The science of kissing? It's in the application

Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Having spotted that special someone, few of us have ever needed a prompt when it came to a kiss. A few ackward lean-ins, and we get the idea.

But who knew that there was a science behind all this?

Introduced by Detal Dental, which sponsored her event - shrewd, shrewd, shrewd - the author of the "Science of Kissing," Sheril Kirshenbaum, says no one really knows how kissing got started, but perhaps the color red on lips was an attraction. Well, yes.

There is surprisingly little known from science about what's actually happening when we kiss. Perhaps familial kissing as children is responsible for feelings of security and belonging, and our sense of smell, particularly a woman's sense of smell, offers cues about the compatibility of a potential partner.

From history, we know that kissing is mentioned in the Iliad and Odyssey, but romantic kissing is not mentioned. Today it's a nearly universal practice.

Scientists know that the lips are "overrepresented in the brain" because the sensations of taste and smell are located nearby, and that there are noticeable increases in chemicals associated with pleasure and bonding.

"Trying to understand it doesn't take the pleasure out of it," she adds, and follows up with a clip from The Big Bang theory to make the point that awkwardness and the kiss are familiar to many of us. Some knowledge, after all, can only come in the application.

Men and woman kiss for different reasons. Woman describe kissing as a way to assess how they might feel about a man - after all, they have to be choosier about with whom they will pair. A woman's sense of smell and taste are thus heightened because the stakes are higher.

Showing some brain scans of couples engaged in various kinds of kisses - romantic, erotic and familial - she points out that neuroscientists have begun to study kissing, and that this, too, is a new way of understanding what exactly is going on when our lips meet.

As for advice: limit the alcohol and drugs. Because if kissing acts on the body, and it does, why cloud that feeling? And as for when: often. It's good for you.