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Kissing Helps People Find And Keep Partners

Update Date: Oct 11, 2013 01:23 PM EDT

Kissing helps people find and keep lovers.

Researchers at Oxford University found that kissing helps people evaluate potential partners and, once in a relationship, it may be a way to help partners stick around.

"Kissing in human sexual relationships is incredibly prevalent in various forms across just about every society and culture," researcher Rafael Wlodarski of Oxford University said in a news release. "Kissing is seen in our closest primate relatives, chimps and bonobos, but it is much less intense and less commonly used."

Researchers conducted online questionnaires in which over 900 adults answered questions about the importance of kissing in both short-term and long-term relationships.

"There are three main theories about the role that kissing plays in sexual relationships: that it somehow helps assess the genetic quality of potential mates; that it is used to increase arousal (to initiate sex for example); and that it is useful in keeping relationships together. We wanted to see which of these theories held up under closer scrutiny," Wlodarski explained.

The findings revealed that women rated kissing as generally more important in relationships than men. What's more, men and women who rated themselves as being attractive, or who tended to have more casual encounters, also rated kissing as being more important.

Because the survey revealed that men and women who are more attractive, or have more casual sex, also tend to be more selective when initially choosing a partner, researchers say that kissing may be a way for people to assess potential mates. Previous research suggests that kissing may allow people to subconsciously assess a potential partner through taste or smell, evaluating biological cues for compatibility, genetic fitness or general health.

"Mate choice and courtship in humans is complex," Professor Robin Dunbar said in a news release. "It involves a series of periods of assessments where people ask themselves "shall I carry on deeper into this relationship?" Initial attraction may include facial, body and social cues. Then assessments become more and more intimate as we go deeper into the courtship stages, and this is where kissing comes in."

"In choosing partners, we have to deal with the 'Jane Austen problem': How long do you wait for Mr. Darcy to come along when you can't wait forever and there may be lots of you waiting just for him? At what point do you have to compromise for the curate?" he said.

"What Jane Austen realized is that people are extremely good at assessing where they are in the 'mating market' and pitch their demands accordingly. It depends what kind of poker hand you've been dealt. If you have a strong bidding hand, you can afford to be much more demanding and choosy when it comes to prospective mates," he added. "We see some of that coming out in the results of our survey, suggesting that kissing plays a role in assessing a potential partner."

The latest study revealed that the importance of kissing changed according to whether it was being done in long-term or short-term relationships. Women found that it was more important in long-term relationships, suggesting that kissing also plays an important role in mediating affection and attachment among established couples. The survey revealed that for short-term relationships, kissing was most important before sex, less so during sex and after sex. It was the least important at other times. However, in committed relationships, kissing was equally important before sex and at times not related to sex.

More kissing in a relationship was also linked to better relationships.

The findings are published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior

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