Passionate kissing is not a human universal (2015)


89 points | by cdepman 8 days ago


  • jelliclesfarm 8 days ago

    Kissing is a form of bonding and recognizing kin. Apes and birds feed their young by passing on chewed up food mouth to mouth.

    Sexual kissing could have been a way that was passed down from gestures that were used to recognize those who aren’t kin.

    The term for it is relic gesture.

    [..] What are the origins of kissing?

    In early human societies, it is believed mothers weaned their babies by chewing up their food and then passing it to their babies by lip-to-lip contact. Evolutionary biologists suggest that erotic kissing is a so-called relic gesture, passed down through cultures from these early practices of the mother’s deep kissing and the infant’s searching tongue movements.

    “If young lovers exploring each other’s mouths with their tongues feel the ancient comfort of parental mouth feeding, this may help them to increase their mutual trust and thereby their pair-bonding,” writes Desmond Morris in his classic book on human behaviour, Manwatching.[..]

    Desmond Morris’ Manwatching is an excellent read.

    • badrabbit 8 days ago

      Or...someone tried it and enjoyed it and then spread the practice? I highly doubt kissing in humans has anythig to do with exchanging chewed food or something much deeper than an enjoyable experience like hugging or cuddling.

      • EpicEng 8 days ago

        >I highly doubt kissing in humans has anythig to do with exchanging chewed food or something much deeper than an enjoyable experience like hugging or cuddling.

        Based on... what exactly? Have you spent significant time studying ancient cultures in this regard? By what process did you rule out other explanations? Why, precisely, do you people enjoy it? What does it mean, physically, to enjoy something?

        This oversimplified brand of logic is what led people to believe that the sun travels around the earth. Often times things aren't as simple as they seem. Good thing some people decided to take a closer look at what seemed obvious to everyone else.

        • g82918 8 days ago

          Not that I have studied this particular behavior, but evolutionary type theories like this one, tend to be found wanting after later research. For a more common example, look at the paleo diet. At a glance, the theory seems a bit bonkers if you consider natural feelings around kissing you may have had around puberty. I would imagine there might be a better explanation than some nuturing/feeding urge.

          Edit: Not to be that dude, but for the downvote, explaining better how/why this feeding explanation makes sense would be nice. I thought my comment advanced the conversation somewhat.

          • badrabbit 8 days ago

            Ok, people enjoy it because it makes them feel intimate with each other,the act of intimacy arouses sexual desire. Is that enough or is the studying ancient cultures part mandatory?

            The oversimplified brand of logic is just you generalizig my disagreement to support your brand of over analysis.

            Please, take as much closer look as you want but do look at the whole picture,not just the booky part. Ask yourself why you enjoy it first,ask why others enjoy it and start there and stop when you have enough to adequately explain it.

            I stand by my statement, a psychological need for intimacy is the root of the desire. It could be licking each others ear lobes or something that would now sound weird, the act is merely an expression of intimacy which is to know and to be known.

            I would even say your conclusion can be viewed as an "oversimplified brand of logic" as you put it since you are not explaining why feeding chewed food is tied to sexual expression of affection and why it is prevalent strictly in a sexual relationship and why parents don't make out with children or between close friends and siblings,when adopted why did it become sexual? And to be clear a peck on the surface is not what we are talking about here since that is not exclusive to lips (forehead,etc...)

            • thatcat 8 days ago

              >Is that enough or is the studying ancient cultures part mandatory?

              The evolutionary biology approach provides pretty deep insight into human behaviour. Making out is a dissociative state where each person uses their highly developed talking muscles to physically interact with each other. No other body part even makes physical sense. Your ear lobe isn't dexterous - that would be one way interaction.

              >Please, take as much closer look as you want but do look at the whole picture,not just the booky part. Ask yourself why you enjoy it first,ask why others enjoy it and start there and stop when you have enough to adequately explain it.

              How is your inward facing perspective as "the whole picture"? Evolutionary biology is the whole picture.

              • badrabbit 7 days ago

                > Evolutionary biology is the whole picture.

                And how dare I question it or anything outside of it right? Sounds very smart and sciency,I will leave you to it then.

                Oh,and I meant introspection, actually asking people, psychological examination of the subject are part of the evidence picture before you come to a conclusion. Apparently,anything short of an explanation involving an "evolutionary" need to exchange chewed food (even though many cultures don't do intimate kissing -- I suppose your claim is those humans evolved differently and have adopted it in the last century against their evolutionary need?) is offensive to your line of thinking.

