Book Review: The Science of Kissing by Sheril Kirshenbaum

Posted February 14, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews / 5 Comments

Book Review: The Science of Kissing by Sheril KirshenbaumThe Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us by Sheril Kirshenbaum
Published by Grand Central Publishing on January 2011
Genres: Nonfiction
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Source: my shelves

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Are humans the only animals who kiss? Why is kissing integral to some cultures and alien to others? Do good kissers make better lovers? And is that expensive lip-plumping gloss worth it?

Biologist and science journalist Sheril Kirshenbaum tackles these questions and more in The Science of Kissing. She covers everything you always wanted to know about this near universal practice, from the kind of kissing each gender prefers to what animals can teach us about its origins to why kissing ran into trouble in the Middle Ages. Kirshenbaum even goes into the lab to conduct her own studies, analyzing how our brains respond to kissing, and the results will surprise you.

Drawing upon evolutionary biology, classical history, psychology, popular culture, and neuroscience, The Science of Kissing will forever change the way you think and feel about this intimate act--and may even make you a better kisser.

(from the inside flap)

This was a cute book and I thought it would be appropriate to review it for Valentine’s Day. I don’t know about the claim that this book will make you a better kisser, but it certainly was interesting. It did slightly change the way I think about kissing, because it reminded me about all of the germs that get swapped during a kiss. I’m having a hard time not thinking about that when I kiss my husband now (oh, the woes of a germaphobe). Haha! Ugh.

Other than the section about germ swapping, I really enjoyed reading this. I learned quite a bit about the history of kissing and kissing-like behaviors in humans, as well as the different kissing-like behaviors that take place in the rest of the animal world. The part of the book that I found the most engrossing was the section on the neuroscience behind kissing. There were some interesting facts in this little book, including the following:

  • According to scholars, the first documented appearance of kissing in human societies is from around 1500 B.C.
  • During the Middle Ages, “a businesslike kiss was employed as a legal way to seal contracts and business agreements. Many men did not know how to read and write, so they would draw an ‘X’ on the line and kiss it to make it legal. This carried over into the way we write ‘X’ today to symbolize a kiss, as well as the expression ‘sealed with a kiss.'”
  • In a report written by Alfred Kinsey in 1948 (Sexuality in the Human Male), a man’s kissing style correlated with his level of education: 70% of well-educated men admitted to French kissing, while only 40% of men who had dropped out of high school did. Five years later, when Kinsey surveyed women, there was a greater incidence of tongue-kissing in women who had had premarital sex than in those who had not. (This report also showed that women placed greater emphasis on kissing than men. That does not surprise me.)
  • According to a study done by German psychologist Onur Güntürkün, about two-thirds of us tilt our heads to the right when going in for a kiss.
  • In a study done by psychologist John Bohannon of Butler University, he found that the majority of people can remember up to 90% of their first romantic kiss. He studied 500 people, and most of them remembered the experience of their first kiss more vividly than their first sexual encounter.
  • Kissing apparently has a lot to do with how we choose our mates.

And that’s just the tip of the kissing iceberg. Much of what I read in The Science of Kissing was pretty fascinating. Although there is a lot of science involved, Kirshenbaum writes about it in a way that everyone can understand and enjoy.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of kissing, and/or how it affects our bodies and our brains, I recommend Kirshenbaum’s book. It is packed with a lot of good information, it’s well-written and it’s entertaining.