As with many milestones in life, your first kiss is often a memorable and exciting occasion.
“I was 17, and the girl I kissed was a friend that I had in high school, and it was a terrific experience,” author William Cane says. “It was exciting because it was the first, and … that lip contact was certainly different from when I had kissed my grandmother or my aunt.”
His first kiss made such an impression that Cane -- a pen name for Michael Christian of New York City -- wrote the popular book The Art of Kissing.
Not everyone remembers their first kiss. Maybe it just wasn’t that special.
“If it was a negative, maybe it's best that it's erased from memory, and you could focus on the other kisses that may be more successful down the road,” Cane says.
Why Kissing Is Important
The exact history of kissing is unclear. For example, we don’t know if early humans kissed or how. Experts have long debated whether it’s an instinct or something that people learn to do.
“Kissing likely arose and disappeared all around the world throughout history for a variety of reasons having to do with human intimacy and bonding,” says Sheril Kirshenbaum, an academic specialist at Michigan State University and author of The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us.
Kissing can serve a bigger purpose than a sign of romantic affection. For example, Kirshenbaum says, it’s an important part of building a bond between mothers and babies.
“Our earliest experiences as infants often involve lip stimulation through being nursed and kissed by our parents,” she says, “and later, we associate these sensations with feelings of love, comfort, and security when we want to express how we feel to someone else.
“Kissing brings two people together like no other behavior,” Kirshenbaum says. “Each partner actively engages all of their senses to learn about the other.”
Marilyn Anderson, author of Never Kiss a Frog: A Girl’s Guide to Creatures From the Dating Swamp, says “it not only bonds you, but it makes you happier, it reduces your stress, it can even help your skin.”
But she warns that when adults build a bond through kissing, it could turn into a problem.
“If you are in the world trying to meet somebody, yes, kissing can certainly tell you if you're compatible with somebody. And what I say in Never Kiss a Frog is, don’t kiss the wrong guy, because it does have this bonding influence on you. If you get too bonded to somebody and he's the wrong guy, you might stay with him too long.”
Health Benefits of Kissing
Locking lips is “nature’s ultimate litmus test,” Kirshenbaum says.
“Our lips are packed with sensitive nerve endings that stimulate a relatively large part of our brain associated with taste, touch, and scent,” she says.
Smooching is a way to gather clues about another person’s suitability as a partner, without knowing that you’re doing it.
It also triggers the release of important chemicals in your brain. “Kissing influences neurotransmitters and hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which also play a significant role in our relationships,” Kirshenbaum says.
Oxytocin, for example, is linked with feelings of closeness, intimacy, and security. Showing affection with people you love can boost oxytocin. When your body releases oxytocin because of physical touch, it can create a base for total-body well-being.
Kissing, hugging, cuddling, and snuggling, even with pets, can make you healthier overall. These things may help you:
Research has found that couples share about 80 million bacteria during a 10-second smooch. But that’s a small percentage of the tens of billions of bacteria that live in the human mouth.
Is There a Right or Wrong Way to Kiss?
Kisses can have a variety of meanings. They’re a way for family and friends to show nonromantic affection. In some cultures, everyone greets each other with pecks on the check or air kisses.
When it comes to romance, there’s no right or wrong way to kiss, says sexologist Claudia Six, PhD, of San Francisco.
“Everybody walks putting one foot in front of the other, but we all look different doing it,” Six says. “Everybody has a way that they walk, and everybody has a way that they kiss.”
Still, you probably have a personal preference.
You might like it when your partner caresses your cheek or gently holds your neck during a kiss. Or you may find a full-body embrace more fulfilling.
“I don't know too many people that would like to be slobbered on, but there are people who kiss and it’s real wet. Some people don't like it,” Anderson says.
But for others, a slobbery kiss may be perfect.
“I think kissing isn't something you can really teach,” Anderson says. “I think if somebody is doing something and you don't like it, you can certainly tell them or try to teach them. But I think that there's a chemistry when two people kiss, and hopefully, you find somebody that that has the chemistry with you.”
Six says the basics of a good kiss are clear to most people: “Brush your teeth, shave. I just say, be present. This is what I always tell people. It's always about ‘how you be.’ It's not about what you do, it's how you be.”
Kirshenbaum boils it down this way: “From soothing a fussy baby to expressing romance, kissing has so many meanings, best interpreted by the people doing it.”