A kiss is the small, pressed touch or caressing of one’s lips to an object or another person. Kissing is most commonly associated with romantic love and affection between couples or friends, though it can occur between people of any relationship whether they are lovers, friends or family. The cultural associations of kissing range widely, from old French and Italian customs to more modern ones in which the kiss signifies a level of emotional intimacy between two people that cannot be explained by physical attraction alone. In some cultures, kissing is seen as a mark of endearment or even betrothal, while in others it is seen as merely an expression of pleasure.
People often think of kissing as a physical activity, when in reality it is much more. The body movements, the feeling of coming together, the exchange of information through the mouth – all of these have the effect of releasing powerful happy hormones in both participants. The release of these hormones is one of the major elements of human sexuality. In fact, the release of happy hormones, called endorphins, is what makes people feel good and therefore kiss.
When you consider that a kiss is so incredibly linked with affection, one could imagine that it would also be associated with other types of affection, too. Is there a link between kisses and lust? Well, there might be, but only in the mind. People who have been kissed frequently tend to think of it as a kind of fondling, even though that isn’t its only meaning. Kisses could also refer to other forms of physical contact such as cuddling or gentle holding hands.
Scientifically, there is no evidence that kissing causes sexual arousal for either the giver or the recipient. Sexual arousals are triggered by hormone levels in the brain and are the basis for many fantasies and sexual experiences. However, there is no evidence that repeated kissing initiates or promotes relationships that are sexually related. Also, there is no scientific evidence that any sexual arousal or desire occurs when kissing is given, nor does anyone actually orgasm from kissing. Therefore, while people commonly believe that there is some exchange of hormones that occurs when kissing, there is no evidence that it causes arousal or sexual desire.
There may be a relationship between kissing and cortisol levels though. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced when the body senses that it is under threat, whether through physical danger or being rejected by a loved one. While typically higher in adults than children, cortisol levels during affectionate kissing may be lower than normal, especially for people who are new lovers or who are unfamiliar with kissing. It has been speculated that repeated kissing initiates the release of cortisol, since the hormone is a natural response to affection and physical contact.
Kissing may also release neuropeptides, which serve to stimulate certain brain cells and to reduce blood vessels’ constriction. If blood vessels’ constriction is reduced, blood flow is improved and oxygen can be carried more efficiently throughout the body. As a result, there is increased blood supply to all areas of the body, including the skin. The increased flow of oxygenated blood to the skin may reduce redness and irritation of the skin caused by friction, and thus may help to relieve itching and other skin problems associated with dry, flaky skin.