Over the past few decades scientists have evolved our understanding of gender differences by leaps and bounds, and the result is that most of us have some concept of how men and women are different, aside from obvious physical differences. However, not many would have considered that men and women actually kiss differently and for different subconscious reasons. The details of this almost universal gesture of love are elaborated in a fascinating book, ‘The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips are Telling Us’, by Sheril Kirshenbaum.
The fact that romantic kissing is not a borrowed gesture from any specific culture(s) and evolved naturally in more than 90% human cultures, is by itself fascinating. It shows that the act has meaning in itself, unlike something like bowing or shaking hands, which have been invented as symbolic gestures by specific cultures. Kirshenbaum draws on the work of anthropologist Helen Fisher, who explained that kissing is essential to three critical human needs, which, in order, are: sex drive, romantic love and attachment.
Research has revealed that certain biological reactions take place during a passionate kiss. To begin with, levels of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with obsessive thoughts about your partner and strong desire, get elevated during a kiss. This strengthens your bond and boosts the levels of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin in your system, which triggers feelings of strong attachment.
These are reactions that take place in both partners, but if we look beyond physiology, according to Kirshenbaum, the differences between men and women begin to emerge. For women, kissing is an act that has deeper significance. They are more interested in kissing than men are during sex and even afterwards. They also have more patience during kissing, and are less frequently the ones to initiate tongue contact. Kirshenbaum argues that the evidence points to the fact that for women, kissing is primarily a way to test their compatibility with their partner and judge what potential their relationship holds. A range of factors contribute consciously and subconsciously to the level of attraction they feel, including their sense of smell.
For men too kissing plays a role in testing the potential of a partner. However, for them, it’s more important role is in initiating sexual favors (surprise anyone?) and achieving reconciliation. This is why men are most interested in lip locks during foreplay. It is also believed in some quarters that the transfer of trace amounts of testosterone from a male’s saliva to a woman boosts her libido. This theory is closely connected to the fact that men open up to French kissing with a partner a lot quicker than women.
One good way to judge the health of a long-term relationship is to consider how frequently the couple kisses each other. No matter how long you have been with someone, your relationship is always ‘sealed with a kiss.