Except for those who are philemophobic (or afraid of kissing), most of us love kissing. We kiss friends hello, kiss lovers goodbye and kiss our children when they fall and get hurt.
While we look at most of our drives and can trace them to evolutionary biology and wanting to keep the species going, the reasons we kiss are a little bit hazier. There is some speculation that women are naturally attracted to men with an opposing immune system, and that we kiss those who balance out what we are missing.
Whatever the reason, kissing does net us some worthwhile health benefits:
1. Kissing lowers stress by elevating levels of serotonin and lowering our cortisol, or “stress hormone” levels.
2. Kissing improves our immunity, not only by helping us deal with stress, but the exchange of low levels of germs can actually give the immune system a little boost. All bets are off if you are kissing someone with the flu!
3. Kissing (really kissing…not a five second peck on the cheek) engages nearly 146 muscles. Besides the obvious use of muscles in the face, kissing engages many of our postural muscles as well.
4. Even the anticipation of being kissed is good for our dental health. As we think about and prepare to be kissed, the increased flow of saliva can reduce the plaque on our teeth.
5. Kissing can also burn off some calories; passionate kissing burns a little over six calories per minute.
On the flip side of the health benefits, Sheril Kirshenbaum has done extensive research on the science of kissing, why we do what we do and how it affects us.
One interesting note from Sheril is that when we kiss someone, we are getting to know her or him with the most sensitive and reactive part of our bodies. Our lips are 100 times more sensitive than our fingertips; this sensitivity combine with their close proximity to so many smell and taste receptors makes for an intense experience and gathering of information about the one we’ve kissed at a deep primal level. When we kiss, we engage five out of our twelve sets of cranial nerves—all of that electrical information bouncing around our brains can give us a dopamine high that rivals cocaine’s.
It’s interesting to compare the chemical reaction of the oxytocin created when we are affectionate with this exciting high. Our first kiss with someone yields a tremendous amount of sensory and pheromonal information; if it’s great, we stick around for more and enjoy finding that balance between the rush of dopamine at the beginning and the soothing effects of oxytocin.
Add up the chemical reactions, the electrical impulses, the immune boost and the fact that it just feels so damn good, and I think we can agree that kissing is good for us:
But, if all of this is running through your head when you are about to kiss someone, you’re doing it wrong!
All of the science in the world can’t adequately describe the way kissing makes us feel; that part is better left to poets and playwrights. Take a cue from all the best scientists and don’t just read about it—do some experimenting of your own.