Kissing is a uniquely human trait that’s said to have emerged as a way to pass germs from one person to another, ultimately building immunity. But that’s rather unromantic, isn’t it? While it seems plausible that kissing would have an underlying biological function, there’s also no denying its role in bonding… or overall health.
Kissing not only feels good, it’s good for you. It relieves stress and releases epinephrine into your blood, making it pump faster, which may result in a reduction of LDL cholesterol. Kissing may even be a novel way to receive certain hormones, like testosterone:
“'Mucous membranes inside the mouth are permeable to hormones such as testosterone. Through open-mouth kissing, men introduced testosterone into a woman’s mouth,' which 'is absorbed through the mucous membranes… and increases arousal and the likelihood that she will engage in reproductive behavior.”
Interestingly, Andréa Demirjian, author of Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about One of Life's Sweetest Pleasures, believes “a kiss a day really can keep the doctor away.” And she recently shared eight reasons why with CNN:
1. Reduce Your Blood Pressure
Kissing helps to dilate your blood vessels, which may help lower your blood pressure.
2. Relieve Cramps and Headaches
The blood-vessel-dilation effect described above also helps to relieve pain, particularly from headache or menstrual cramps.
3. Fight Cavities
When you kiss, saliva production increases in your mouth, and this helps to wash away plaque on your teeth that may lead to cavities. That said, cavity-causing bacteria can also be transmitted via a kiss, especially if the person you’re kissing has poor oral habits. It’s even been shown that cavity-causing bacteria can spread from a mother’s kiss to her baby.
4. Release Your Happy Hormones
Kissing prompts your brain to release a happy elixir of feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. This isn’t only important for your happiness, it also may also help to strengthen your relationship. As MSN reported:
“’This [oxytocin] is the hormone of love, and the better the oxytocin levels, the more capacity for love,’ explains psychotherapist Arthur Janov, Ph.D., author of ‘The Biology of Love’ and the director of the Primal Center in Santa Monica, Calif. ‘We have found that those who cannot commit in a love relationship are low in oxytocin.’”
Interestingly, kissing activates the same areas in your brain linked to reward and addiction. According to the researchers who revealed this finding:
“Kissing may have evolved as a way to stimulate brain systems associated with sex drive, romantic love, and attachment so that humans are triggered to seek a variety of potential mates, then focus attention on one for mating, and finally be able to tolerate that mate long enough to raise a child as a team.”
Your lips are also densely packed with sensory neurons, which are stimulated by the touch of another’s lips. This prompts the release of sebum, which is thought to play a role in bonding.
5. Burn Calories
It’s not going to replace your workout session… but a vigorous kiss may burn 8-16 calories. Not too shabby for a kiss.
6. Boost Your Self-Esteem
One study found that men who received a passionate kiss before they left for work earned more money. This suggests the kiss (and perhaps the happy home-life it suggests) makes people happier, boosts self-esteem and, ultimately, more productive at work.
7. Tone Your Facial Muscles
A vigorous kiss helps you shape up your neck and jawline by working out a number of facial muscles.
8. Check Out Your Partner’s Compatibility
A kiss can be a powerful measure of your initial attraction to a person, so much so that the majority of men and women surveyed reporting that a first kiss could be a turn-off. Women, in particular, place more importance on kissing as a “mate assessment device” and as a means of “initiating, maintaining, and monitoring the current status of their relationship with a long-term partner.”
Kissing May Even Boost Your Immune System and Provide Significant Stress Relief
The average person spends more than 20,000 minutes of their life kissing, and for very good reason. In addition to the benefits above, kissing has been shown to boost your immune system and reduce allergic responses in people with skin or nasal allergies.
Separate research also revealed that people who spent six weeks making kissing a priority with their partners reported significant decreases in their levels of stress. In addition to improvements in stress, the kissing participants also reported greater relationship satisfaction and improvements in total cholesterol.
There may actually be an even more primal reason for why “kissing” developed, however. Because some cultures don’t include kissing in their mating rituals, it’s possible the first kiss was given by a mother to her child rather than being shared between a couple.
Psychologists conjecture that kiss-feeding – exchanging pre-masticated food from one mouth to another -- was how babies received the nutrients needed to grow up strong and healthy either in addition to, or after, breastfeeding. This jump starts the digestion process and makes vitamins like B-12 more easily absorbable while also promoting attachment and bonding.
Taking Kissing to the Next Level: Sex Is Healthful, Too
Kissing can be a prelude to sex, which has many of the same health benefits of kissing magnified. Men and women tend to regard kissing in this realm differently, with men being more likely to initiate kissing before sex and women more likely to do so afterward. As reported by Psychology Today:
“Women use the intensity and frequency of kissing to evaluate a man’s suitability for short-term relationships as well as judging the potential of a short-term relationship evolving into a long-term relationship. Men use kissing, especially in short-term relationships, to increase the likelihood of having sex.”
I recently featured an entire article on the 11 health benefits of sex, so you can review that for all of the details. For starters, here are the top five:
1. Improved Immunity
People who have sex frequently (one or two times a week) have significantly higher levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA). Your IgA immune system is your body's first line of defense. Its job is to fight off invading organisms at their entry points, reducing or even eliminating the need for activation of your body's immune system. This may explain why people who have sex frequently also take fewer sick days.
2. Heart Health
Men who made love regularly (at least twice a week) were 45 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who did so once a month or less, according to one study. Sexual activity not only provides many of the same benefits to your heart as exercise, but also keeps levels of estrogen and testosterone in balance, which is important for heart health.
3. Lower Blood Pressure
Sexual activity, and specifically intercourse, is linked to better stress response and lower blood pressure.
4. It’s a Form of Exercise
Sex helps to boost your heart rate, burn calories, and strengthen muscles, just like exercise. In fact, research revealed that sex burns about four calories a minute for men and three for women, making it (at times) a “significant” form of exercise. It can even help you to maintain your flexibility and balance.
5. Pain Relief
Sexual activity releases pain-reducing hormones and has been found to help reduce or block back and leg pain, as well as pain from menstrual cramps, arthritis and headaches. One study even found that sexual activity can lead to partial or complete relief of headache in some migraine and cluster-headache patients.
Whether sex, kissing, or even hugging, these forms of affection have primal, biological roots that impact our bodies, typically in a beneficial way, even in the modern-day. So grab your partner today, give him or her a smooch, and embrace this fact: kissing can provide for a longer, healthier and, most would agree, more enjoyable life.