I have never liked kissing. There, I've said it. In my opinion, as the old song says, a kiss is just a kiss. Yet even uttering it feels like sacrilege. Especially to my close female friends, from my teens all the way to the present day. Every single woman I've questioned on the subject, passionately, intensely and un-categorically adores erotic kissing, either on its own or as a prelude to sex.
Me? Well, I can't really see what all the fuss is about.
People like to say kissing is more intimate than sex. The cliché of the prostitute who never kisses on the mouth has become a cinematic trope. Remember 'Pretty Woman'? I don't believe it. Well, I probably do believe it, but I don't understand it. And because I don't tend to ascribe any depth and transcendence to kissing, I actually lip-kiss people often, in social situations. Female friends, relatives, acquaintances I run into on the street, a few of the dads at school. Nobody seems taken aback. Then again, my kiss is the equivalent to an elderly aunt's dry peck on your cheek.
My poor husband. You see, he quite likes the odd snog. He can see the point of it, unlike me. When we first met, we did a lot of kissing. Kissing that lasted many hours, as one does in those hormone-fuelled first years of passion. Yet over the 20-odd years we've been together, he's capitulated to the point where, if I ever do initiate an erotic kiss on the mouth, he recoils from me, wide-eyed.
"Are you sure?" he stammers.
"Yes." I take a big breath, and resume.
But for me the kiss is merely a dress rehearsal for the main show.
In this respect, I may be more like a generic, stereotypical bloke. In 2013, Rafael Wlodarski and Robin Dunbar conducted a study at Oxford University that seems to bear out this stereotype. The majority of women considered a 'good kiss' the precursor to a good relationship, eschewing a potential partner if he didn't make the grade. Men didn't rate the quality of kissing as ultimately important to choosing a mate. For them, the kiss was a 'means to an end', a way to prime the woman for sex.
Interestingly, women placed more value on kissing at the beginning of a relationship if they were also ovulating. Women also ranked kissing as more important to sexual arousal and relationship stability than men did, in both long and short-term relationships. According to a 2007 study, led by evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup at Albany University, only 14 percent of women would consider having sex with someone before engaging in prolonged kissing first. Fifty percent of men would.
So why the hell do we 'pash', anyway? Why does the exchange of saliva, the smell of the inner recesses of another's mouth, even the traces of what someone recently ate or drank -- become a gateway to desire, passion, attachment, romantic love? The romantic kiss is endemic to 46 percent of human cultures, as well as chimps and bonobos, so it must carry some evolutionary advantage, right?
One theory is that kissing has evolved not merely as a courtship ritual, but as an exchange of important sexual information. Hormonal and genetic markers are coded in the secretions of the mouth, giving a potential partner clues about whether procreation is a good idea. We literally let the other person in, via their tongue in our mouths, displaying trust and vulnerability, risking disease as well.
According to a study devised by Helen Fisher at Rutger's University in 2009, male saliva contains testosterone, linked to sexual arousal in both males and females, as well as dopamine, serotonin (the 'feel-good' hormones) and oxytocin (the 'love' hormone). In this way, the male floods the female with chemicals that will be more likely to induce her to have sex, and enjoy the process.
Another theory posits that kissing is the primary barrier, the 'first base' to conquering our innate feelings of disgust. It primes our partner to overlook the bodily fluids that are to come: the odour, sweat, semen and discharges of sexual intercourse. In this way, kissing can also create lasting feelings of nurturance, connection and attachment, key attributes for a couple to stay together long-term and raise children.
And what of me? Maybe I'm already flooded with all those bliss chemicals. My husband would beg to differ, when I nag him about smelly socks or stubble burn. Maybe I'm really more like a textbook guy. Maybe a kiss is just a kiss. Or maybe I haven't given kissing a chance.
And I do agree that kissing is an act where both partners can operate from a position of sexual equality, where the tango of skin and scents and sounds is perfectly balanced. One thing I do know: when I kiss my husband, I don't tend to close my eyes. I keep them open, and gaze into his deeply, until I come close to convincing myself that I can see inside his soul. He usually closes his, as most people do.
His china-blue eyes are what I fell in love with, the day I met him. And within them, I see our combined past, present and future. But that's a topic for another time.