Bizarre Science: Is a kiss just a kiss? What scientists make of making out

Lip-on-lip kissing is an almost exclusively human experience. The closest semblance to human beings’ most common kissing behaviours are the Bonobo apes which sometimes kiss for no apparent reason other than wanting to (like us). Other animals such as dogs and cats lick and nuzzle each other, while snails and insects use their antennas.  

Research suggests as babies we have an innate liking for lip touching. From breastfeeding onwards, we associate the act with positive reinforcement. Lip-to-lip kissing specifically is thought to come from our evolutionary past; our mothers would chew the food and feed it to us from her lips. Pretty gross if you ask me.  

Other cultures perform different forms of kissing that doesn’t involve the touching of one’s lips to another. These may seem strange to outsiders, like the Malay kiss where a woman squats down in front of a man so he can get a whiff of her smell from above.  

The most common consensus is that any form of kissing is a way of exchanging biological information. Some scientists say kissing is a learned behaviour and not so much instinctual. However, our lips and tongues are some of the most sensitive areas of our bodies. Kissing feels good which makes us prone to repetition. In summary, science tells us we are exchanging biological information and smelling each other to figure out whether we should have children with this person. I personally believe most people would say kissing is just an enjoyable act (mostly). As such, the scientific context, however interesting, won’t be our first thought when kissing someone. I know it isn’t mine.  

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Synne Solbrekken

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June 2022
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