What’s in a #Kiss?

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‘Twas not my lips you kissed
But my soul.”
~ Judy Garland

(The following excerpt from What’s In A Kiss? by Noam Shpancer, Ph.D., recently appeared on psychology today.com on November 3, 2013. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)

The erotic kiss (as opposed to the kiss of respect, friendship, courtesy, or parent-child) is recognized in most cultures around the world. The vast majority of adults all over the globe have experienced the awkwardness, excitement, confusion and pleasure of it. But one must admit that on its face the practice of kissing is more than a bit strange. Why would the exchange of saliva and dinner salad remnants be considered a desirable event, a ritual of passion? Given that the erotic kiss is so common, it must play an important role in the dance of human sexuality. But what exactly is that role?

Opinions among scholars differ as to the function and origins of kissing. One hypothesis is that the kiss has evolved as a mechanism for gathering information about potential sexual partners. A kiss brings us into close physical proximity with the other, close enough to smell and taste them. The face area is rich with glands secreting chemicals that carry genetic and immunological information. Our saliva carries hormonal messages. A person’s breath, as well as the taste of their lips and the feel of their teeth, signals things about their health and hygiene, and thus their procreative suitability.

Another hypothesis claims that the kiss functions primarily on the level of psychology, as a way to express and reinforce feelings of trust, closeness, and intimacy with another. Just like the clicking of wine glasses allows us to bring hearing into the sensory experience of drinking (which already involves all the other senses), so the kiss allows us to invite the senses of taste and smell to partake in the celebration of intimacy and make the event deeper and more complete.

Men, in general, may regard less the kiss and the information it provides. Men tend to use kissing as a potential gateway to intercourse. They are more willing to forego kissing for intercourse, and their interest in kissing their spouses decreases over time. Women, in general, may regard the kiss as more important and attribute to it more meaning in the process of choosing a partner and maintaining a relationship. Women tend to see kissing less as a sexual act and more as an intimate act. Women rely more on the kiss to identify and assess a potential partner.

Despite the differences in attitudes towards it, kissing, it seems, benefits both genders. Generally, couples that kiss more frequently report improved and more satisfying relationships.

“Kisses are a better fate than wisdom,” wrote the poet e. e. Cummings.

So perhaps you’d be wise to turn off your computer right about now and go find someone to kiss…

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