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Health & Sex

What's So Great About Kissing?

A serious, tongue-tangling kiss triggers a whole spectrum of physiological processes that can boost your immunity and generally spruce up that body you work so hard to keep attractive.
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Birds, Bees, and More continued...

Kissing is a very investigatory process, Fisher explains.

"By the time you're kissing someone, you're right up next to them, you are in their personal space," she says. "That in itself means you have trusted them. You're also learning quite a bit about them -- you touch them, smell them, taste them, see the expressions on their face, learn something about their health status, learn a great deal about their intentions."

The brain contains "a huge amount of receptors devoted to picking sensations from the lips," Fisher says. "When people have been stabbed in the back, they often don't know it. They think someone has pounded them with their fist, because there aren't many receptor sites for nerve endings."

Why? All these sensors aid our survival. They direct a baby toward milk; they helped our ancestors -- for millions of years -- to discern whether their food was poisonous or not. "The mouth is absolutely essential to survival -- everything passes through there, and if it's the wrong thing, you're cooked," she says.

"The receptors on the lips are incredible," she tells WebMD. "I've heard hookers say they would rather copulate with somebody than kiss them because the intensity of kissing somebody is so meaningful. There's tremendous intimacy. ... Even the genitals do not have the sensitivity that the lips have."

The Bonding Power of Locking Lips

For man and animals, kissing is a bonding behavior, she says. "There are all kinds of social reasons that humans and animals kiss, and they don't all have to do with sex. Most cultures in the world do kiss sexually. [But some] peoples in South America, some in the Himalaya Mountains, do not kiss. They find it revolting to exchange saliva."

Kissing also engenders touch, often called "the mother of the senses, because of its power," says Fisher. "We know that massaging someone produces increased levels of oxytocin, which is a calming hormone. So there's every reason to think kissing is extremely calming, if you know the person well, or extremely stimulating if you are in love with somebody."

Studies of rodents -- voles, specifically -- have shown that oxytocin makes a mother vole become attached to its offspring, says Larry Young, PhD, professor of psychiatry in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Emory University Medical School in Atlanta.

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