While kissing is considered an indelible part of romantic and sexual relations in most of the Western world, it appears that the practice is far from universal. According to a worldwide study conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada and Indiana University, fewer than half of the world’s cultures kiss in a romantic way; indeed, many cultures find smooching to be weird or downright gross. More from The Washington Post:
The researchers studied 168 cultures over the past year and found evidence of romantic kissing in 77 societies, or 46 percent, but none in 91 others.
“It’s a reminder that behaviors that seems so normative often do not occur in rest of the world. Not only that, but they might be viewed as strange”, Justin Garcia, the study’s co-author who teaches gender studies at Indiana University, told The Washington Post. “It’s a reminder of romantic and sexual diversity around the world. It shows how human biology interacts with different cultures to explain various behaviors humans engage in”.
The researchers found romantic kissing to be the norm in the Middle East, with the practice established in 10 out of 10 cultures studied. In Asia, 73 percent enjoyed romantic kissing; in Europe, 70 percent; and in North America, 55 percent. No smoochers were found in Central America.
“No ethnographer working with Sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea, or Amazonian foragers or horticulturalists reported having witnessed any occasion in which their study populations engaged in a romantic-sexual kiss”, the researchers wrote in the study.”
Here is a visual representation of the results:
As someone born and raised in the U.S., and of Middle Eastern descent, it is pretty fascinating to think that kissing is virtually nonexistent among wide swathes of humanity, or that it manifests in different ways.
Across Europe, a peck on the cheek is a common cultural greeting; one on the lips is indeed a romantic gesture. In India, Bangladesh and Thailand, it’s a private practice. Still, some societies do not consider kissing romantic at all.
The Oceanic kiss, for example, involves passing open mouths over each other — without actual contact, according to news.com.au. It’s not that these cultures aren’t sexual, the researchers said, but that the kiss is not seen as a sexual expression. For instance, some consider smelling a partner’s face to be sexual because it allows them to learn more about each other.
“The Aka pygmies talk about their ‘night’s work’, researcher Volsche told news.com.au. “This is the euphemism they use for sexual contact. They admit that it is enjoyable, the main purpose is to conceive a child. Where we in the West may brag about the quality of foreplay or the length of an individual interaction, the Aka focus on how many times in a night they ‘worked.'”
So even though the kiss may, in fact, be an evolutionary adaptation, it doesn’t appear to be a cross-cultural one, Garcia said.
Such anthropological observations really help to put things in perspective. The practices, customs, and ideas that we take as a given for humanity — e.g. what is “normal” or “common” — are just reflective of one particular worldview or cultural experience among a multitude of others. Even something as “typical” as kissing manifests in a range of different ways, if at all.