Birds can’t do it, bees don’t do it – and you’d be hard pushed to educate a flea to do it. Yet in over 90 per cent of human cultures, almost uniquely in the animal kingdom, coupling involves kissing. Why? Even caterpillars and dogs kiss, and Prairie dogs in Texas.
In the October issue of the psychology journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, R Wlodarski and RIM Dunbar examine the possible “functions of kissing in romantic relationships.” They surveyed 308 males and 594 females and concluded that kissing could be a way of testing the suitability of a future mate, and then keeping them.
There are other theories. The simplest is that it is a prelude to sex — a method of heightening arousal. This idea is partly backed by previous studies showing that men are extremely interested in kissing prior to sex and extremely uninterested afterwards. For women, however, it is the reverse.
(Robert Doisneau, Paris Kiss) (Warner Brothers)
Another theory is that it is a symbol of attachment and commitment – and, as Wlodarski and Dunbar say: “[Kissing among couples] demonstrates a willingness to expose themselves to potential health hazards, such as influenza, herpes simplex virus or meningococcal meningitis.”
Yet a third idea is the “sniff it and see” theory. This is the contention that the act of kissing provides a method for assessing someone’s genetic fitness – the proximity required for successful smooching enabling people also to smell their potential partner and judge if they are diseased or not.
Rafael Wlodarski, a PhD student, admits “We are still not exactly sure why it is so widespread or what purpose it serves.”
What he found was that people considered kissing to be far more important with long-term partners than short-term partners, indicating it could be a method of keeping relationships going. There was also evidence that early in a relationship people changed their views of partners after kissing — indicating that it could be used to assess mates. There was little evidence to support the idea that it was used as a method of arousal, however. Only in short-term relationships did people rate it as more important before sex.
A different level of understanding was explored at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago back in 2009 where the biochemist Helen Fisher presented evidence that saliva has testosterone. She suggested that men “are unconsciously trying to transfer testosterone to stimulate sex drive in women.”