Kissing is one of the most pleasurable and intimate gestures that a couple shares. It’s even thought to be the precursor to more intimate activities between the sheets, as it’s seen as one of the more important factors for sexual arousal. Several theories suggest that we kiss in a bid to assess genetic quality of potential mates, increase arousal, and keep relationships together.
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Rafael Wlodarski, DPhil student who carried out the research in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, said,
“Kissing in human sexual relationships is incredibly prevalent in various forms across just about every society and culture. Kissing is seen in our closest primate relatives, chimps and bonobos, but it is much less intense and less commonly used.”
“So here’s a human courtship behavior which is incredibly widespread and common and, in extent, is quite unique. And we are still not exactly sure why it is so widespread or what purpose it serves.”
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The study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, was done by researchers Rafael Wlodarski and Professor Robin Dunbar at Oxford University. They used an international survey of over 900 men and women between the ages 18 and 63 to determine which of the above mentioned factors were true and whether there were any differences based on sex, duration of relationship, and physical attractiveness.
According to the survey, it was found that women rated kissing as generally more important in relationships than men. Further, men and women who rated themselves as being attractive, or who leaned towards having more short-term relationships and casual encounters, also thought that kissing was more important, than other participants. The researchers see these findings as supporting the theory that kissing plays a role in mate selection, because previous studies have shown that women are more selective in choosing a mate, most likely because they are more invested in their offspring than men are. Similarly, men and women who are attractive or those who tend to have more casual sex partners are also more selective when it comes to choosing their mates.
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Previously, it has been suggested that kissing may allow men and women to subconsciously gauge a potential mate through the sense of taste or smell, picking up on biological cues for compatibility, genetic qualities or general health.
Professor Robin Dunbar said,
“Mate choice and courtship in humans is complex. It involves a series of periods of assessments where people ask themselves ‘shall I carry on deeper into this relationship?’ Initial attraction may include facial, body and social cues. Then assessments become more and more intimate as we go deeper into the courtship stages, and this is where kissing comes in.”
“In choosing partners, we have to deal with the ‘Jane Austen problem’: how long do you wait for Mr Darcy to come along when you can’t wait forever and there may be lots of you waiting just for him? At what point do you have to compromise for the curate?
“What Jane Austen realized is that people are extremely good at assessing where they are in the ‘mating market’ and pitch their demands accordingly. It depends on what kind of poker hand you’ve been dealt. If you have a strong bidding hand, you can afford to be much more demanding and choosy when it comes to prospective mates.
“We see some of that coming out in the results of our survey, suggesting that kissing plays a role in assessing a potential partner,” explained Professor Dunbar.
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The researchers were able to conclude that the importance of kissing changed for people according to whether it was indulged in long-term or short-term relationships. Since women rated kissing as more important in long-term relationships, it suggests that it plays an important role in growing and sustaining a healthy, long-term relationship.
Other important findings that the study revealed:
1. Participants of the survey in long-term relationships said that kissing was equally important at all times, whereas those in short-term relationships said that it was most important right before sex, less important during or after sex, and the least important at all other times. The researchers believe that this shows that kissing plays an important role in maintaining a lasting bond between couples.
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2. The frequency of kissing in a relationship was linked to the quality of a relationship, with more the frequency, the better the quality of the relationship. However, this wasn’t the case with having more sex.
3. In a companion paper published in the journal Human Nature, the researchers noted that women valued kissing more at certain stages of their menstrual cycle and the stage of relationship they’re in. In the initial stages of a relationship, women valued kissing the most when they were in their most fertile stage of their menstrual cycle, the period of conception. Previous studies have shown that a woman’s preferences for a potential partner can change along with the hormonal changes associated with menstrual cycle. When women are at their fertile best, they seem to prefer men who display supposed signals of underlying genetic fitness, such as masculinized faces, facial symmetry, social dominance, and genetic compatibility. Researchers say that kissing a romantic partner during this time helps women assess the genetic quality of a potential mate.
So, in essence, kissing can help in choosing and keeping a partner in a long-term relationship. Pucker up! 😉
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