Romantic kissing isn’t a normal activity in most cultures, with some people finding it uncomfortable and even repulsive, researchers have found.
Justin Garcia, at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, looked at 168 cultures across the world to understand where kissing does and doesn’t occur.
The results of his work — “Is the Romantic-Sexual Kiss a Near Human Universal?” — are published in the journal American Anthropologist.
The study found that fewer than half (46%) of the cultures surveyed engage in romantic/sexual kissing. The scientists defined this as lip-to-lip contact which may or may not be prolonged.
“We hypothesised that some cultures would either not engage in romantic/sexual kissing, or find it to be a strange display of intimacy, but we were surprised to find that it was a majority of cultures that fell into this category,” said Garcia, assistant professor of gender studies.
“This is a real reminder of how Western ethnocentrism can bias the way we think about human behavior.”
Romantic kissing is most prevalent in the Middle East where all 10 of the cultures studied engaged in it. In North America, 55% of cultures had romantic kissing, and 70% in Europe and 73% in Asia.
But there’s no evidence of romantic kissing in Central America. And none could be found in Sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea or the Amazon.
The research also found a relationship between social complexity and kissing. The more socially complex and stratified a society is, the higher the frequency of romantic kissing.
Garcia says it’s not clear where romantic/sexual kissing evolved from. Some animals have similar behaviours. Chimpanzees are known to engage in open-mouth kissing.
“There is likely a biological underpinning to kissing, as it can often involve exchange of pheromones and saliva, and also pathogens — which might be particularly dangerous in societies without oral hygiene, where kissing may lead to spread of respiratory or other illness,” he says.
“But this is only in societies that have come to see the erotic kiss as part of their larger romantic and sexual repertoires. How that shift occurs is still an open question for research.”
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