Monday, February 6, 2012

The Revelation of Kissing

The Revelation of Kissing - designed by Farhan @

Let’s cut to the chase and go straight into the sensuous make out sesh you’ve seen in the Hollywood movies. Even though it warrants some lip movements and a justified bit of sniffing, I won’t be talking about the noble mother-and-baby nursing behaviours. Specifically, I’m referring to those intense lip-tangling action between couples amidst the melodramatic backdrop.

That’s what got you interested to read this article anyway.

All of us relish that passionate kissing moments because it stirs up strong emotions in us. Women fantasize about it; men try to perfect it. But why is kissing so pleasurable and to an extent, addictive? What's going on our minds and bodies when we kiss? And why do men and women kiss differently?

Read my lips though: instead of dwelling in your lip-locking finesse or the what-not-to-do’s, I’m going to share the science behind this universal gesture of endearment.

So let’s get down and.. nerdy.

Spiderman Kissing Scene - drawing based off Alex Ross's image

1.   The Mechanics Of Kissing
While many of us don’t give much thought into it, a lot of things are actually happening when we smooch. Fortunately, we don’t need much brain power to coordinate this as it runs on auto-pilot most of the time.

a) The Lips

The major muscle group that comes into play is called the orbicularis oris, which is situated around our lips. This is the main mechanics that allows us to talk, chew, or to kiss. There are other secondary muscles involved too, which permit us to nestle perfectly in each other’s lips.

b) The Tongue

The tongue functions primarily to give us a taste of the world. It is quite versatile considering there are 8 different muscles working in tandem to change its shape and position. This allows us caress, stroke or twirl around each other’s tongue during the sultry moment of French kissing. Be prepared to get tongue-tied though, being moisturized with saliva means we are exchanging around 6 million bacteria through our spit-swapping escapade!

c) The Neck

Interestingly, 67% of us tilt our heads to the right before and during kissing. Philematologists (scientists who study kissing) are still unsure of the reasoning behind the stats, but they speculate that it has to do with our natural inclination to face to the right even in our mother’s womb. Tilting our head also prepares your partner mentally, acting as a cue to signal our intent. Unless you’re the Amazing Spiderman smooching by hanging down from a web, you’re most likely to be kissing in the same alignment as well.

d) The Eyes

Most of us closed our eyes when kissing lest experiencing that awkward moment. Experts claimed that our pupils dilate when we are aroused, hence the tendency to keep it concealed. Others argue that we won’t mind compromising our sight in order to fine-tune the remaining four senses, which is more important during a kiss.

2.   Psychology of kissing
What motivates us to kiss? How much does Hollywood contribute in us learning to kiss – is it then considered a perpetrator or savior? And how important is the moment you first set your lips on someone?

a) The Allure of Red

In the psychology of color, red is where the eyes tend to look first. Thus, while you might think that your unblemished skin and gorgeous eyes gets you the head-turner, it is the sparkle of the little red lips that draws the second look.

In a recent study at Manchester University, scientists used an eye tracking software to study the men’s gaze on a woman they just met. The results were astounding. Men spend more than half the time fixated at her lips instead of her eyes!

In a separate study, men were asked to rate the different lipstick color and which appeals to them most. Not surprisingly, most of them preferred the brightest shade of red lip stain.

Without doubt, it pays dividends for a woman to keep a lipstick handy over her mascara.

b) Observational Learning

Hollywood has got quite to do with our kissing behaviour so much so that it is worthy of being mentioned in my very first sentence. Prior to the television era, kissing in public is considered taboo that in some civilizations it’s a crime punishable by the gallows! The first kissing scene that was captured on screen in 1896 caused so much furore in an era where public show of affection is not a norm.

Of course, the Roman, Indians and Greeks have long embraced public kissing; it is the media which ‘spreads the kissing seeds’ for it to be mutually accepted globally.

And it isn't a crime for you to be engaged in passionate kissing down Orchard Road, unless you don't mind risking being the object of derision on Stomp.

c) Memory

How much do you remember your first kiss? Well, according to psychologists, your first kiss is so memorable that 9 out of 10 people remembered their life-changing moment clearer than the details of their first sexual encounter. It is not surprising though, considering the gamut of emotions and the chemistry associated with it when our lips first met.

Conveniently, this brings us to the next topic – the chemistry behind kissing.

But before that, here’s high five for you mate, on your very first kiss on the lips!

3.   Neuroscience of kissing
A simple peck on the lips can trigger a cascade of neural messages that transmit sensations, sexual arousal, feelings of intimacy and elation. Mix this with the cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters such as Dopamine, Oxytocin, Adrenalin and Serotonin, kissing leave our bodies awash in a chemical bath which keeps us wanting for more.
Yes, kissing is that goooooood.

a)  How sensitive are our lips and tongues?

