Kiss and tell

The Kiss
The KissCourtesy WTL photos
For many of us Valentine's Day stirs up feelings of love and romance. For others it's an opportunity to toss a wet blanket on everybody's fun by scientifically analyzing what a kiss tells us. That's right a kiss. That simple pressing of one's lips to those of another in a clear demonstration of affection and esteem. We've all experienced it. It's a very human, very sensual activity, practiced by 90 percent of humanity.

But evidently it also serves as a great mechanism to weed out the dweebs and losers from the dating pool.

Well, it wasn''t quite put it that way, but a researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey says a kiss is a powerful tool for letting you know quite quickly if that person who is the object of your affection will be suitable for spousal or "significant other" purposes.

"I think it is a tool for mate assessment," said Helen Fisher, a Rutgers anthropologist. "When you kiss, you can touch, see, feel, taste somebody. A huge part of our brain lights up." Fisher gave her analysis at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held this weekend in Chicago.

But it's apparently not the only use for kissing.

Primarily it has to do with the sex drive. Male saliva contains testosterone, and sloppy kisses - which generally men seem to prefer - may be an unconscious attempt to trigger the female sex drive and make her more receptive. Also, kissing - at least early in a relationship - stimulates dopamine production, which makes everyone feel good and hopefully romantic. And the occasional lip-lock also helps promote pair bonding. "At least until long enough to have children," Fisher added.

Of course if you don't pass the initial screening - that first kiss - don't even waste your time worrying about any of the other functions. You're out of the competition and might as well stop off at the 7-11 on the way to your empty apartment and buy yourself a quart of Cherry Garcia for you and your cats.

"This is a real assessment tool - and can be highly positive or highly negative," Fisher said. "In one study, 66% of women and 59% of men had experienced a first kiss which killed the relationship. It was the kiss of death."

BBC story

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

iowaboy's picture
iowaboy says:

is it really a good idea to use terms like 'dweebs and losers' in this or ANY article on this site?
those are definitely demeaning and judgmental terms. and why is this article allowed to post that mentions sex? this is supposed to be a family-oriented site. is there anywhere that we can get away from the constant bombardment of sex talk?

posted on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 3:13pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Oh, iowaboy, we're ALL dweebs and losers here. I am, anyway, and I've got no problem with the use of those terms.

Also, regarding sex...
Heck, if anything we should have MORE discussion of sex! Sex sex sex. More than anything else, this is a science site, and, as mdr has demonstrated, science is swimming in sex. Or sex is swimming in science. Either way, biology, chemistry, and sex are tightly linked.

Obviously we don't want people to post inappropriate or deliberately offensive material here, but, again, if you ignore anything that has to do with... sex... you're going to miss out on a lot of important biology (science).

If you're looking for a space to avoid the constant bombardment of sex talk, I highly recommend this site. It's one of the very few sex-free areas on the Internet.

posted on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 4:22pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I think that last sex-free outpost you linked to is either a dead-link or has been shut down due to lack of interest.

posted on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 4:41pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Oh, I'd say it's still exactly as sex-free as it was when I... discovered it.

posted on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 4:48pm
iowaboy's picture
iowaboy says:

jgordon, your argument lacks credibility when you say the word 'sex' 3 times in a row. it also shows a lack of maturity.
i am quite aware of how sex is a big part of ONE science- biology. but not in physics or chemistry. what was a big part of chemistry class? learning the periodic table of the elements. this isn't just a BIOLOGY site, but a SCIENCE site.
when i say this should be a family-oriented site, it's because i know how it isn't just adults that see what's posted here- but also kids. and sex education shouldn't be a part of what this site is about. kids have PLENTY of places to learn about sex- like in health class, or from parents.
and kissing- and sex- has LITTLE, if anything, to do with having successful relationships. it's only ONE part of the relationships, not the end-all be-all. i went to high school with a guy who once asked, 'is there anything else besides sex?' yes, absolutely.

ever heard the stats from divorces? couples argue more about MONEY than anything else. while money can't buy love, it's also true that love doesn't pay bills.
and are we ALL dweebs and losers? no, not even close.

posted on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 3:41pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Ok, iowaboy, I'll cross you off my "dweebs and losers" list. I'm asking everyone else who is neither a dweeb nor a loser to contact me and let me know as well—we'll treat this like the "do not call" list. I'm comfortable being called a dweeb and a loser, but I don't want to offend anyone by assuming the same for them.

