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Why We Kiss (and How to Do It Right)

Research reveals the varied reasons we need to kiss our partners.

Key points

  • Research shows that kissing can influence the course of a romantic interaction.
  • Both men and women appear to use kissing for mate assessment.
  • Kissing might also be used to connect and bond, or to arouse and seduce.
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In dating and relationships, your lips can be put to persuasive use beyond speaking and smiling. Kissing is the key to love. Kissing well, you may help find yourself with a partner for life (or at least for the evening). Failing to do so, you might not get a second chance.

The research is pretty clear: Kissing counts. It influences the course of a romantic interaction. At times, it makes or breaks potential relationships. As always, we'll review what the research has to say and then share some tips on when and how to kiss persuasively. Keep your lip gloss handy.

Research on Osculation (aka Kissing)

One of my favorite, most detailed studies of kissing behavior was conducted in 2007 by Hughes, Harrison, and Gallup. The group surveyed a total of 1,041 undergraduate students (both male and female) on numerous aspects of kissing behavior. Here are the highlights of what they found:

Kissing Is Persuasive

  • Both men and women use kissing for mate assessment—to decide on a potential partner. Good kissers are more likely to get chosen as partners. Bad kissing, in contrast, can be a deal-breaker.
  • Good kissing leads to feelings of bonding and attachment. Sharing a kiss creates and maintains a feeling of connectedness, which is important both early in a relationship and over time.
  • Good kissing can also lead to arousal and sex. Passionate make-outs are often necessary (and effective) precursors to further intimacy.

Elements of a Good Kiss

  • Attractive kissing partners were found to have good hygiene, including fresh breath and clean teeth. Grooming had an effect overall as well.
  • Both men and women found assertiveness attractive in a kisser. Partners who committed to a kiss, rather than making out half-heartedly, were viewed as better kissers.
  • Touching, caressing, and general physical contact while kissing was also key to a successful smooch.
  • Finally, kissing with a new partner was evaluated as best when closed-mouth initially, with minimal saliva exchange (especially for women). Soft, moist lips were preferable; a drooling, tongue-down approach was not. Over time, kissing could work up to greater "passion" and "intimacy," with increased open-mouth, tongue, and saliva exchange.

Gender Differences

  • Women: Overall, a good kiss appeared more important to women than to men. The study indicated that women use kissing to judge a date or mate more than men. They are also more likely to use kissing as a way to bond—and to look for kisses throughout a relationship. In addition, they are less likely to kiss when they feel a partner only wants sex and nothing more.
  • Men: By contrast, men were found to be somewhat less picky with their kissing partners. However, they were also found to be more passionate. Men prefer open-mouthed, tongue-included, wet kissing more than women. They also seemed to prefer that their partner makes pleasurable noises while kissing.

When and How to Kiss

Given the research, there would appear to be three main times one should kiss a partner for persuasive effect:

1. To prove yourself and test a partner

A first kiss can be anxiety-provoking—but that doesn't mean one should put it off for too long. Remember: Assertiveness is attractive in a kisser. Besides, you want to see how your partner kisses back. One would be advised to pucker up when he or she detects some interest. (For tips on reading body language, click here).

Beyond being assertive and committed to the kiss, "good" first kisses have some standard features: The first is hygiene—brush your teeth, avoid smelly food, or use breath mints, but the smell and taste of your mouth are keys to success. Soft lips are helpful as well, so don't skimp on the lip balm.

From there, it's all about the mechanics: Wet your lips slightly, as nicely lubricated lips are more welcome. When you lean in to begin a (closed-mouth) kiss, be sure to touch as well. Hold your partner's cheek, brush their hair away from their face, and embrace or cuddle as you kiss. Also, let your partner "lead" the kiss a bit. (You're judging them and their "style" as much as they are yours.)

A first kiss isn't the time for a heavy "make-out" session. It may be heartfelt and passionate, perhaps with a bit of playful flirting. Only kiss for a few moments (be sure to leave them wanting more), but continue to touch, cuddle, and look in your partner's eyes afterward, too.

2. To connect and bond

Kissing can make a partner feel noticed, loved, and connected. This is especially true in long-term relationships, in which kissing can often be forgotten. When you want your partner to feel good and "like" you, remember to give them a smooch.

The mechanics of a "bonding" kiss are similar to that of the "testing" kiss (hygiene, soft lips, a loving caress, etc.). Bonding kisses can be lengthy and include a cuddly make-out session, but they can be equally persuasive if they are very short, even just a peck or a caring kiss on the forehead. In this case, it is literally the thought that counts, because this is about "bonding"—building a feeling of comfort and attachment here—and not necessarily sexual arousal. These kisses are ideal during "spontaneous" moments, as part of a larger effort to build connection and rapport (for more, see here). This type of bonding kissing is also important after sex to make sure a partner feels loved and attended to.

3. To arouse and seduce

Kissing, of course, often leads to passionate feelings and sexual activity, especially more "intimate" open-mouth, tongue-involved kisses. If you are "in the mood," you'll likely seek to persuade your partner's libido with a kiss. Passionate kissing is essentially a progression of the other two types. All of the hygiene and touching rules apply. The intensity gets turned up a bit with greater assertiveness. Slowly, the touching and embracing get a bit more intense, as open mouths and tongues get involved.

Arousal kissing also lasts longer; we escalate the intensity when we feel our partner reciprocate. As they become more assertive, we may proceed to kissing other areas (like the neck) and to foreplay. If they slow it down, we may go back to another type of kissing until they are on the same page. (For more on reading a partner's sexual motivation, click here.)


In the search for love, sex, and relationships, kissing is a powerful tool. Use it to assess your partner, prove your worth, bond, and turn them on. Just make sure to brush your teeth, moisten your lips—and be assertive.

Previous Articles from The Attraction Doctor

© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Hughes, S. M., Harrison, M. A., & Gallup, G. G. (2007). Sex differences in romantic kissing among college students: An evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary Psychology, 5, 612-631.

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