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A comic about the cultural and scientific reasons we love making out.

The Highlight by Vox logo

Humor, political cartoons, and graphic journalism from The Highlight, Vox’s home for features and longform journalism.


We often think of kissing as universal human behaviour. Who could imagine life without first kiss stories or the x’s with the o’s. But what is kissing, really? Why do we do it? How did it evolve, and why do some cultures do it while others don’t?
Kissing often feels intuitive due to its ubiquity in modern society and in popular culture. But in a research report published by American Anthropologist in 2015, signs of “romantic-sexual” kissing were found in only under half of 168 unique cultures.
Psychologist Neel Burton believes it may have developed from “kiss feeding,” or how human and some animal parents feed their babies by chewing food and passing it from their mouth. In the animal kingdom, bonobos kiss and bugs touch antennae.
The human lips and tongue are full of sensitive nerve endings, which are connected to our brains’ pleasure receptors. When we kiss, our pupils dilate, our heart rates increase, and dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and adrenaline are released.
But a bad kiss could mean incompatibility on a much deeper level.  According to the European Society of Human Genetics, the more different two peoples’ genetic makeup is, the more likely they are to find each other sexually attractive.
The ubiquity of mouth-to-mouth kissing is partially the result of globalization. But cultures that don’t kiss, such as indigenous groups less exposed or more recently exposed to outside contact, engage in other forms of affection, like nose-kissing.
Some anthropologists suggest that kissing was introduced to the Middle East and the Greeks when Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BC, but the further origins of kissing are unclear.
With the rise of Christianity, worshippers would often greet each other with a “holy kiss”, a transfer of the spirit. In Renaissance Europe, courtly love inspired stories such as Romeo and Juliet, and kissing became the symbol of romance, liberation.
But it can also be a subversive statement too. In 1966, a photo of Richard and Mildred Loving kissing was published at a time when it was illegal for them to be married as an interracial couple. Ultimately, we have the power to choose what kissing means.

Xulin Wang is an award-winning illustrator and comic artist raised in Alberta and based in Toronto. Through her work, she tells personal, informative, and socially conscious stories.

Author: Xulin Wang

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