Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us

The Science of Kissing by Sheril Kirshenbaum
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Jun 08, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, history, non-fiction, science
Read in May, 2011 — I own a copy

I got this book after hearing a brief mention of it on CBC radio one day; I missed the actual segment but the title made me curious enough to look the book up when I was next in the bookshop ... which happened to be that same day. I don't read a lot of non-fiction - I have plenty but they're still mostly unread - simply because they generally take a lot more concentration than I usually have available, and I've had real baby brain lately. This one is what's commonly referred to as "pop science", meaning that it's written in a more accessible and engaging style than a traditional science book, and it's short at only 209 pages of actual text, so I knew I'd find it a quick and easy read. And it was.

Kirshenbaum is a research scientist at the University of Texas and a science journalist, so her skills lie in collecting and analysing research, not in any particular field related to this subject matter. It puts her in a similar position to the reader: coming at the topic with no background knowledge (in terms of the science and history of kissing), but with her journalistic and research experience she not only has good contacts but the skills to weed out the most pertinent information, and knows how to verify it. That said, she admits that there's little research out there on kissing, and this book is really just the beginning of something that should have larger scope.

Really, it's a shame to think that few people have bothered to look into kissing, when it's such an important and, in various ways, universal act. Kirshenbaum looks into the history of kissing, data for which is limited because at certain times in history it's been a bit of a taboo subject (and in many places still is), and at how other animals share a similar kind of exchange, from certain types of apes to birds. There is "kissing-like behaviours" that include regurgitating food, that is shared across species and is still practiced in some human societies today, and a look at how lip-to-lip kissing is abhorrent in some cultures and intrinsic in others.

One of things I love learning about is where expressions and traditions come from, so I found this incredibly interesting: back in medieval times (the "dark ages"), when people were still commonly illiterate, a contract was signed with a big X and then the person would kiss the X to seal the deal. Thus we have the saying "sealed with a kiss". It is also why, at a wedding ceremony, we have the line "you may now kiss the bride" (or not, depending on your ceremony, but generally when the celebrant announces you husband and wife, you kiss); weddings were another business transaction between two men, the groom and the bride's father, and the "deal" was likewise sealed with a kiss. (Pretty much every tradition associated with our western wedding style has a root cause - like the bride's bouquet; she originally carried it because people didn't bathe more than about once a year and everyone ponged.)

I also loved the chapters on the science of kissing, and the different gender approaches to kissing and its importance. Kirshenbaum was originally resistant to the notion that the different sexes would put a different value on kissing, but her research proved otherwise - and when you read about it, certain things will click for you. There is also the biology of a kiss, and what's happening with our bodies - the hormones that are being released, the instinctual drive to kiss that are related to certain gender-specific drives. Aside from being fascinating reading, it made a lot of sense. The insight into what hormones are released when we kiss, and why and what their purpose is, is also enlightening.

The scientific research into kissing is still, sadly, at its early stages, so there are some hypotheses that have yet to be conclusively proven. I hope that people in various fields, from science to history to anthropology, continue to study this incredibly intimate act. What's nice is that this book isn't going to ruin the romance of a kiss for you, or make you second-guess yourself or what your body's doing when you kiss. So much of it clicks with your sub-conscious anyway, that it's like you knew it all already, you just needed to hear someone say it.

That said, I wish there'd been a bit more substance to the book, a bit more detail in some areas, but it's still a good starting point on the topic, and great to have the information collected into one handy little book.
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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Your review is so interesting, Shannon, and the topic is interesting, but given the length of my to-read shelf maybe I'll wait for a book about the subject that has even more substance, if one ever is published.


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