Kissing is something that carries a surprising amount of importance in our lives. We recall our first kisses, we kiss our children, we flirt with kisses, we sympathize with kisses, we are intimate through kisses. But what is happening psychologically when we kiss each other? Here are 4 psychological facts about kissing.
- You Are Subconsciously Analyzing a Potential Partner
Humans are not the only creatures that kiss. Primates do it as well. Humans have multiple uses for a kiss whereas primates have few. However, like primates, kissing also serves an instinctual and subconscious function. Kissing bridges the gap between our visual analysis of our potential mate and our sexual analysis of our mate. In the immortal words of Cher, “If you wanna know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss.” Cher might not have known it when the song was written but science actually backs up her claim. Essentially, according to Wlodarski and Dunbar, kissing helps us decide, subconsciously, whether or not our partner will make a good mate. It is not uncommon for people to complain or rejoice over the quality of their partner’s kissing abilities. What they do not realize is that their brain is communicating to them that they and their partner are a good sexual match.
- You Are Bonding With Your Partner
Kissing is somewhat essential to romantic relationships. Some people may require less physical affection or may even avoid it as a result of past trauma. For the majority, outside of these exceptional circumstances, kissing releases “neuropeptides (including oxytocin and vasopressin), dopamine, and opioids, which have all been variously associated with human pair-bonding” as revealed in a study by Wlodarski & Dunbar.
This means that kissing brings you and your partner closer. This truly shows the importance of kissing on a psychological level as it affects both partners. Going a long time without kissing can have an effect on the bond between partners. Long-distance relationships and couples with a partner who travels often will struggle with this. Luckily there are ways aside from kissing to maintain a bond between partners. If you find yourself in a relationship in which you are close to your partner often, make sure to kiss them as frequently as you can. This can go a long way in ensuring the romantic aspect of your relationship stays alive.
- Motives For Kissing Affect Relationship Satisfaction.
The motives for kissing affect relationship satisfaction. Sexual/relational kissing has been found to lead to greater relationship satisfaction whereas kissing for goal attainment/insecurity was more present in relationships with lesser relationship satisfaction.
Sexual and/or relational kissing is when your motivation for kissing is influenced by passion. This can be a kiss that is sexually charged, a kiss out of love, a gentle kiss out of boredom or comfort with your partner, or a kiss that comes from sympathy. This all communicates passion to your partner. It communicates genuine love and attachment to your partner. It should never be one-sided. One’s partner should feel just as passionately to ensure a greater chance at relationship satisfaction. The other motivation is far less likely to communicate healthy love and attachment.
Attainment and/or insecurity kissing is when your motivation for kissing someone is influenced by a degree of desperation. Kissing for attainment would be using a kiss to soften someone enough for you to get your way. If you only kiss your partner when you want something or think it will help you get out of trouble when you’ve done something wrong your partner will pick up on this and it will hurt the relationship. That being said there could be a range of factors in the relationship that would affect why one or more of the partners would learn this behavior. Attainment/insecurity kissing can also refer to kissing someone as revenge, kissing someone to boost self-esteem or reputation or kissing someone to make someone else jealous.
4. Kissing Is Like A Drug
Have you ever felt like you are addicted to kissing someone? It turns out that there are numerous psychological reasons for this. We discussed the release of chemicals that promote pair bonding but one hormone that we did not touch on was cortisol. A study by Wendy L. Hill and Carey A. Wilson found that cortisol levels decreased which essentially means that kissing can destress you.
But how did we get to the point that kisses are addictive to the human race and no other species? Author and zoologist Desmond Morris proposed that humans evolved to enjoy kissing and to release good hormones each time as a result of the way early humans would have fed. That is with mothers chewing up their food and feeding it to their young lips to lips. This would partly explain why we feel good, especially less stressed. In Desmond Morris’ proposed historical context kissing comes as a relief from hunger and therefore safety. Today that primal hormonal response persists as kissing gives us a sense of relief, comfort and safety. It’s no wonder then that we might compare it, when we are in love, to being addicted. It provides us with such a strong relief as if kisses from our partner are drugs. We can even look to music to see how prominent this idea is as we can find the metaphor of love or kisses being like a drug again and again. Your Love Is My Drug by Kesha, Can’t Feel My Face by the Weeknd and I Want a New Drug by Huey Lewis & The News to name a few examples.
Kissing is fascinating in the numerous ways it affects us psychologically. We can use it to heal and to hurt. We don’t always consider how powerful a kiss can be. It is interesting to consider how, as a species, we have adapted to kissing as a psychological and social tool. Did you know you and your partner know you were a sexual match from the first kiss? Let us know below!
- Wlodarski R, Dunbar RI. (2014) What’s in a Kiss? The Effect of Romantic Kissing on Mate Desirability. Evolutionary Psychology.. doi:10.1177/147470491401200114
- Danica J. Kulibert* a , Elle A. Mooreb , Melinda M. Dertinger c , Ashley E. Thompson (2019) Attached at the Lips: The Influence of Romantic Kissing Motives and Romantic Attachment Styles on Relationship Satisfaction Interpersona
- Wlodarski R, Dunbar RI. (2013) Examining the possible functions of kissing in romantic relationships. Arch Sex Behav. 2013 Nov;42(8):1415-23. doi: 10.1007/s10508-013-0190-1. Epub 2013 Oct 11. PMID: 24114390; PMCID: PMC4487821
- Walter, Chip. (2008). Affairs of the Lips. Scientific American Mind. 19. 24-29. 10.1038/scientificamericanmind0208-24.