What is it that makes us want to press our lips against someone else’s? Shirley Kirshenbaum is a researcher from University of Texas who was more than just curious about kissing. She recently wrote a book called “The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling” where she delves into the various angles of what kisses mean and what happens when we carry out this intimate practice.
In her interview with the New York Times, Kirshenbaum relayed that the origin of kissing probably began during our earliest days as infants and toddlers. Breastfeeding and the positive responses we experienced when we started eating food laid the groundwork for why we kiss. Kissing is thought to be a universal experience as anthropologists estimated decades ago that 90 percent of the people in other cultures kiss.
Kirshenbaum was also interviewed by NPR (National Public Radio) and she discussed how our lips are full of sensitive nerve endings. It takes only a slight brush against their skin to send a multitude of signals and impulses to our brains. Our lips are our most exposed erogenous zone. Some perceive the kiss as being more erotic than sex.
In discussing male/female differences, Kirshenbaum referenced a study by Gordon Gallup where 1,000 subjects, both men and women, were interviewed about their perceptions and motivations regarding kissing. Men tend to view kissing as “a means to an end” while women put more significance on the kiss. Women imagine the person they are kissing as a possible mate and partner in reproduction while men are less particular perhaps because they perceive they will have other opportunities to match off.
Red is also considered by most men to be the most attractive color on a woman’s lips. It is thought that our ancestors associated the color red with ripe fruit and perceived red color as a reward. According to Desmond Morris, our lips represent a “genital echo” which is why the opposite sex is drawn to them.
A good kiss causes a release of the chemical oxytocin, and decreases cortisol levels. Oxytocin has also been labeled the “love hormone” and lowered cortisol levels indicate a reduction of stress.