                • thatcat 6 days ago

                  I suggested other reasons than exchanged foods - it is because the dexterity is already present in those muscles due to talking and chewing in my opinion. I don't think the dexterity of your mouth muscles have evolved significantly in the last century. It is an ability that is a indirect benefit from other evolved traits.

                  Insight obtained from introspection or evolution in the 100 year scale will be mostly psychological/cultural. If you want to understand the big picture including physical justification you need to look at the large time scale perspective because it takes much longer for those changes, psychological and cultural justifications are dependant on the physical. Maybe that's too "booky or sciency" of a perspective, but I don't think so.

          • jelliclesfarm 8 days ago

            I think you misunderstood the definition of ‘human universal’. Steven pinker’s Blank Slate has a list of human universals that are hard wired human habits irrespective of culture/age/gender/geography etc

            • g82918 8 days ago

              The phrase occured only in the title and article and not in the comment they were responding too. It is possible they did not fully read the article(Most skim or read the title or title and abstract). In which case your response wasn't super helpful.

          • 1000units 8 days ago

            Bonding? Recognizing kin?

            Hie to the city and schlep. Dispose of your old relics, modern man.

          • neonate 8 days ago
            • mullingitover 8 days ago

              Bonobos do it. I'd wager humans' common ancestors practiced it, and we unlearned it over time on some groups.

              It's interesting that our two closest primate relatives are Bonobos and Chimpanzees. Bonobos are highly sexual and their sex habits match the full range of human sexual behaviors. Chimpanzees practice tribal warfare can be horrific murderers. Humans exceed both our relative species in both of these areas.

              • qplex 8 days ago

                >Bonobos are highly sexual and their sex habits match the full range of human sexual behaviors.

                I think not. But matching a basic subset perhaps.

                E.g. I don't think you'll find many bonobos jerking off to internet porn.

                • RandomInteger4 8 days ago

                  You're confusing the object for the verb. The sex habit is "jerking off" not "to internet porn", and all it takes is a simple youtube search for "bonobos jerking off" to see that you're wrong.

                  • qplex 8 days ago

                    The point was that the sexual behaviour of bonobos does not match "full human range".

                    • pimmen 8 days ago

                      That's like saying humans have evolved radically different behavior compared to 200 years ago because back then they couldn't travel to another celestial body.

                      I would argue jerking off to Internet porn and jerking off to a fantasy are both exhibiting the same behavior, just like a polar explorer from the 19th century and a lunar explorer from the 20th century are exhibiting the same behavior.

                      • qplex 8 days ago

                        Indeed the core of it is the capability for complex sexual fantasies, and human behaviour is not limited to simply just jerking off.

                        I'm not saying humans 200 years ago were incapable of such things.

                        What I'm saying is that bonobos don't read or write Kama Sutra.

                        • pimmen 7 days ago

                          Go back 20 000 years and modern humans didn’t write Kama Sutra either, because just like bonobos we lacked the technology and knowledge to write.

                          • qplex 7 days ago

                            We have very little actual knowledge of pre-historic humans to speculate about their sexual behaviours (and as with all other human behavior, I'm sure there is and has been great variance in this).

                            In any case bonobos would not write Kama Sutra even in 20,000 years. Your timescale and argument is way off.

                            Downvoters: I've no more apples for you.

              • rom-antics 8 days ago

                >the global ethnographic evidence suggests that [kissing] is common in only 46% (77) of the cultures sampled

                Now this is interesting. I live in the US where kissing is a big part of the culture, but I've never personally liked it. I like women and romance, I enjoy sex obviously, but I never "got" kissing. Ever since my first kiss at ~15 years old, I always assumed something was wrong with me.

                • AareyBaba 8 days ago

                  From a topological view, kissing creates one long tube with two arseholes at either ends.

                  • yencabulator 7 days ago

                    I have to say that that is exactly my preferred topological arrangement of those components.

                    • 93po 8 days ago

                      If there was one comment I could use to describe HN, this would be it

                    • _jal 8 days ago

                      The only way something could be wrong with you about that is if it in some way caused you distress. Not sharing a particular kink is perfectly normal - most people don't have most of them.

                      • newnewpdro 8 days ago

                        With you 100%

                        I chalked it up to growing up in a household where intimacy wasn't on display at all, there was barely ever any hugging even. My parents kept all displays of physical affection behind closed doors.

