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Why, and When, Couples Should Kiss More

... but preferences vary, and many partners may not know each other's.

Key points

  • Kissing encourages interpersonal attachment.
  • Several studies show that, compared with men, women tend to value kissing much more.
  • Individuals who want to improve their relationship, particularly heterosexual men, may benefit from initiating kissing more frequently.
  • Beyond lovemaking, there may be four points during the day when kissing is most important.

Kissing is a mystery. Science doesn't entirely understand why people do it. Theories abound, but the puzzle remains largely unsolved. Only two other species kiss, chimpanzees and bonobos. But only the latter kiss deeply during sex, which makes sexual kissing almost uniquely human.

Meanwhile, the psychological impact of smooching on us humans is well documented. Kissing increases blood levels of the hormone oxytocin, which encourages interpersonal attachment. It also boosts levels of three compounds in the brain: endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. Endorphins and serotonin elevate mood. And as dopamine level rises, so do feelings of pleasure. Consequently, kissing helps people feel closer, get in the mood for lovemaking, and enjoy it.

Several studies agree that compared with men, women tend to place considerably more value on gentle, playful, extended kissing. It’s essential to many women’s sexual responsiveness, their ability to work up to orgasm, and their sexual and relationship satisfaction. Unfortunately, many men don't know this, and it may seem that men in general don’t particularly value kissing. For example, in most mainstream pornography, kissing is brief and perfunctory, if there’s any at all.

Thus, men who want a happier partner who feels satisfied both in and out of bed may be well-advised to initiate more kissing and savor it.

A Boon to Sex and Relationships

A robust research literature shows that kissing plays a subtle but important role in sex and relationships.

In one survey of 1,041 college students, researchers at several U.S. universities found that compared with the men, the women valued kissing much more, wanted more of it, and used kissing as an indicator of their relationships’ health. Many of the women also used men’s kisses to assess whether they wanted to get involved with them—bad kissers, goodbye.

In another study, investigators at Brigham Young and the University of Connecticut surveyed 1,605 people involved in relationships for at least two years. As kissing increased, so did their sexual arousal, likelihood of orgasm, and sexual and relationship satisfaction—especially for the women. Without lots of kissing, it was difficult for the women in this study to feel connected with their male partners, and satisfied with their relationships.

In another study, the Brigham Young/UConn investigators extracted data on kissing from a national survey of 878 adults who had been in relationships for at least two years (445 women, 443 men, other genders unspecified). They focused on two measures—kissing during their most recent lovemaking (sex-specific kissing), and all their kissing in and out of bed during the previous year (global kissing).

Sex-specific kissing was very important to the women in the study. As kissing during sex increased, the women wanted to make love more frequently, enjoyed it more, were more likely to have orgasms, and reported greater sexual satisfaction. Meanwhile, all genders reported that global kissing was strongly linked to sexual and relationship happiness—with infrequent everyday kissing strongly associated with sexual and relationship dissatisfaction.

Several other studies agree that as romantic and everyday kissing increases, it enhances both individuals’ self-esteem, as well as couples’ sexual and relationship satisfaction.

How Much is Enough?

That’s hard to say. In couples with similar levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction, the frequency of kissing varies considerably.

But in the Brigham Young/U Conn study of 878 adults, participants used a 5-point scale to describe how much they kissed during their most recent lovemaking—1 meaning little or no kissing, and 5 a great deal. Respondents averaged around 4—not constant kissing, but quite a bit. Participants used a 7-point scale to rate their global kissing in and out of bed during the previous year. The average rating was 6—again, a great deal of kissing. Couples may benefit, then, from thinking about how much they've been kissing and making an effort to initiate it more often, with more emotion behind it.

In addition to the benefits already discussed, frequent, extended kissing also slows the pace of lovemaking. Many women complain that men rush into intercourse before women feel sufficiently warmed up to enjoy lovemaking and work up or orgasm. Kissing—and cuddling and mutual whole-body caresses and massage—can slow things down, allowing women the time many need to warm up to intercourse.

The Big Three, Plus One

When should couples engage in everyday kissing? Whenever you want, but three daily moments may be particularly important: Good morning, good night, and “Hi, honey, I’m home.” Many women say they like to be kissed soon after waking, shortly before retiring for the night, and when couples separated by daily responsibilities reunite. Kissing at these times may thus help show these women that they’re valued.

In addition, several studies have shown that many women tend to place considerable value on kissing and cuddling while watching TV. Before reaching for the remote, then, reach for your partner and kiss. This also tells women they’re important to their partners.

(Note: The research on kissing discussed here has primarily focused on heterosexual couples. But there’s every reason to believe its many benefits extend to LGBT+ couples, too.)

Closed Mouths? Or Open?

Some people complain that their partners peck their cheeks but don’t open their mouths for deep kissing. Others complain that their partners open their mouths too quickly and push tongues down their throats. Like everything else in relationships, kissing preferences vary. Declare yours and ask about your partner’s. Chances are you can negotiate kissing in ways that please you both.

One study asked 1,041 young adults how best to kiss. The vast majority said that fresh breath, clean teeth, and good grooming were essential prerequisites. A large majority also valued soft, moist lips, deep breathing, mutual caressing, and assertiveness—leaning in and putting emotion into kissing rather than remaining passive. Finally, most said the best kissing begins with mouths closed, and with mouths opening only if things heat up.

Way back in 1963, the R&B singer Betty Everett had a Top 40 hit “The Shoop Shoop Song/It’s in His Kiss.” Its tag line shows how important kissing is to many women: “If you want to know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss. That’s where it is!”

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Busby, DM et al. “A Kiss Is Not Just a Kiss: Kissing Frequency, Sexual Quality, Attachment, and Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction,” Sexual and Relationship Therapy (2019) doi: 10.1080/14681994.2020.1717460.

Hughes, SM et al. “Sex Differences in Romantic Kissing Among College Students: An Evolutionary Perspective,” Evolutionary Psychology (2007) doi: 10.1177/147470490700500310.

Kirshenbaum. Sheril. The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Tell Us. Grand Central Publishing, 2011.

Kulibert, DJ et al. “Attached at the Lips: The Influence of Romantic Kissing Motives and Romantic Attachment Styles on Relationship Satisfaction,” Interpersona (2019) 13:14.

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Wlodardky, R and RM Dunbar. “Examining the Possible Functions of Kissing in Romantic Relationships,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2013) 42:1415. Doi: 10.1007/s10508-013-0190-1.

Wlodardky, R and RM Dunbar. “What’s in a Kiss? The Effect of Romantic Kissing on Mating Desirability,” Evolutionary Psychology (2014) 12:178.

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