Sex is a super important part of biology. I'm glad we agree there, but I have to disagree with you about chemistry. I mean, did you read MDR's post? Chemistry can't be divorced from biology or from sex. All these processes in our bodies—they aren't just constructs, dude. We aren't shadow puppets. We are sizzling bundles of chemical reactions, thousands and thousands of them all the time. I mean, we turn one chemical into another, we bind them together, we break them apart, we use them for energy. Every function and feeling we experience is thanks to chemistry (and if you really get down to the basic mechanics of it, physics) from eating and breathing to our abilities to feel emotions and make memories.

If we were just lonely organic molecules in the primordial ocean, yeah, reproduction would be simple straightforward chemistry. But as it is, as awesome, weird, complex humans, we rely on sex.

Sex sex sex sex.

And you're totally right—we can't say that sex is all we are, or the be all, end all of our relationships. There's shared experience, and love, and money, and all that stuff you mentioned. But the mechanics of how and why we do what we do comes down to biology and chemistry.

This isn't porn. It's not even 8th grade sex ed. The post wasn't meant to be titillating or instructional (sorry MDR, if it was supposed to be and I missed it). It's about the chemical and biological activity that's happening when a couple of human organisms get attracted to each other.

The word sex itself isn't necessarily bad or inappropriate, right? It's all about the context, I suppose. And I think most science buzz folks try to put it in a reasonable—if lighthearted—and educational context.

PS—I am totally immature. There's very little to be done about it. But, please, be understanding and give me some time. I think I'm getting better.

posted on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 4:22pm
DO's picture
DO says:

Iowaboy: last time I checked biology wasconsidered a science but I suppose I could wrong. I'm a social scientist myself and we are all into people and their behavior.

posted on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 4:50pm
iowaboy's picture
iowaboy says:

i say it's a good idea to revisit the original article, and the comments given in THAT even undercut itself. this starts with 'tossing a wet blanket on everybody's fun by scientifically analyzing what a kiss tells us'. does everything have to be analyzed, sceintifically or otherwise? no. this would be called 'analysis paralysis'. sometimes it means just going with your gut feeling.
even the writer says 'it doesn't quite put it that way' when referring to a rutgers researcher about how it seems to be great mechanism to weed out dweebs and losers in the dating pool'. if one is going to quote somebody, be fair and avoid using words that won't score you points in a debate. those kinds of words are much more likely to work in getting laughs at a comedy club, but this ISN'T a comedy club.
it is silly and shallow to say that a kiss is the ultimate deal breaker. or put, another way, it is inane to base a relationship on just one kiss. some women complain about being the victim of 'bait and switch', proving that- as expected- the methods used to find a mate are an inexact science.
as for jgordon's argument, it sounds like he is saying that everything somehow relates back to sex, which is the sigmund freud school of though, a tired, old, outdated philosophy. his theories are still controversial, and people can't agree on if he was a brilliant man or a sex-obsessed cocaine addict. alfred kinsey also studied sex, but he lacked credibility due to being obsessed with it and being just plain reckless.
the word 'sex' alone isn't necessarily dirty, this is true. but, alas, it's all in the usage. 'sexy' means attractive, so it's fine. but all too often, 'sex' is a word that becomes vulgar. there are sex crimes, predators, offenders, sex slaves, etc.
and saying 'it's not porn' is way too low of a standard for what's acceptable and what isn't- on this site or anywhere else. kids visit this site, my argument is still that discussion of sex on this site- for that reason- is really not the best place for it. there are standards to be met, like why 'jerry springer' is shown late at night due to the overwhelming adult content. some would call it 'smut'.
i seriously doubt that jgordon has had to explain sex to kids before. many adults dread having to do that, when asked where babies come from. it's why the stork was a popular myth for a long time as to how babies arrived. either way, his argument still lacks credibility by saying the word 'sex' 4 times in a row, up from 3 earlier. if her wants to see discussions of sex, try NYC. i hear they have a sex museum there.
i've been to the science museum, and didn't see one exhibit related to sex there. there likely are legal ramifications that prevent that, as well there should be. i saw things like a gravity well and the history of diseases/ epidemics. how well would it go over if an exhibit said 'hey kids! want to learn about sex?' not well- they would get sued. so even the science museum doesn't believe it is their place to discuss sex- or try to teach kids about it.
there was the 'body worlds' exhibit, but that wasn't age-appropriate for kids, and i didn't see any kids there anyway. since it covered all parts of the body, including private parts.
what sets humans apart from the animals is that we have brains, if we decide to use them to act on things that might be dangerous and illegal. this would be called 'inhibitions'.

