WHY KISSING IS SO MUCH FUN
The science of MOMOL, basically.
What that mouth do—and why.
When it comes to the human race, there’s a first time for everything. Can you imagine the first person to have milked a cow, shed tears, or initiated sexual intercourse? The awkwardness levels must have shot through the roof for that pioneering caveman who just wanted to get laid. Truly, Homosapiens have come a long way, but when it comes to showing romantic affection, a kiss seems to be the modern-day go-to. So what’s behind the impulse to press your lips against somebody else’s? Why do we reserve them only for certain people? More importantly, why does kissing feel sodamngood?
According to Sheril Kirshenbaum, science writer and author of The Sci
ence of Kissing, the first literary evidence of kissing among humans was in Sanskrit texts about 3,500 years ago, but it’s likely we’ve been snogging way before that. Our, uh, wilder counterparts aren’t shy about it either. “We see a lot of behaviors that look a lot like kissing [in the animal kingdom]. Bonobos have been spotted to suck on each other’s tongues for 12 minutes straight. We see turtles tapping heads and giraffes entwining their necks,” says Kirshenbaum. This is because, for both humans and animals, kissing started off as a way to feed offspring—pre-chewed food is directly transferred from the mother’s mouth to her child’s.
Fundamentally, though, you could call kissing a practice run to assess a partner’s competency for procreation. “A kiss puts two people in very close proximity. Our sense of smell allows us to pick up subconscious clues about the other person’s DNA or reproductive status,” explains Kirshenbaum. “[It was] found that women are most attracted to the scent of men who have a [certain] genetic code for their immune system in a region of DNA known as the major histocompatibility complex. Pairing off with a male who has a different set of genes for immunity can lead to children [with a] higher level of genetic diversity, making them healthier and more likely to survive.”
Interestingly enough, it’s women who tend to be sticklers for good kissers. In a 2013 survey of around 900 men and women conducted by Rafael Wlodarski, an evolutionary behaviorist at the University of Oxford, he found that women put a higher premium on talented kissers than men do.
Contrary to popular belief, not all cultures practice kissing as the primary way of showing affection. In an 1872 essay, Charles Darwin notes that kissing can be replaced by rubbing noses (an Eskimo kiss based on a traditional Inuit greeting), patting arms, breasts, or stomachs, or by one person “stroking their own face with the hands or feet of another.” But Hollywood has elevated the prolonged lip-to-lip kiss as the mainstream standard—just look at
Ghost, Sixteencandles, or Titanic (personally, we’d give an arm and a leg to lock lips with ‘90s Leo Dicaprio). “The big kiss” is the apex of the romantic comedy; it’s the point in which conflicts are resolved and a happy ending is all but guaranteed.
As for why this saliva-swapping extravaganza is so pleasurable? Thank your nervous system. “Our lips are packed with sensitive nerve endings, so even the slightest brush sends a cascade of signals and information to our brains, and the amount of our brains associated with lip stimulation is enormous,” according to Kirshenbaum. The involvement of your tongue, which sports nerve endings of its own, only serves to amp up that good feeling.
But despite the overwheling amount of research that’s been poured into kissing, the feeling we get when we do it is something nobody can truly explain—so just close your eyes, lean in, and enjoy it. (And try not to think about the 80 million microbes you two are exchanging.)