The importance of kissing in relationships is well-documented. In fact, research shows that 59 percent of men and 66 percent of women have found themselves less attracted to a potential partner after a bad first kiss; further, Butler University’s John Bohannon surveyed 500 people and found that most people can remember up to 90 percent of the details of a first romantic kiss. That’s a lot of pressure during the early days of courtship, no?
Whether you refer to it as smooching, snogging, tonsil hockey, or making out, here are some crazy facts about kissing you likely never knew, from the surprising health benefits of locking lips to details on the first-ever kiss in film history.
Kissing can boost your immune system
According to a study from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, a 10-second kiss transfers as many as 80 million bacteria between you and your partner. If the idea makes you want to run to the bathroom to brush your teeth, hold on a moment.
As it turns out, germ exposure can provide a healthy boost to your immune system. “Swapping spit means swapping germs, and that is nature’s natural form of vaccination,” Dr. Yael Varnado, founder of Get Checked 4 Life (a nonprofit organization that provides access to health services for at-risk communities) told Match.com. “Being exposed to others’ germs causes your body to make antibodies against those germs, which can in turn lead to immunity and prevent illness.”
One caveat: Make sure your partner isn’t already sick before you pucker up.
The Guinness World Record for kissing
Think back to the beginning of a relationship, when the butterflies of new attraction meant you could kiss for hours without taking a break. But even the longest of make-out sessions in early courtship can’t compare to the Guinness World Record for longest continuous kiss, set during a 2013 competition in Thailand.
After 58 hours, 35 minutes, and 58 seconds, Ekkachai and Laksana Tiranarat were the last couple standing, winning more than $9,000 in cash and prizes. We don’t know about you, but we have all sorts of questions for the Tiranarats: How much lip balm did they use? Were they allowed to take bathroom breaks? What about naps, not to mention food or even breath mints? Regardless, their achievement is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Kissing can improve your dental health
Dr. Sivan Finkel, who specializes in aesthetic and general dentistry at the Dental Parlour in New York City, told me that increased saliva production generated by kissing can be a boon to your oral health. “Kissing stimulates our salivary glands, and saliva helps buffer the acidity of the oral environment,” Finkel said. “Dental decay is caused by acidic by-products formed when oral bacteria break down carbohydrates. Saliva is relatively basic, so an increase in saliva helps our teeth resist this acidic attack and re-mineralize.”
However, Finkel cautioned against locking lips with anyone who doesn’t brush or floss their teeth as often as they should.
“The double-edged sword [is that] harmful, cavity-causing bacteria are also transferred via kissing, as are some of the bacteria responsible for gum disease,” he said. “So if the person you are kissing has poor oral hygiene — bad breath should be a warning sign! — beware.”
The first kiss in film history
The first kiss in film history was a reenactment of a scene between stage actors May Irwin and John Rice from their Broadway comedy The Widow Jones. Filmed at Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio in New Jersey, The Kiss was released in 1896, a time when kissing in public was “greatly frowned upon” by Victorian society, according to Brain Pickings. The aptly named 23-second clip was banned from public viewing in many areas, and even led the Catholic Church to call for censorship and so-called “moral reform.”
These days, kissing is one of the more chaste acts of love depicted on the silver screen. (Hello, Fifty Shades of Grey!)
Kissing floods your brain with feel-good chemicals
The main benefit of kissing to your physical health and wellness is the release of oxytocin and dopamine, said Kaity Rodriguez, a licensed clinical social worker based in New Jersey. “Oxytocin is the bonding hormone that is also released when mothers nurse their babies, during sex, and even cuddling,” Rodriguez told me. “It makes you feel closer [and] more intimately attached to the individual.”
Dopamine, on the other hand, is the “feel-good hormone,” which helps you experience pleasure and makes you want more, Rodriguez said. Dopamine is responsible for regulating mood, behavior, sleep, and cognition, while also helping with decision-making and creativity.
Kissing can prolong men’s lives and fatten their paychecks
All the health benefits of kissing sound fine and dandy, but do they result in anything tangible when it comes to actual lifespan? As it turns out, the answer is yes — but there’s a catch.
A group of German physicians and psychologists led by Dr. Arthur Szabo found that men who kissed their girlfriends or wives every morning live an average of five years longer than those who don’t. (Sorry, ladies: The study said nothing about women’s longevity.) Further, the team’s research determined that men who got a daily morning smooch miss less work due to illness; have a lower chance of experiencing a car accident on the way to work; and earn 20-30 percent more money every month. At the very least, those wives and girlfriends should definitely get a cut of that added wealth, don’t you think?
Kissing can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol
Andréa Demirjian, author of Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about One of Life’s Sweetest Pleasures, told CNN that “kissing passionately gets your heartbeat revved in a healthy way that helps lower your blood pressure.”
“It dilates your blood vessels,” Demirjian said. “Blood is flowing in a good, solid fashion and getting to all your vital organs.”
Research has also shown that kissing reduces cortisol, a hormone linked to weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Though diet and exercise are touted as the best means of combating such conditions, it certainly doesn’t hurt to add a bit of kissing to your healthy regimen.
