Jesus wasn’t part of the wondering tongue thing era.

31 required February 15, 2016 at 9:19 am

In Urban Legend, Romans invent the wondering tongue kiss to check if their wives secretly drank their wine.

32 Todd K February 14, 2016 at 11:20 pm

(wandering)

33 TallDave February 15, 2016 at 12:17 am

Women have to be more selective because they face greater consequences when they make a poor mating decision—like having to carry a baby for nine months, says Wlodarski.

What? So when they make a good mating decision, they don’t get pregnant?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in hypergamy, and maybe it’s just because my wife is due next month, but this doesn’t seem to be a strong argument.

34 Cliff February 15, 2016 at 9:44 pm

They can’t get pregnant again for at least 9 months.

35 TallDave February 16, 2016 at 10:38 pm

But that’s equally true when they make a good mating decision!

If he’d specified an inferior baby, then it might have been a good sentence.

36 todd K February 15, 2016 at 4:11 am

Nah, we do get you wrong Tall Dave but…congratulations!

Anyway, back to the important topic of hypergamy….

37 Urso February 15, 2016 at 3:36 pm

If ever a post deserved the “speculative” tag.

38 Book Publishing News February 18, 2016 at 12:28 am

Kissing is not universal among human beings, and, even today, there are some cultures from which it is completely absent.

39 thermador stoves February 23, 2016 at 10:44 pm

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