Kissing: It sure is fun, but do humans everywhere do it? In an article in American Anthropologist, a duo of researchers led by William R. Jankowiak of UNLV decided to conduct what they say is the most comprehensive yet look at just how universal a practice kissing is.
It’s a trickier question than it might seem at first: As the authors point out, some prior claims that kissing is universal, or nearly so, have conflated nonsexual and sexual kissing. In other words, it may be the case that in all (or almost all) human societies, there’s kissing between parents and kids, for example, this doesn’t extend to kissing between those involved in romantic relationships.
The authors analyzed data from a couple of big databases of information about human cultures, and supplemented it by contacting a bunch of ethnographers to ask them if they had observed romantic kissing during their fieldwork. That left them with “168 cultures from a wide range of geographic locations, historical backgrounds, and social structures.”
Their results suggest that romantic is not, in fact, universal: there was no evidence of romantic kissing in 54 percent of the cultures in the authors’ sample. “We suspect that perhaps Western ethnocentrism — that is ‘the belief that a behavior currently deemed pleasurable must be a human universal’—may be driving the common misconception that romantic-sexual kissing is a (near) universal,” they write.
Having established that romantic kissing probably isn’t a human universal, the authors wanted to figure out if there were anything different between cultures that do and don’t have it. They found that “there is a direct relationship between the presence of kissing and the level of stratification within a society, with kissing present most frequently in complex societies.” The researchers don’t seem to have any solid leads as to why this is, though it should be pointed out that without complex, rigidly layered social structures, you wouldn’t have such all-time great fictional make-out partners as Romeo and Juliet and Jack and Rose.