Why Do We Kiss?

I imagine we all take kissing for granted in our romantic lives, but according to a recent report in the February, 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine, kissing is a fairly recent development in human history.  This conclusion is based on a study from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  It’s not a universal human practice, and some cultures even consider it gross.

In what is supposedly the first large study of “romantic-sexual” kissing, only 46 percent of 168 cultures the study surveyed had a social history that included this behavior.  For example, it’s okay in Middle Eastern and European cultures, but not in sub-Saharan African and Amazonian forager cultures.  The study’s author, William Jankowiak, suggests kissing may be “linked to the rise of leisure” in socially stratified societies.  It probably started with the elites, then was copied by the masses.  “Status trickle-down is ubiquitous in human history, and people do seem to like kissing once they discover it.”

“The History of Kissing” on the Psychology Today website (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201402/the-history-kissing) confirms that kissing is not universal.  Perhaps kissing is a learned behavior that evolved from some other purpose?  There is such a thing as “kiss feeding” — mothers feeding their babies by passing masticated food from their mouths to their child’s.  There are some modern indigenous cultures in which kiss feeding is practiced, but not social kissing.  Kissing might also be a culturally determined form of grooming behavior, or, at least in the case of deep or erotic kissing, a representation, substitute for, or complement to intercourse.

Of course, kissing  is not unique to human beings.  Bonobo apes frequently kiss, dogs and cats lick and nuzzle one another, and insects engage in antenna play. This could be more grooming, smelling, or communicating, but even so, this behavior implies trust and bonding.

But I prefer kissing.

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