Your kissing style develops before you’re even born
When you kiss a partner, do you tilt your head to the left or right? As it turns out, you may not be making that decision consciously.
German researcher Onur Güntürkün, a psychology professor at the Ruhr-University of Bochum in Germany, observed more than 100 kissing couples in various locations in the United States, Germany, and Turkey. He noted that two-thirds of couples tilted their heads to the right while smooching, a preference that likely originates in the womb. “During the final weeks of gestation and for the first six months after birth, babies develop one of the earliest examples of ‘behavioral asymmetry’ — turning their heads to the left or the right,” Wired‘s Kristen Philipkoski wrote in an article about the study.
Something to think about the next time you pucker up.
Kissing can help you find ‘the one’
Great kissing is undoubtedly an important part of a relationship, but once again, science says locking lips does a lot more than indicate sexual compatibility — it can let us know when we’ve found someone suitable for a long-term partnership. Based on statistical analysis of 40,000 people on dating website Chemistry.com along with other scientists’ research, Rutgers University biological anthropologist Helen Fisher concluded that people are drawn to others with “particular biological profiles.”
Kissing might be one way to assess someone’s profile, thanks to the exchange of saliva that occurs during the act, Fisher said at an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. As unsexy as it sounds, the hormones present in spit can subconsciously tell us whether someone is a good mate.
“There’s evidence that saliva has testosterone in it, and there’s also evidence that men like sloppier kisses with more open mouth,” Fisher said. “That suggests to me that they are unconsciously trying to transfer testosterone to trigger the sex drive in women.”
Kissing uses a surprising number of muscles
In addition to burning up to 26 calories per minute — a rate reserved for the most passionate of smooching — kissing can involve upwards of 30 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles, according to the American Journal of Medicine blog. Further, kissing can help smooth lines and wrinkles, tighten muscles in your neck and jaw, and boost circulation to your face, which can help you achieve that sought-after glow.
It’s certainly a good excuse to engage in regular make-out sessions, even as we age.
Kissing can relieve stress
According to the American Institute of Stress, roughly three-quarters of Americans experience physical and psychological symptoms caused by stress. One-third even feel like they’re living with “extreme stress.” Jeannie Assimos, chief of advice at eHarmony, said such chronic stress can increase your cortisol levels.
“To this end, researchers have been interested in whether interpersonal behaviors, such as kissing, may have benefits to help alleviate problems of stress that many of us face,” Assimos told me. She referenced a 2009 study in which half of 52 participants — all of whom were married or living with partners — were instructed to “kiss each other more often and for longer periods of time than you typically do right now.” The other participants weren’t given any special instructions.
“After six weeks, the results showed that those who kissed their partners more had lower stress, a decrease in cholesterol, and higher relationship satisfaction,” Assimos said. “[The] researchers explained that exchanging affectionate communication with your partner can help produce calm and reassuring feelings. Combined with other research, this literature shows that touch and physical affection in general can help decrease responses to stressful situations. So the next time you are feeling stressed out, try kissing your partner … it may help to improve your health as well as your relationship.”
Kissing in public could get you arrested in some states
Though it’s highly doubtful kissing will result in jail time in the United States, some older laws regarding the act of affection remain on the books in various states and cities. For example, apparently Iowa men with mustaches can never kiss women in public; in Hartford, Conn., men dare not kiss their wives on Sundays; in Colorado, sleeping women are off-limits when it comes to kissing.
If we’re being honest, the Colorado law makes sense — no one should kiss another person without their permission.
The fear of kissing is known as philemaphobia
Don’t laugh: The fear of kissing is a real thing. Officially known as philemaphobia, the fear of kissing is “common among young and inexperienced kissers who are afraid of doing something wrong,” though it can be severe at any age.
The phobia can be caused by various factors, including a fear of germs, a fear of bodily odors, a fear of touch itself, or a fear of intimacy. Since severe philemaphobia can affect one’s overall well-being and ability to pursue romantic relationships, the condition may require treatment.
The origins of kissing
Behavior analyst Jaqueline Moreno describes French kissing as “passionate, deep, amorous kissing that involves lovers touching their tongues to each other’s lips and inside their mouths.” The phrase itself came from British and American soldiers returning home from Europe after World War I, who “kissed their women and girlfriends in the amorous way they saw the French kiss their women,” Moreno told AskMen.
But before French kissing got its name, the act of kissing itself evolved from sniffing, according to Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of The Science of Kissing. Centuries ago, people commonly used smell to “determine a person’s mood, their health, and their social status,” Kirshenbaum told the Huffington Post.
“There were a lot of sniff greetings,” Kirshenbaum said. “They would brush the nose across the face, because there are scent glands on our faces, and over time the brush of the face became a brush of the lips, and the social greeting was born that way.”
Pucker up, buttercup
Despite the plethora of studies and experts cited in this article, there’s one thing about kissing science has yet to crack — and that’s how, exactly, to be a good kisser. While magazines like Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health may claim to have the answers, there’s really only two surefire ways to make sure you’re kissing your partner in a way that brings them to their (metaphorical) knees: 1) Ask them what they want, and 2) Practice makes perfect.