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You’re enjoying a romantic, candlelit Valentine’s Day dinner outside — perhaps removing your face masks for each other for the first time in person. The conversation is just as titillating as it was in your many flirtatious online chats. Your date looks like a double for your celebrity crush and smells irresistible, too. Above your patio table, the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie, and you long to lean in and ... osculate.
Wow, could a word be any less sexy? “Osculation” is the scientific word for “kissing,” which is studied by smooch researchers called philematologists (philos in ancient Greek = “earthly love”). Turns out some people have spent careers puzzling about why humans lock lips — bonobos and chimps are the only other species in the animal kingdom to do so.
Though kissing was first mentioned in print in 3,500-year-old Sanskrit scriptures, some philematologists believe our proclivity to peck comes from age-old babyhood practices of nursing or “kiss feeding,” in which a mother pre-chews food and feeds it to her child mouth-to-mouth. These initial bonding moments spark the release of oxytocin, a.k.a. “the love hormone,” and may lay down powerful neural pathways that forever associate lip contact with feeling all warm and fuzzy.
OK, that may be a little TMI before a smooch session. However, kisses themselves may be the epitome of TMI. The saliva swapped during a kiss is “full of hormones and other compounds that may provide a way of chemically assessing mate suitability” for heterosexuals, as reported in Smithsonian Magazine.
Rafael Wlodarski, a postdoctoral researcher with Oxford University’s social and evolutionary neuroscience research group, has discovered that women especially value kissing early in a relationship and are more likely to say an unsavory first kiss is a deal-breaker.
According to Wlodarski, “Women have to be more selective because they face greater consequences when they make a poor mating decision — like having to carry a baby for nine months.” (Yup, says every mom.)
So what puts a kiss on a naughty list — in a bad way? “I would hazard a guess that if someone thinks someone is a bad kisser it’s because their smell wasn’t right,” says Wlodarski.
Older research by Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind backs this up. As summarized on CNN, Wedekind found that “... women prefer the scents of men with a complementary set of genes that code for the immune system. The benefit may be that if children come along down the line, they would be well-equipped to ward off disease.” Kisses offer a nose-to-nose chance to subliminally sniff someone out for DNA compatibility.
You can't easily change the chemical compounds in your spit or your immune system’s DNA — and you may be waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine before you snog someone new. But once you're ready to kiss, here's how you can put your best lips forward. (Psst! These tips are also true for long-time lip-lockers.)
Don’t spin the bottle when it comes to your dental hygiene. After all, a 10-second French kiss can transfer 80 million bacteria — and you don’t want them to be the kind that cause bad breath and gum disease.
So keep a daily date with Cocofloss and also gently brush your teeth, gums, and tongue twice a day for two minutes each time. The song “Kiss” by Prince is about 3.5 minutes — just about the right amount of time to load up your toothbrush with flouride paste, give your teeth and gums a loving massage, and blow yourself some well-timed kisses in the mirror.
Nothing says “stay away” like stinky breath. Caused by gas-emitting bacteria that release stinky compounds, halitosis may be the result of neglecting your oral health. So the first line of defense is regular flossing and brushing.
Combine these basics with choosing antioxidant-rich foods that neutralize smelly sulfuric compounds by deterring the growth of bad bacteria. These include green tea, apples, and spinach. Learn more in our blog post, “How to Get Kissably Fresh Breath.”
Your lips are your most exposed erogenous zone. According to Sheril Kirshenbaum, the author of The Science of Kissing, lips are “packed with sensitive nerve endings, [so] even a light brush sends a cascade of information to our brains helping us to decide whether we want to continue and what might happen next.”
If your lips feel like sandpaper, it may tell your partner it’s time to pull back. So keep your smoochers smooth and soft with your favorite balm or chapstick. Staying hydrated is also key to plump, sensuous smackers.
Now that you’ve spruced up your kissing gear, it’s time to tune up your actual kisses. “Kissing is almost like dancing with your lips,” says social and personality psychologist, Jeremy Nicholson, MSW, PhD on WebMD. “You need to read your partner and figure out what style of kiss they’re interested in.”
Some people prefer light pecks while others may lean toward a vampire style. So go slowly and then take a moment to look whether your object of affection is leaning away or toward you (red light or green light). “It’s better to leave your partner wanting more than feeling imposed upon by your kiss,” says Katherine Ellin, PhD, MSW, DTR, licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist in Cambridge, Mass.
On the other hand (or lips), let your partner know when she or he does something you like. “Overdo it a little in the reward department,” New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini, told Bustle.
“If they do something you like, when kissing, let them know! You’d be surprised what you think others know — and they don’t!” she says. “Be specific, be effusive, and be happy. Tell someone you love when they do x, y, and z — and watch them repeat that behavior. People like praise and rewards and if you’re giving it out, they’re going to try and please you — in this case, in the kissing department!”
“Kissing is mindfulness in a relationship,” according to psychologist and sex therapist Katherine Ellin on WebMD. She goes on to suggest “couples take at least two minutes a day to stop everything and kiss each other. If you focus on the moment, on your partner, and on getting grounded in your body, kissing can be like a meditation.” Ommmm … muah … muah …
Plus, a 2013 study showed that couples in long-term relationships who kissed regularly reported increased relationship satisfaction. Smooching every day may also lower stress and decrease cholesterol levels. So stop, drop, and roll (in bed).