The Language of Kisses

October 28, 2015

We kiss for pleasure and to get out of tight places, we kiss passionately, slow and sweet, we kiss to calm our spirits, we kiss with warmth, we kiss with coldness, we wrap ourselves in a kiss, and we say goodbye with one. Through our lips, we transmit an immense quantity of emotions and sensations; the lips and kisses are some of the most powerful weapons that human beings have at their disposal.

While it is uncertain exactly why our lips evolved in the way that they did, researchers like Gordon G. Gallup think that the lips may have evolved in this way to facilitate the selection of a partner.

In an interview with the BBC in September of 2007, he said that “kissing involves a very complicated exchange of information: olfactory information, tactile information and postural types of adjustments that may tap into underlying evolved and unconscious mechanisms that enable people to make determinations about the degree to which they are genetically incompatible.”

In scientific circles, it has been confirmed that kissing can even reveal how committed a partner is, which could turn out to be key when having children. In addition, a badly given kiss could determine the evolution of the relationship and even put an end to it.

Proof of this is Gallup’s discovery that most surveyed men and women confirmed having at some time felt less attracted to someone based on a kiss. It’s not that these “bad kisses” have some special defect; they simply are not pleasing and are enough to put a full stop to a relationship.

Also, this same author confirms that kissing is as crucial for men as it is for women, but that each one lends a different significance to it. Men judge a deep kiss as a step towards a sexual relationship; however, “women use kisses to obtain information about the level of commitment when they have a long-term relationship.”

Therefore, it seems that the kiss is an emotional barometer and that the deeper and more enthusiastic it is, the healthier the relationship is perceived to be. It is one of the many situations in which we are guided by instincts or unconscious impulses, and we are developing countless behavioral patterns derived from these facts.

In any case, although the kiss is considered a barometer for human relationships from an evolutionary perspective, it does not seem to be strictly necessary for our development. There are a number of animals that do not go around covering each other with kisses to show affection or as a preliminary mechanism or index for reproduction. There are even human beings who don’t do it: at the beginning of the 20th century, Danish scientist Kristoffer Nyrop described Finnish tribes whose members bathed together but considered it indecent to kiss one another.

In 1897, anthropologist Paul d’Enjoy pointed out that the Chinese understood kissing on the mouth as something so horrendous that it could even be considered cannibalism. And in Mongolia: there are parents who do not kiss their male children but show them affection by smelling their heads.

Notwithstanding, in our culture, kissing a person that we are in love with activates the brain’s pleasure center, the ventral tegmental area. To get a better idea, this is area activated by the consumption of drugs, which can explain the great potential that kisses have for addiction.

Another curiosity: when we kiss, we tend to tilt our head to the right, regardless of whether we are left- or right-handed. This seems to be explained partly by the fact that most mothers rock their children upwards and to the left, meaning that the child must lean to the right to nurse or snuggle up. So most of us could have learned to associate warmth, love, and security with leaning to the right.

In fact, it seems that we perceive less love and warmth when we are kissed to the left. There is an attempt to explain this by cerebral lateralization: so it is that leaning to the right exposes our left side, the part controlled by the right hemisphere that is also the most emotional.

In any case, while there are numerous studies confirming this idea, there are others that claim that the preference to lean to the right while kissing may be more of a motor preference than a sentimental one. Who knows, maybe more light will be shed on this matter in the future.

In any case, the most important and unquestionable thing is that, all explanations aside, we end up transmitting a vast quantity of neural and chemical messages through kisses, which we perceive in the form of tactile sensations, sexual arousal, intimacy, affection, etc. 

Image courtesy of Melpomene