WHY KISS­ING IS SO MUCH FUN

The science of MOMOL, ba­si­cally.

Cosmopolitan (Philippines) - - Contents -

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.)

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