Apart from our hands, our lips and tongues are jam-packed with nerve endings or receptors which send surge of signals to our brains more than any other parts of the body. The brain allots a larger amount of tissue to these body parts to manipulate any external stimuli accurately, which is necessary for our survival. It is unclear if the erogenous zones or genitals in men and women elicit such sensitivity such as touching or tasting.

But what is clear though, is that there are reports showing women reaching orgasms just by sustained kissing, even without genital stimulation!

b) Hormones and Neurotransmitters

Waves of chemicals are released in our brains when we kiss, all reliving the moments when we are in love. An excerpt from the lyrics, ‘I Don’t Wanna Fall In Love’ (by She Wants Revenge - go YouTube it!) is the kind of spectacle I’m talking about: the ‘Can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t think straight’ feelings.

Dopamine – widely known as the reward hormone – is the brain’s pleasure chemical guilty of this. The kick of dopamine is not to be underestimated: it causes exhilaration and euphoria akin to bungee jumping, parachuting or even the novelty of anticipating surprises. It is for this sensation that cocaine or meth addicts are craving for.


Next is Oxytocin – the love/cuddle hormone. Women are known to secrete more oxytocin, which explains why they are more poignant and sentimental than men. Oxytocin is the chemical that forms attachments, bonding, affection and trust, which is essential for them to nurse and rear offspring.

Oxytocin may help in the regeneration of wounds too, so don’t mess with Wolverine who’d just kissed Jean Grey, ok?

The level of Adrenalin also leapfrogged when we kiss. Adrenaline serves mainly to aid us in the face of danger, triggering the fight -or-flight response that made us superhuman in that short frantic moment. It heightened our senses, our heart beats faster and our breath became erratic due to an increase level of oxygen in our bloodstream, which is exactly what happened when we kiss.

Serotonin then is a chemical that helps us to maintain the happy feelings by keeping our darkest moods under control. People who lack serotonin have high anxiety disorder and suffer from manic depression. Yes, as you might have already known, kissing may help to alleviate stress. So Singaporeans, here’s your way to kiss the stress goodbye!

Because of this avalanche of feel-good chemicals being released, it is even reported that prostitutes refrain from lip-locking with their clients to keep her emotions intact!

c) Our sense of smell

Since our noses are in close proximity when we kiss, it is apparent that we are also using our olfactory receptors to sniff out our partner. This is the subconscious, primal urge to sample each other’s scent for two purposes.

Firstly, our senses are capable of identifying the most biocompatible partner without even us realizing it. Intuitively, we favor someone who varies greatly from our genetic stock so that we would produce babies (should the kissing leads to something more, that is) with a stronger immune system. Take a look at the interesting video below for the famous – albeit a lucky man’s – experiment.

Secondly, humans are known to produce Pheromones, a naturally occurring body odor produced by our sweat glands. Pheromones can act as a powerful sexual attractant for a potential partner. Let’s just watch the video to witness its effects.

But here’s the bad news for you sexually deprived male hopefuls. Fallacious claims abound from advertisers for these ‘love potions’ but scientists can’t prove if humans can really detect pheromones as well as our animal counterparts. :'(

4.   Differences between Men and Women towards kissing

Being two entirely different beings sharing the same planet, it is evident that men and women see kissing differently. Men tend to opt for the open-mouth kisses by exploiting plenty of tongue action, while women find it revolting.

Scientists claim that a man’s tongue contains minute amount of testosterone and instinctively use it in a bid to show their manhood.

On a deeper level, women kiss to access compatibility of their partner. Apart from unconsciously tasting his testosterone, she pays closer attention to his breath and teeth to seek out any shortcomings she wouldn’t want in a potential long-term partner. Men too, can pick up the level of estrogen in ladies, which is a testament of her fertility.

As Sheril Kirshenbaum fittingly put it, kissing is ‘nature’s ultimate litmus test’.

Women too, place high regards for the act of kissing itself, while men are more absorbed in her face or body. Does this then place a greater value of a man who is a good kisser than a lady? I have reasons to think so, prompting me to coin a phrase, ‘he kisses like an angel; she blows like a devil’, but for now, we’ll just leave it the way as it is ok? :)

Finally, most women are not willing to have sex without kissing, while men are more than happy to make do without it and get straight on to bed.

As such, most men see kissing as the ‘preview before the actual blockbuster’.

5.  Conclusion

There you have it, the science of kissing. I've laid down bare the on-goings when you smooch someone, and also the differences between men and women towards it. You know, you don't have to think it through what's happening to your brain during kissing. Coz that will really take the romance and novelty away from it. It should be as 'au naturale' as you can get.

What I'm trying to put across is that, at least you can appreciate what's really going on when we kiss. :)

Till next time, MWAAAH!


1) The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us by Sheril Kirshenbaum
2) Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About One Of Life's Sweetest Pleasures by Andrea Demirjian


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