posted on Fri, 04/17/2009 - 5:01pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Hmm. I think we may have to agree to disagree here, iowaboy, on account of some basic philosophical differences between us. But this has been a good discussion!

I'll have to consult with the Science Buzz lawyers, but I'm not sure about the status of the legal issues you mention regarding the display of "sexual" subject matter in the museum. It's something to look into—even our mummy, after all, is only half-clothed (the right half, I believe), and finding appropriate coverings may be a challenge for the conservation staff. I suspect, though, that the issue may have more to do with the museum's awareness of the sensitivities of its visitors, rather than the potential for legal repercussions. So for the time being, I'm going to leave further decisions in this area up to museum management. I trust their judgment implicitly.

Just as a side point however, I thought I'd mention that I spent literally hundreds and hundreds of hours in the Body Worlds exhibit, and I saw thousands and thousands of children go through it. They really seemed to do okay! That's encouraging, isn't it?


as for jgordon's argument, it sounds like he is saying that everything somehow relates back to sex, which is the sigmund freud school of though, a tired, old, outdated philosophy.

I don't know... you should see me eat a hot dog!

posted on Sat, 04/18/2009 - 2:46pm
iowaboy's picture
iowaboy says:

as for DO, i didn't say that biology WASN'T a science. it's like discussion of religion: not all christians are catholic, but all catholics are christian. not all sciences are biology, but biology is a science.

posted on Fri, 04/17/2009 - 5:03pm
hih's picture
hih says:

I mean seariously u 2 give it up already

posted on Sat, 04/18/2009 - 7:24pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Mr. Iowaboy:
Who says this isn't a comedy club? Have you ever read any of JGordon's posts? Also, you said, "what sets humans apart from the animals is that we have brains". Well that's just wrong. Most other animals have brains. Maybe you meant to say we humans have minds, which give us the ability to reason and comprehend abstract thoughts. But even then some higher animals have exhibited thought processes and problem solving. I guess I don't know what you meant, so maybe you could elaborate.

The whole point of the Kiss and Tell research is that a single kiss (via taste, smell, chemistry, etc.) can help an individual weed out those potential mates that don't live up to their particular standards. Those weeded out individuals would be considered the "losers" in that particular mating contest, because they don't have the desired characteristics for that particular contest. However, these very same "losers" will move on to another mating contest where their particular attributes could make them winners. How quaint.

"Dweebs" is defined on the Free Online Dictionary as "A person regarded as socially inept or foolish, often on account of being overly studious." (Another site claims the word originated as an acronym for "dick with eyebrows" but let's not go there). The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says "dweeb" is slang for "an unattractive, insignificant, or inept person." But remember: unattractiveness is in the eye of the beholder. A person with such attributes could, in some cases, be a winner, if the searching individual were also dweebish in nature. See how it all works out in the end?

Basically, the other aspects of a relationship are secondary to reproduction. If two individuals can find each other, have sex, reproduce, and raise children into sexual maturity (who then reproduce), then as far as the highly scientific Natural Selection is concerned, their usefulness is of no further consequence. They can go broke, get divorced, or retire to Florida to wither away in the sunshine, whatever. It doesn't matter.

I think this all brings us back to your "humans have brains" statement. Perhaps you meant we are different because we have brains that allow us to make choices. That might make some sense because we make choices by taking in data through our senses, analyzing it, and choosing the best option for our particular situation. Some analysis is conscious, some subconscious, but all help make a decision.

Sounds exactly like what happens during a single kiss.

posted on Sun, 04/19/2009 - 12:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

he he he

posted on Sun, 04/19/2009 - 4:34pm

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