What was the most wonderful kiss you have ever had? Perhaps it was what a friend of mine calls “The kiss that makes up for all the kisses that have been forgotten.” Both men and women agree that kissing brings them emotionally closer to their partner. Indeed, the more your kiss your partner, the happier you are also likely to be in your relationship. Here’s why: Kissing a long- term partner raises levels of Oxytocin, the brain chemical associated with trust and attachment. Kissing also reduces the stress hormone, Cortisol, which too contributes to this “brain bath” of pleasure, connection and relaxation. But have you ever lost all interest in a person after only the first kiss? You’re not alone. In a recent study of 58 men and 122 women, 59 percent of men and 66 percent of women said they had ended a romance after the first kiss (Hughes et al 2007). It was the kiss of death (relationally speaking!)
Kissing can be dangerous. With this little act, you learn a huge amount about your could-be partner. First and foremost, you can see him or her more clearly, as well as smell, taste, hear and feel them better. Instantly these messages from your senses are picked up by some of your nerves and escorted directly to your brain. There they ignite, giving you first-hand information about your partner’s health, their eating, drinking and smoking habits, and their state of mind—from their sense of urgency to calmness. Kissing also boosts your pulse and blood pressure, dilates your pupils and deepens breathing. You’re getting revved up for what could be next!
Kissing can also stimulate any one of the three basic brain systems coded for mating and reproduction: lust, romantic love or feelings of deep attachment. Each works in stealthy ways; first we’ll discuss the feelings of lust Your saliva has testosterone in it—the hormone of sexual desire (Dobs et al 2004). Coincidently, men tend to like sloppier kisses than women do (Hughes et al 2007). They may be (unconsciously or not!) trying to inject this sexy chemical during a kiss to woo a potential lover into bed. Interestingly, a woman’s breath and saliva change across the menstrual cycle, too. So with his sloppy kiss, a man may also be trying to pick up this subtle hint of her fertility (McCann and Bonci 2001; Fullagar 2003).
A good first kiss can also trigger feelings of romantic love. Any kind of newness triggers the dopamine system in the brain, and dopamine is associated with feelings of romance. So if you consider the kiss to be new and exciting, your brain might just push you over the edge towards infatuation.
With all this information we ask, what constitutes a good kiss? Can you train a bad kisser to be better… and if so, how? Who should initiate the first kiss? Do your partners think ahead and plan when they will plant their kiss? There is still so much we don’t know about the psychology of kissing.
But lip locking is certainly an ancient form of self-expression. Over 90% of all peoples around the world kiss romantically. In past centuries, the world’s great kissers were most likely the peoples of India who explored dozens of different kinds of kisses in their 6th century (ck) text, the Kama Sutra. Historically, some tribal peoples of the South American jungles regarded this exchange of saliva as disgusting. But in the communities where men and women find kissing unappetizing, lovers lick, rub, suck, nip and/or blow on each other’s faces instead.
But even before our human forebears trod the earth, many other creatures must have also kissed. Bonobos, our closest chimp relatives, smooch with deep tongue action similar to the “French” kiss. We know this because they have demonstrated this kiss on astonished anthropologists since!. Dogs lick one another’s lips and face. Moles rub noses. Elephants put their trunks in one another’s mouths. Albatross tap their bills together. Kissing is apparently pleasurable, informative and memorable for all kinds of creatures.
Perhaps we remember a good kisser because, as we sense this person’s passion and tenderness, we are also trying to make an important decision: whether we should mate with him or her, perhaps even reproduce, co-parent and pass our DNA together toward tomorrow. In short, a kiss is far more than just a kiss, so use it wisely. It’s nature’s way of getting you in—or out—of a relationship- fast.