Until fairly recently, scientists have assumed that a key purpose of kissing is to prepare a couple for intercourse by promoting sexual arousal. But recent research shows that while arousal may result from kissing, the purpose of kissing is more about assessing the other person’s suitability as a mate initially. Later it’s about maintaining pair bonds in a relationship. Examining a person’s kissing behavior can tell us a lot about their relationship intentions.
In Examining the Possible Functions of Kissing in Romantic Relationships, experimental psychologists at Oxford University evaluated attitudes about kissing, relationships and self-rated attractiveness among 900 participants. The study focused on three different areas long associated with kissing.
Evaluate Suitability of Mate
Scientists believe that kissing may:
- Use pheromonal cues to assess genetic compatibility.
- Provide clues about general health and genetic fitness.
- Convey menstrual cycle and fertility data.
- Solicit information from saliva compounds and skin oils.
But they’re still not sure:
“It is unclear whether kissing aids in the process of mate assessment by facilitating the evaluation of pheromonal cues for overall health, genetic fitness, or menstrual cycle phase and fertility, or alternatively by aiding gustatory assessment of skin oils and saliva compounds.”
Promote Feelings of Attachment in Couples
Kissing plays an important role in other stages of relationships. Long after people select one another as sexual partners, kissing serves a valuable function in maintaining pair bonds.
Initiate Sexual Intercourse by Promoting Arousal
The researchers found that while arousal may occur as a result of kissing, it “was not a driving factor associated with the prevalence of kissing.”
Both men and women agree that kissing is “the type of physical affection most expressive of love.” (Gulledge et al, 2003).
1. Those most selective about sexual partners put more emphasis on kissing to initially assess mates.
- Subjects with high mate value
- Casual sex seekers
These subjects were more likely to experience a change in attraction after kissing.
Less selective parties emphasized early kissing less:
- Subjects with low mate value
- Long-term relationship seekers
2. Those with low sociosexuality prioritized kissing throughout a relationship and valued it more highly overall than those with high sociosexuality.
Subjects with a low sociosexual orientation are generally more inclined toward long-term relationships rather than casual encounters. Subjects with a high degree of sociosexuality display a preference for short-term mating.
3. Differences existed between men and women.
Men are more likely to initiate kissing before sex as a means of stimulating arousal. Women are more likely to initiate kissing after sex, when it serves the purpose of promoting pair-bonding and maintaining the relationship.
Women value kissing more than men, but sociosexual orientation only produces differences among men:
|Scale: 1-5||Females||Females Hi SOI||Females Lo SOI||Males||Males Hi SOI||Males Lo SOI|
|Importance of kissing in romantic situations||4.17||4.17||4.18||3.83||3.96||3.70|
|Importance of kissing at non-sexual times||3.39||3.16|
Not surprisingly, subjects with high SOI value kissing more early on, and less over time. The opposite is true for those with low SOI.
|Scale: 1-5||Hi SOI||Lo SOI|
|Importance of initial kissing||4.14||3.82|
|Importance of kissing throughout relationship||4.00||4.04|
4. Subjects feel differently about kissing short-term vs. long-term sexual partners.
Both the importance of kissing and its timing varied depending on whether sex was between casual partners or relationship partners.
“Another interaction effect was found between romantic partner type and time around sex, with post hoc pairwise comparisons (adjusted for multiple tests, all differences significant at p < .001) indicating that overall kissing was seen as much more important with long-term partners than with short-term partners.”
|Importance of Kissing|
|Casual Partner||Long-term Partner|
5. Relationship satisfaction depended heavily on kissing, and not on frequency of sex.
The following factors have a positive effect on relationship quality:
- Partner is a good kisser
- Frequent kissing
- Satisfaction with the amount of kissing
- Satisfaction with the amount of sexual intercourse
However, frequency of sexual intercourse “was not significantly related to relationship quality.”
“In our study we found that the frequency of more “intimate” partner activities (i.e., sexual intercourse) had no effect on relationship satisfaction—suggesting that there may be something unique about romantic kissing that affects attachment and satisfaction to a greater degree than more physiologically arousing behaviors such as intercourse.”
There’s a lot you can tell about a person by kissing them. There’s all the data your subconscious collects in ways scientists don’t yet understand completely. But more strategically, you can get a general sense of someone’s sociosexual orientation by assessing their attitudes about kissing, as well as their kissing behavior.
For example, an unwillingness or disinterest in kissing after sex signals a more short-term view of relationships. So does infrequent kissing during non-sexual times.
The most selective people put more emphasis on kissing initially, but keep in mind that people looking for a one-night stand tend to be more selective for certain traits, while ignoring characteristics unrelated to short-term mating. At the same time, the person who views you as a short-term partner is much less likely to engage in kissing behavior.
Sex differences exist between men and women, but even greater differences exist between those who are restricted vs. unrestricted sociosexually. You’re likely to get better information early on by focusing on behaviors that reveal sociosexual orientation. A person’s relationship and sexual histories are generally good indicators.
If both sexes agree that kissing is the best way to physically express love, then it’s your job to filter out the people who are looking to express something other than love. Let’s discuss!