What’s in a Kiss?


In the words of the song by Gilbert O Sullivan –

“What’s in a kiss
Have you ever wondered just what it is
More perhaps than just a moment of bliss
Tell me what’s in a kiss”

Well first off, Sheril Kirshenbaum says in her book – The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us, that kissing has evolved to fulfil three essential needs – the sex drive, romantic love and attachment.  She suggests that these needs are primarily firstly to attract a mate then to secure a mate and then essentially to hold onto the mate. Now I don’t know about you but this all sounds very clinical and not terribly romantic which got me to thinking, is it the whole story?

Lucky for me there is a whole branch of science dedicated to the study of kissing which may serve to open up the topic a little more…

The study of the science of kissing is called Philematology – yep  I know,  crazy that this even exists but the good thing is, there are a number of scientists studying it, and as I found out there is quite a lot to know about it…

In his brief study in 2012, Joseph Alpert asserts that passionate kissing can involve as many as 23 – 34 facial muscles and can burn between 5 – 26 calories per minute.  So, maybe it’s time to ditch the heavy cardio work out in favour of a good old-fashioned snog! But can you still get those all-important feel good endorphins from snogging?

Well, the good news is that renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher suggests that you can… Over the course of 40 years of research she has found that during the act of kissing, not only do we share saliva, which contains testosterone which in turn enhances our sex drive – (possibly then increasing your passion in the kissing!!) but that the kissing itself, stimulates both dopamine and oxytocin hormones in the brain. Yep…those powerhouse hormones which enhance those good feelings of happiness are triggered through good old-fashioned kissing!! Now you didn’t really need me to tell you that did you – as anyone who has been passionately involved in some heavy petting will know that these actions and feelings go hand in hand.

But did you know that the humble kiss also improves bonding and attachment? Oh yes, you heard me, improves bonding and attachment…that marvellous hormone oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” as it induces feelings of affection and bonding as it hits the reward centre in the brain. What’s not to like?

So, it looks as if the act of kissing has such good vibes that you can’t seem to go wrong – just as well that we are drawn to doing it. But the benefits don’t stop there…Oh no – Floyd et al (2009) assert in their study, that the benefits of kissing not only improved the quality of long-term relationships, but they had the added bonus of reducing cholesterol levels in the blood. In this same study couples also reported feeling less stressed by indulging in 15 minutes of kissing per day.  OMG are you serious – lowering cholesterol and stress levels just through snogging!

One final titbit of science I also picked up – (this one’s for the men) was that men who kissed their wives every morning live five times longer and make more money  than those who fail to observe this morning ritual… Who knew that there were so many positive gains to be had from kissing!

All this is of course good to know as you embark on your newly wedded life or indeed equally important if you want to maintain that relationship for the long haul. Is it any wonder then, that a kiss is often such an important part of the ceremony of a wedding – those famous words “you may kiss the bride” or more readily these days, “you may kiss one another” is a vitally important part of everyone’s wedding celebration. That kiss holds within it the power to meet those three fundamental needs within each and every one of us (Sheril Kirshenbaum 2012). The power to charge those endorphins to give us those feel good feelings and to lower both our cholesterol and cortisol levels not to mention burning off a few extra calories while we’re about it and extending life itself!

So, next time you are at a wedding and the celebrant says those immortal words just remember that it’s so much more than just a kiss…



Philematology: The Science of Kissing. A Message for the Marital Month of June. Joseph. S.Alpert., (2012) American Journal of Medicine

Sheril Kirshenbaum. The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us. Grand Central Publishing. (2011).

Kory Floyd, Justin P. Boren, Annegret F. Hannawa, Colin Hesse, Breanna McEwan & Alice E. Veksler (2009) Kissing in Marital and Cohabiting Relationships: Effects on Blood Lipids, Stress, and Relationship Satisfaction, Western Journal of Communication, 73:2, 113-133, DOI: 10.1080/10570310902856071


Dr. Helen Fisher: “Anatomy of Love” | Talks At Google •Dec 7, 2016


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