The Science of Kissing | Sheril Kirshenbaum

Summary of: The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us
By: Sheril Kirshenbaum


The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us, by Sheril Kirshenbaum, dives into the fascinating world of kissing, examining its cultural, biological, and historical significance. The book unveils the diverse purposes humans and animals alike use kissing for, as well as its connection to nursing and premastication, and how it has been used through history as a social marker. The enigmatic world of human olfactory senses comes into play, as the book explores how our immune system and MHC genes influence our mating preferences. Your journey in the realm of kissing will unravel the science behind the pleasurable sensations and the influence of kissing on our relationships.

The Biology of Kissing

The act of kissing is deeply rooted in our biology, starting with the natural use of lips during nursing. Premastication, the process of feeding mouth-to-mouth, also biologically linked positive feelings with lip contact. This practice is still used by humans in some areas for various reasons, including disease prevention. Premastication helps deepen a baby’s feelings of security, attachment and love while transferring the positive association of mouth-to-breast contact to mouth-to-mouth contact, further strengthening the emotional and behavioral foundation for kissing that develops later in life.

The History and Science of Kissing

Kissing is a universal behavior present in humans and animals alike. In the Middle Ages, it was used to seal contracts and mark social status. The use of “x” to represent kisses can be traced back to this time. Animals have kiss-like behaviors that convey trust and strengthen relationships. Kissing can serve different purposes, from signaling a willingness to mate to expressing familial or social bonds. Regardless of the purpose, kissing involves exchanging sensations of taste, touch, and smell.

The Science of Smell and Mate Selection

In the film Back to the Future, the kiss between Marty McFly and his mother may seem taboo, but it is biologically explainable. Special glands in our bodies make our scents unique, and when we seek a mate, we look for someone with a different scent, indicating diverse MHC genes. These genes play a key role in our immune system, and the more diverse they are, the stronger our immune system becomes. Offspring of parents with very different MHC genes have an even stronger immune system. In a famous study, women subconsciously selected the scent of shirts from men with the most different MHC genes from their own, making them the most attractive. Hence, Lorraine’s body sensed that her son was too biologically similar, making the kiss feel wrong. This phenomenon explains why we are naturally inclined to prefer mates with different scents, ensuring successful reproduction.

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