The Science of Kissing

Kissing feels good, but it serves even more of a purpose than that. It's a great way to check out how compatible you are with the one you're kissing, says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., LMFT, and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again.

"Kissing is a way to tell if you fit together physically," she says. "It's one of the many indicators that will help you figure out if this person is someone significant for you or not. Kissing is one of the ingredients you need for a successful relationship."

Some experts feel that kissing may have evolved as a way to test the appropriateness of a potential partner. "Women subconsciously prefer the smell of men whose genes for a particular class of immune systems proteins are different from their own, presumably because offspring from such a match would have a stronger immune system, and hence a better chance of survival, than offspring from other men," wrote Ed Willett.

Interest in the science of kissing, also known as philematology, is on the increase. Kissing occurs in some 90 percent of the cultures around the world, and philematologists agree that it probably began as a way for mothers to pass on pre-chewed food to their infants.

Research shows that kissing is about more than just sexuality and pleasure. "You are passing vital information about who you are - your genetics, your temperament," said Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a Rutgers University biological anthropologist. "When you kiss you're not just picking up if they're a nice guy, you're picking up if he'll be a good father."

And, added Fisher, "Kissing is just the tip of the iceberg of understanding of all the biological mechanisms that are involved for mate choice."

Interestingly, men and women approach kissing differently. Women use kissing to check out a mate's health and to maintain a relationship, according to the Chicago Tribune article, but men tend to use it to end a lover's spat or to increase the chances that the woman will want to have sex.

We don't think of it in the middle of a romantic lip locking experience, but kissing is a mate assessment tool.

"At the moment of the kiss, there are hard-wired mechanisms that assess health, reproductive status and genetic compatibility," said Gordon G. Gallup, Jr. evolutionary psychology professor at the State University of New York at Albany. "Therefore, what happens during that first kiss can be a make-or-break proposition."