Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Science of Smooching

The "season of love" continues. (Hey, wait, wasn't that supposed to be spring?) Has anyone come up to you on the street and waved a knife at you, threatening to "put their love inside you" yet? No? Nobody? Good. You had me worried for a second there. Man, what a bad viral marketing campaign that'd be.

Of course, by now, you're probably already making plans for Thursday night with your significant other. Romantic plans. Some bad French accents might be used to enhance the mood, maybe a seductive handshake or two. (What the hell are those, anyway?) Why, you might even "get" some of that "down" thing I've heard so much about. (It isn't related to that Down's Syndrome, is it? I couldn't see that being too romantic - maybe inwardly depressing, and fodder for an overly sentimental Hollywood cash-in.) Naturally, you might even kiss each other - on the mouth. Risque! I haven't kissed a woman in over seven years now. I'm honest, I can admit it. Sure, my attempts at something romantic with my novel are probably futile, knowing my luck, but at least I'm trying, eh?

Anyway, that's the big subject of the first V-Day entry this week - lacking more romantically-inclined inspiration at the moment. (I'll save that kind of glorious love-bitterness for Thursday morning.) And what'd put you in more of a kissing mood than discussion of science!? Why would you want to think of anything else when kissing but how your brains were responding, after all? They call the brain the love muscle for a reason, after all.

What do you mean they don't?

The scientific community has, apparently, more or less avoided tackling the matter of the science of tonsil-hockey - perhaps because they wanted to be able to continue enjoying it themselves. Lousy selfish scientists. In fact, science still hasn't unraveled and pinpointed everything that makes love what it is yet - and when they do, won't it be glorious realizing how little our emotions suddenly mean in the grand scheme of things, because they're just cerebral chemical impulses and hormonal urges? Maybe that's why everything was boring and white in all those '70s science fiction movies - everyone was too dead inside to care. Plus, we couldn't have anybody illegally stimulating their brain with anything - or anyone, for that matter. It's where we're headed if we keep trying to legislate morality and dumb it down to a black and white issue, anyway.

Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher presented her findings on kissing in the October issue of Evolutionary Psychology - light tabletop reading that I'm sure you'd find right beside the latest TV Guide on every kitchen counter in America. (Except for the fundamentalists who take everything too literally - they read Creationary Psychology, which is a lot like Tiger Beat magazine, but with more Jesus centerfolds to set young ladies' nether regions aflame. Is that a loaf of bread in his pocket? I don't think so! Man, for repressed puritans, they sure are perverts.) Fisher's findings came down to perceiving kissing to be all about choosing the right mate. (And sometimes it's about getting the boys' attention with your best friend at Mardi Gras after a few too many Brewskis, am I right, ladies? ... Ladies? Drat, they all left. What the hell was I thinking with the Brewski reference? Nobody's used that slang in twenty years.)

The mouth is one of the most sensitive areas of the body, with the brain seemingly having evolved an oral fixation that'd make Freud's head spin and perhaps dispense candy. While people have even been stabbed in the back before without noticing - their brain was having none of that - but the slightest touch to the lips or mouth is felt intensely. (Let me tell you, going through major oral surgery - jaw surgery, in my case - is no picnic as a result. And not just the whole no-solid-food-for-months part of it. I thought I would lose my mind by the end.) Naturally, this is why the mouth is often so intrinsic in romantic contact and sensuality, whether in popularized cheesiness like that whole blindfolded-strawberry-feeding thing, or something as widely beloved as oral sex. With so much of the sensing part of the brain focused on the mouth, it's only natural that kissing would be some kind of big deal.

There were some gender differences noted in their study as well. For instance, women place more importance on the taste and smell of who they kiss than men. Historically, women have always been typically known for being more sensuous than men, so this doesn't exactly come as a great surprise. (I wasn't sure how to react when my first girlfriend informed me that I had a scent she'd liked, back when I was 16. My first thought was, as I recall, something along the lines of "Holy shit, do I stink?" Of course, as a lifelong allergy sufferer, I'm lucky when I can smell anything at all, so unless there's particularly strong smelling food around or someone's wearing perfume, I don't pay much attention to that particular sense much of the time, intrinsically important as it is to taste - I pay far more attention to that one.) Likewise, there was a massive gender gap in regards to the importance of kissing before the initiation of sexual congress. (Which would be a great name for a politically-charged R&B album, you realize. Who wouldn't get down to the smooth sounds of Tax Reform and the Civil Rights Bunch? .... Yes, I realize I am quite possibly the whitest guy on the planet.) Most men, as you can imagine, were fine with the idea of getting into the horizontal mambo without so much as the slightest oral contact. (Because that's just how men are, am I right, ladies? ... Oh right, you're still gone.) Conversely, of course, most women felt the opposite. C'mon baby, all I need is 5 minutes, then you can go back to sleep.

Of course, kissing, in being a part of this National Geographic Human Mating Processes special, serves as something of a barometer as to what kind of lover someone would be. Naturally, I'm screwed in this area too, as I never had a chance to get good at kissing to begin with. Damn me and my getting severely traumatized in love halfway through my teens on top of already being an awkward, standoffish nerd to begin with. If only there were some way to twist the very fabric of reality itself in my favor...

Anyway, with these ramblings aside, hopefully they've given you something to think about. And hopefully I'll come up with something more compelling by Thursday morning, lest I just write some random love-themed comedy piece with no real point then.

Remember! Next time you're kissing your significant other, think of science!


Elise said...

I love kissing. It really is a sensual thing.

I studied psychology when I was 17 we tried to cover the whole reason for kissing on the lips.

After long debates one guy hit the nail on the head "It just feels so damn good!"

Maybe the act doesn't need to be backed with theory...


Benjamin Fennell said...

I'd imagine. It's been a very long time for me, as I've admitted, embarrassingly, haha. I never really had the opportunity to get any good, or experience it with someone who really liked me in the end anyway, so I don't know what they're like beyond half-second ones. Which were kind of depressing, looking back after all this time now, haha.

But yeah, it definitely seems like one of those acts that can make life wonderful, like much physical affection in general.

There was no avoiding riffing on not wanting to overanalyze it there as was anyway, since kissing is still just one of those simple things that's naturally pleasurable and fun for people, and what it is to people in terms of feeling and culture will always trump thoughts of science. When I came across the article I referenced, there was just no passing up on writing about it.