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How Important Is Kissing in a Relationship?

06/07/2015 16:32 BST | Updated 06/07/2016 10:59 BST

"It's in his kiss" Or is it? Kissing is the foundation of romantic relationships and has been throughout the ages. Kissing forms the climax of so many brilliant love stories, motivating writers, musicians and poets for thousands of years. It's an elemental expression of passion, desire and intimacy, yet as a relationship goes on, kissing often dwindles, while other expressions of intimacy take its place. There is no doubt about it thought - a good old smooch is very important. There is even a day in honour of kissing - International Kissing Day on July 6, so have you ever stopped to think about why we do it, what constitutes a great kiss and how important it is in a relationship?

The first kiss: A kiss isn't just a kiss

Have you ever kissed someone and it felt just right? Is that first kiss a make-or-break discovery for you? This is because kissing is not just lips meeting each other- the gesture carries a whole lot more significance. One study by evolutionary psychologists at the State University of New York at Albany found that 59 per cent of men and 66 per cent of women had reported feeling attracted to another person initially but the attraction ended after the first kiss. But why is this?

Philematologists, the people who study kissing are not exactly sure why human started locking lips and the scientific jury is still out regarding whether it is learned or instinctual behaviour. 90 per cent of culture across the world kiss, leading some scientists to believe the practice came from kiss-feeding, where mothers would feed their young mouth-to-mouth. Lip-to-lip contact, therefore, is thought to be a way of social bonding and as an expression of love. Now it's widely accepted by scientists that kissing helps us assess characteristics about a potential mate. A kiss transmits sound, tactile signals, smells and tastes that affect how we perceive each other. When you kiss someone you body subconsciously shares information about your respective immune systems. Biologically, it's important for partners to bring different immune system genes to the table, so their offspring will have healthier offspring who stand a better chance of survival. So while you may not be thinking about having children any time soon, a bad first kiss might mean more than nerves - it could equal a genuine lack of chemistry and a sign not to take the relationship further.

Women are choosier

A recent study by Oxford University researchers suggests kissing helps us size up potential partners and, once in a relationship, may be a way of getting a partner to stay with us. The study, which questioned 900 people about the importance of kissing, showed that women generally rated kissing as more important in a relationship than men. Furthermore, men and women who rated themselves as being very attractive, or who had more casual encounters or short-term romances, also rated kissing as being more important. Women need to invest more time in men than having children and previous studies have shown that women tend to be more selective when choosing a partner, so this study shows that kissing helps with assessing potential mates.

As part of the study, researchers also concluded that kissing is very important in maintaining long-term relationships. Of those people who were polled, those in long-term relationships said the kissing was important at all times, whereas those in short-term romances said it was most important before sex and less important during and after sex. Researchers concluded that this shows that in committed relationships, kissing plays a big part in maintaining a bond with your partner.

Good for health and bonding

Kissing has unexpected benefits for our health. Research shows that kissing also helps us build up immunity to fight illness. During a heated kiss, your body releases adrenaline, which can reduce feelings of pain and coupled with pain-reducing endorphins that are also released means that one kiss is great to get rid of headache or other aches and pains.

Best of all, kissing regularly in a relationship will only strengthen it. When we kiss someone it releases oxytocin and helps us bond, which in turn spurs arousal and naturally relaxes you. It can also spike the neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to feelings of love and desire. One study at Lafayette College examined how oxytocin and cortisol, a stress hormone, changed after people kissed. The cortisol levels of couples in long-term relationships decreased after kissing and the longer the couples had been together, the further the levels dropped. Kissing, therefore, plays a major role in bonding with a new partner and staying healthy and happy. Once study even showed that men live up to five years longer of they kiss their wife before going to work.

Kisses are all very different and kissing customs vary across the world but however small the gesture, it still carries significance. A simple kiss on the cheek with a family member or friend can also solidify that relationship.

Kissing allows us to convey feelings that words cannot describe. There is still much to discover about kissing beyond what we already know about its evolutionary and personal importance but clearly, its complex, fascinating and feels great. So pucker up! It's good for you.

Author: Brett Harding is the director of Lovestruck, a website dedicated to online dating and bringing people together