Face Time: On The Science of Kissing

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Last fall, I heard Sheril Kirshenbaum speak, author of The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us. With a title like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued to hear what she had to say. She dives into the neurology of kissing, understanding the “poetry of it,” and the history of smooching, where she cites examples across the globe as well as from research done on Bonobos. Given that bonobos share about 98.7 of human’s DNA, observing their behavior is not unlike observing our behavior and rest assured, they’re less likely to be conscious about their kissing in public than humans are.

She shares a humorous example from anthropologist Frans de Waal, which involves a zookeeper who innocently moved to accept a kiss from a bonobo and was astonished to feel a second tongue in his mouth! Bonobos apparently use sex rather than aggression to resolve conflicts in their ‘female-governed society.’ They also have been observed to kiss after being alarmed or frightened or to express excitement after there’s been clamor in the community. And, I love this: reports have seen that they have kissed and nibbled non-stop for twelve minutes straight. Perhaps we could learn something from their amorous behavior.

Since kissing seems like such an integral part of our everyday lives (from kissing our kids goodnight, our friends hello when socially greeting them and our lovers in moments of lust and compassion), it wasn’t until around 1500 BC that there was anything actually documented on kissing. Since this blog largely focuses on cultures around the world, I’ll touch on some of the global trends she discovered during her research.

From kissing noble’s feet to Snow White and the Frog Prince, the book explores the ‘why’s and meanings behind the kiss and where it’s used for bonding and other reasons we may not consider upon first reflection. Every time I come back from Europe, I find myself doing the two cheeks kiss and I’ve spent so much time there over the years, it has become standard practice for me regardless of who I meet. These kisses are also common of course in Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, Lebanon, Mexico, Switzerland and more. It was  amusing to learn that of all cultures, the German language has thirty words for kissing, including nachkussen, meaning a kiss to make up for those that have not occurred.

In China, there was an article in Beijing Workers Daily only twenty years ago that suggested that kissing was unhealthy and should be discouraged. I’d imagine that coming out of Switzerland, but China? And, let’s not forget how conservative the states remains about public embracing and sexual gestures. In Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 report, he noted that a person’s kissing style correlated on some degree with a person’s level of education: 70% of well-educated men admitted to French kissing, while only 40% of those who dropped out of high school did.

There are the obvious differences between the brain chemistry of men and women that come into play once you start to study the “science of a kiss.” Women are more likely to see kissing as a good way to assess a potential mate or to initiate, maintain and monitor a long-term relationship. And, we all know that men are designed and think differently.

I love this story that was included in Women are from Venue, Men Are Easy Chapter:

“First Lady Grace Coolidge entered a government farm’s chicken coop during Coolidge’s presidency (1923-1929), while a rooster was mounting a hen. She was told the dock copulated dozens of times a day, and reportedly responded, “Go tell that to the president.” When her husband was informed of the bird’s sexual exploits, he asked whether each rooster routinely serviced the same hen. Upon learning there are many females for each rooster, it’s said that the president replied, “Go tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

Not only do we all likely remember our “first kiss,” but we remember the first kisses of others we see either publicly or in a movie. From Pretty Women to Cleopatra, Casanova and 007, we recall the moments and we yearn for more. We love to see people kissing, experience the hormonal effects of kissing and feel the warmth of kissing, whether we kiss to express affection, adoration, respect or passion. It’s a very interesting read and we recommend it!

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