Kissing is a cross-cultural and global experience. In this and the next posting, we will look at the function of kissing according to various psychologists, and then at gender differences in attitudes and expectations about kissing.
These postings are selected and abridged from psychology professor Noam Shpancer’s article (Psychology Today, 2.02.13) on “the kiss as ambassador and spy in sexual politics.” Please note that some (though not all) of his analysis relates more to the dynamics of heterosexual kissing.
* * *
“Kiss me and you will see how important I am.” ( Sylvia Plath)
1. According to bio-evolutionary scientists, the kiss evolved as a mechanism for gathering information about potential sexual partners. The face area is rich with glands secreting chemicals that carry genetic and immunological information; a kiss brings us into close physical proximity with the other, close enough to smell and taste him/her. Our breath, as well as the taste of our lips and the feel of our teeth, carry important signals about health and hygiene, and thus about our procreative suitability.
2. Other researchers suggest that because kissing involves bringing another person into our vulnerable personal space (with the risk of catching an infection and noting the smells of another’s bodily fluids), the act is an implicit expression of openness and trust. Kissing opens our senses of taste and smell for the purpose of expressing, reinforcing and deepening feelings of trust, closeness and intimacy.
3. An almost Freudian line of thinking focuses on the kiss as a means of seduction and sexual stimulation. Women’s lips can be seen as resembling the labia. The practice of women around the world of coloring their lips red (a color linked to sexual arousal) suggests the role the lips play in seduction. Research has suggested that men prefer wetter kisses, with more tongue involvement, than do women. The tongue, in this context, can be viewed as a phallic organ. The combination of a moist open mouth and a penetrating tongue simulate intercourse quite distinctly, and give easy rise to sexual imagining and arousal.
4. Some researchers even speculate that the male preference for wet kisses is related to the fact that male saliva contains testosterone, a hormone linked to sexual arousal in both genders. A wet kiss may deposit testosterone into the woman’s mouth, thereby acting to increase her sexual arousal.
5. Evolutionary anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Jersey has proposed an integrated theory of the role of kissing. According to Fisher, the kiss plays a role in the each of the three phases of our evolved reproductive strategy: At first, the kiss helps inspire and direct the libido, causing us to desire sex with multiple partners. The kiss later works to stoke the fires of romantic love, the deep infatuation that motivates us to choose one among many partners. Finally, the kiss helps us sustain and reinforce the ongoing attachment bonds, which allow us to endure together long enough to raise our children (our gene carriers) into sexual maturity.
* * *
See also: Kissing: Gender Differences Part 2 (N. Sphancer) — coming soon