                        Sex is fun, but all the other stuff feels completely awkward and unnatural to me.

                        Were you raised in an environment where adults kissed often?

                        • qplex 8 days ago

                          Hugging is actually something that is very natural and has a lot of measurable physiological and downright physical benefits.

                          That said I happen to know a person who finds all hugging awkward, and he basically told the same story as you - no hugging in his family.

                        • invisiblerobot 8 days ago

                          if you're having sex without kissing something IS wrong with you. ;)

                      • INTPenis 8 days ago

                        Didn't work for me, had to use the google cache version.[1]


                        • userbinator 8 days ago

                          Just an FYI if you didn't know, be careful when sharing links to check that they don't disclose more information about you than you'd like.
                          • Johnny555 8 days ago

                            Just curious what that's disclosing, his browser? Anything else?

                            • hhanesand 8 days ago

                              Guessing those last two parameters are languages. I don't see the issue, but I commonly trim tracking strings off too.

                              • ta999999171 8 days ago

                                For the layperson reading, for articles, this is usually anything after the ? in a URL.

                                • Johnny555 8 days ago

                                  That's not a good rule of thumb since often the unique identifier you're interested in is a query arg, so if you strip of everything after the ?, you're left with nothing. like the URL above, all you'll have left is:


                                  • userbinator 8 days ago

                                    Yes, there's no real general rule (see HN articles for instance) but "if I omit these parts of the URL, I get the same content" is usually a safe bet.

                          • enjoyyourlife 8 days ago
                          • tal8d 7 days ago

                            After learning that there are people walking around with no inner monologue, I am no longer surprised by these debunked universalities. People share a lot less in common than what popular culture would have use think, again no surprise when considering the effects of popular culture.

                            • big_chungus 8 days ago

                              Well yeah, no kidding. I was raised American but still never got the appeal of the "spit-swapping" variety; It always struck me as disgusting, though I don't mind normal "on-the-lips" type. For some reason, people expect that everyone likes that sort of thing and think I'm weird for not wanting to.

                              • fao_ 8 days ago

                                I do find the particular behaviour weird, but then I haven't experienced it properly, I've never dated anyone that's been into it!

                                • 1000units 8 days ago

                                  It objectively makes you weird. Sex itself is literally slimey and gross but also very pleasant.

                                  • big_chungus 8 days ago

                                    There are physical reasons for that; reproductive organs have tons of extra nerves to make it so. That's not true of mouths; the reaction would have to be psychological. Tongues are there to taste food.

                              • lazyasciiart 8 days ago

                                I wonder what an ethnographer in New York in the 1920's would have described about the attitudes to kissing.

                                • twelvechairs 8 days ago

                                  The Kinsey reports of the late 1940s/50s were a major breakthrough in western understanding of sexuality that had a lot of influence on changing attitudes in the 60s. Before studying human mating he'd studied the mating of gall wasps.

                                • scw 8 days ago

                                  Reminds me of “boko-maru” of the made-up religion [1] in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle.


                                  • foogazi 8 days ago

                                    Wonder if there is a replacement for the intimacy or is there just an unbridged void

                                    • newnewpdro 8 days ago

                                      Cuddling? Lots of mammals do it, and in my experience it's a very comforting and bond-reinforcing activity. It doesn't feel awkward and forced at all to me, unless with the wrong people, which strikes me as a desirable feature.

                                    • coleifer 8 days ago

                                      Biting on the other hand...

                                      • throwaway41968 8 days ago

                                        ...there are people who thought it was?

                                        • crispinb 8 days ago

                                          That was my reaction too. It would never have occurred to me to assume this one particular custom was universal.

                                          • themoat 8 days ago

                                            This is kind of a minor reason to leave a smug comment.

                                            By what age should a person give deep thought into shows of romantic affection in cultures they've previously not considered?

                                            • throwaway41968 8 days ago

                                              At what age should one be exposed to different cultures at all so they learn that everything they've experienced so far isn't an absolute constant of human nature? Pretty early I'd say.

                                              • themoat 8 days ago

                                                I lived in a couple third world countries where grown adults asked if we had cats in the United States.

                                                Should I look down on them for not knowing something about my culture? Or do we have different concerns in our lives in different parts of the world?

                                                I'm not saying that being culturally aware is not good for a person. I'm saying it's not a sign of being better than others. It's essentially the same as me memorizing brain teasers when I was 12. Neat, but not the type of thing to brag about.

