What happens when people stop kissing?

For lovers, it's the first moment of physical intimacy. But why do long-term partners lock lips so much less? Rebecca Hardy investigates

Two strangers face each other. They gaze into each other's eyes. There's that slight moment of awkwardness; coyness. Then they move towards each other slowly and lock lips.

What happens when two strangers kiss? This was the question the film-maker Tatia Pilieva attempted to find out in her First Kiss video, which went viral this month. But while some questioned the authenticity of the piece – many of the participants were hotter-than-hot models and advertising Wren Studio clothes – I was left with was the heart-warming sense that, underneath, we are still a bunch of softies; that a simple snog can still touch our irascible hearts.

Some studies suggest that many people remember their first kiss better than the first time they had sex. But if you're in a long-term relationship, can you remember your last one? One British Heart Foundation study revealed that 18 per cent of married people don't pucker up with their partner for an entire week, while 40 per cent kiss for just five seconds or less.

A recent Oxford University study suggested that people lock lips to assess their biological compatibility, a theory backed up by Sheril Kirshenbaum, the author of The Science of Kissing. "Research shows that women are most attracted to the scent of men with a very different genetic code for immunity, resulting in stronger, healthier children. A good kiss helps a woman to figure out whether her partner would be a good long-term match." Which begs the question: do long-term couples kiss less because they no longer need to?

According to Andrea Demirjian, the author of Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About One of Life's Greatest Pleasures, kissing is packed with health benefits. "The lips have so many nerve endings that once the excitement begins, it fires a flood of signals to the brain. Blood vessels dilate, blood pressure lowers, your heart rate starts pumping and you get into almost a state of relaxation."

Demirjian equates this to the "runner's high" – that heightened state of well-being induced by the "happy chemicals" serotonin and dopamine (associated with craving and desire). "So, on one hand, there's an adrenalin rush, giving you those wonderful flushed feelings, but it also brings down heart rate and blood pressure. The opening blood vessels can help with headaches and cramps and your increased heart rate can even burn calories."

 

Marcel Danesi's recent book The History of the Kiss! The Birth of Popular Culture traces the history of the romantic kiss, arguing that it was a transgressive act that ultimately created popular culture. "I wanted to find out where the romantic kiss came from. I looked at ancient paintings; it wasn't there. It wasn't until the medieval period that the romantic kiss started to appear."

Dr Valerie Curtis, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the author of Don't Look, Don't Touch: The Science Behind Revulsion, says that kissing evolved from our basic disgust with each other.

"One of the biggest dangers we faced was not from large predators, but from invisible predators inside: the worms, the scabies, the parasites. So we all have ancestral voices telling us to avoid them. If you see someone walking down a street, they are a seething mass of parasites. You certainly don't want to kiss them. On the other hand, humans are deeply social, so we have to deal with this problem." She says that if we want to be friends with someone, "we have to prove we can get over the disgust. Kissing is the first sign that you are taking a risk".

So what happens when people stop kissing? Is it a sign that they are no longer committed? "Relationship psychology shows that one of the first signs that your marriage is in danger is when the disgust starts to get the upper hand – when you start squirming at his smelly feet or her nasty socks. It is the first sign that you no longer love this person." That said, though, "kissing is a commitment device – a signal to your partner that you are going to stick around". If long-term couples no longer kiss, she says, it may be because they don't have to.

Arizona State University researchers found that married or cohabiting couples instructed to "frequently kiss" reported not only less stress and more relationship satisfaction, but also a decrease in ("bad") cholesterol levels. Compared with the non-necking group, the kissing couples said they exercised more, argued less, had less conflict and understood each other better. Another study showed affectionate couples were more able, physiologically, to handle stressful tests later, and had more oxytocin (the "love hormone" associated with bonding).

A clear sign to carry on kissing, then. "Kissing bridges the spiritual with the body, the body with the soul," Danesi says. "Love, expressed openly and physically, changes people. It can change the world as well."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam