Is Romantic Kissing A Human Universal?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

In a recent study, less than half of the cultures the researchers sampled engaged in romantic kissing:

We looked at 168 cultures and found couples kissing in only 46 percent of them. Societies with distinct social classes are usually kissers; societies with fewer or no social classes, like hunter-gatherer communities, are usually not. For some, kissing seems unpleasant, unclean, or just plain weird. Kissing is clearly a culturally variable display of affection.

No one knows the exact origins of the romantic kiss. Some say it evolved to help test potential partners’ health through taste, their genetic compatibility through the smell of their immune system, or their romantic interest and sexual compatibility. Alternatively, it might have evolved from “kiss feeding” — the practice of a mother chewing up food and pushing it into her infant’s mouth with her tongue. The earliest known reference to kissing is in the Vedas, a 3,500-year-old Sanskrit scripture. Many classical societies, including the Romans, were passionate about kissing.

At least 90 percent of today’s cultures have kissing of one type or another, but the majority of it is parents kissing their children. Far less is known about patterns of who kisses romantically and who does not, and why.


  1. Anonymous Bible-Citer says:

    The Bible mentions kissing in a few dozen cases, but I’m not sure if they’re older than that Veda…

    The first few are in Genesis:
    *) Issac kisses his son Jacob (to test smell of Esau, but Jacob wore Esau’s clothes)
    *) Laban kisses Jacob as a greeting (some commentaries claim greedy Laban was checking for jewels in Jacob’s mouth, but Jacob had lost all his wealth escaping an assassination attempt)
    *) Jacob kisses Rachael (probably romantically this time?)

    Song of Songs has romantic kissing, and Proverbs has prostitute kissing, but these would have been written later.

  2. Faze says:

    There were no cultural incentives in the room the first time I kissed a girl, but I knew for a fact it was the greatest thing that had happened to me up to that point, and I made a note to myself to do lots more of it in years to come.

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