The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us

Image of The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us
Release Date: 
December 2, 2011
Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by: 

It’s probably a good thing that when Louis Armstrong sang, “A kiss is just a kiss,” Sheril Kirshenbaum’s The Science of Kissing had not been published. Armstrong surely would have had a lot more to sing about. Read this wonderfully interesting book about an activity in which we all engage and you will not only know a kiss is not just a kiss, but also that kissing will never be the same again.

The science of kissing? I am a science writer (as well as a kisser), and in a million years I never would have imagined there was enough data to write a book on this subject. Of course, as The Science of Kissing points out, I am a male and my thoughts about kissing are not the same as my wife’s. She will finish this book and wonder where part two is. Still, between the origins of kissing, kissing’s evolution though history, and the many hardcore, scientific studies on kissing, there is plenty about which to write. The subject just needed someone with Sheril Kirshenbaum’s intellectual curiosity to put it all together.

Who knew that osculation could be such a riveting subject? In fact, who knew that is the term for the science of kissing? Kirshenbaum, a biologist and researcher at the University of Texas at Austin (and whose excellent writing was featured in The Best American Science Writing, 2010 Anthology), spent two years compiling the information in this book. From its history, its practice in some cultures or nonexistence in others, to the psychology as well as physiology behind the act, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge about kissing gained by reading The Science of Kissing.

Anyone who engages in kissing—and these days only those who have philematophobia (fear of kissing, it turns out) don’t—knows that all sorts of things happen when lips touch and are locked, but why do we kiss in the first place? We know what can happen to our bodies as a result of a romantic kiss, but why don’t the same things happen when we receive a social kiss or kiss the wrong person? We have heard of smell pheromones, but what does kissing with lips have to do with sensing them? What happens to our brains while we are kissing and what about all this “men are from Mars, woman from Venus” stuff? What are the differences in the way men and women perceive kissing? These and so many more questions some you never thought to ask, are answered.

Lest you think knowing the science of kissing would be a real turn off to engaging in what we normally think is a decidedly, nonintellectual activity, not to worry. Inspired by the book, I tested the theory with my wife after I finished The Science of Kissing with no ill effects. This, despite the fact as I read the book, I couldn’t help reviewing past kisses from my life’s history to better understand past and present relationships and even why, perhaps, I chose the spouse (and she, me) whom I have been kissing for almost 40 years.

This is a great book. Don’t let the word “science” in its title turn you away, should you be so inclined. Sheril Kirshenbaum is a great writer. The subject matter is utterly compelling, and you will finish with new knowledge that will give you a much finer appreciation of your lips and their favorite activity.

Ms. Kirshenbaum has collected a tremendous amount of absolutely fascinating information and assembled it into a captivating, quick read that entertains while it informs. I am not a romantic, so trust me: This is just as terrific a read for men as it will be for women.