                                                • crispinb 8 days ago

                                                  Who is looking down on anyone? You get to that conclusion by making the least charitable gloss available in your original comment.

                                                  My own reaction to the article was surprise that anyone thought kissing was a human universal because it never occurred to me that it was. This was pre-reflective on my part (I had never given any thought to kissing at all). It wasn't an outcome of any exercise in cultural awareness, or thinking thereon.

                                                  I have no idea whether @throwaway41968's comment was intended in my way or was indeed 'smug' as you say. But you don't know either, and it's a disservice to conversation to assume the worst.

                                                  If I took your interpretive tack, then I would assume you chose the interpretation you did because you enjoy scrapping on the net and calling people 'smug' etc. Would that be justifiable or useful to the conversation? I think not.

                                                  • themoat 7 days ago

                                                    Sorry. I can admit I was wrong. I haven't seen ellipses used to begin a sentence that asks a question in a way that wasn't flippantly dismissive before. Couple that with a throwaway account and I jumped to conclusions.

                                                    I probably should have asked what his comment meant before I spoke.

                                                    • crispinb 7 days ago

                                                      Well you may not be wrong - I don't know any better than you. I'm just suggesting a principle of charity leads to better conversations. And I'm not pointing fingers - it's something I need to work on (ie. pause to think and/or ask for clarification, particularly before posting anything accusatory)

                                                  • crispinb 8 days ago

                                                    I lived in a couple third world countries where grown adults asked if we had cats in the United States.

                                                    As a complete aside, an indigenous Australian kid up in Cape York once asked me if we did much dugong hunting in London (where I lived at the time).

                                            • romualdr 8 days ago

                                              Sans déconner

                                              • 1000units 8 days ago

                                                I have a fairly strong suspicion this is just a Yale thing.

                                                • thuuuomas 8 days ago

                                                  Are we seeing this oldpost bcuz someone got offended at the "Mayor Pete isn't really gay" memes?

                                                  • retrac 8 days ago

                                                    It's certainly not universally viewed as acceptable intimacy by all cultures. Even more certainly, it's not viewed as acceptable intimacy in public. In some cultures, you're about as likely to see a couple kiss in public as you are to see them have sex in public.

                                                    > Similarly, the authors state that “no ethnographer working with Sub-Saharan African, New Guinea, or Amazonian foragers or horticulturalists reported having witnessed any occasion in which their study populations engaged in a romantic–sexual kiss”

                                                    That doesn't mean they don't kiss, of course. Consider that an ethnographer studying people in Tehran would probably conclude their society simply doesn't have homosexual behaviour. If nothing else, I would imagine that, like with other forms of intimacy often viewed as deviant (for example, anal or oral sex), clever people frequently rediscover it, and some like it, and then practice it, even if in secret.

                                                    • roywiggins 8 days ago

                                                      You say that, but I have read at least one in-depth journalistic piece on the gay underground in Tehran. Ethnography isn't that different from journalism. Ethnographers interview people!

                                                      • Johnny555 8 days ago

                                                        They didn't just use observation:

                                                        "The Tsonga people of Southern Africa are also openly disgusted by the practice: “Kissing was formerly entirely unknown… When they saw the custom adopted by the Europeans, they said laughingly: “Look at these people! They suck each other! They eat each other’s saliva and dirt!” Even a husband never kissed his wife"

                                                        • retrac 8 days ago

                                                          Yes, and people say the same thing about homosexuality in societies that strongly disapprove of it. They find it comical, disgusting or similar. Doesn't mean the practice doesn't occur.

                                                          • bawolff 8 days ago

                                                            The original article was about kissing not being a general thing in lots of cultures. If a minority of people in those cultures still engage in kissing that hardly disproves the point of the article.

                                                          • 1000units 8 days ago

                                                            These views are more sympathetic in the absence of potable water plumbing.

                                                        • glouwbug 8 days ago

                                                          Comments are all over. HN loses its ability to converse with the slightest mention of sex

                                                          • g82918 8 days ago

                                                            It's a Friday, quality tends to degrade during the weekend. Usually professionals reading the site tend to view and comment more during the work week while things are compiling/deploying. The weekend tends to be more hobbyist/lonely people like me.

                                                            • glouwbug 8 days ago

                                                              Well, cheers, and happy Valentine's regardless