by Brian Awehali

The first time you kiss somebody, you may well be caught up in romance and various libidinal tides, but your brain and olfactory system are hard at work, gathering information to decide whether to take it to the “next level.” At least that’s how the assembled panelists and journalists at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago saw the process.

“You’re not just kissing,” said one scientist suggestively, “you are likely absorbing information about your partner’s immune system, looking for a good match should you two procreate.”

Other scientists in attendance copiously supported their colleague’s assertion by noting findings in related studies. “A similar tendency has also been found,” asserted one postdoctoral researcher in the Berkeley Olfactory Research Program, “in some rather interesting tests where women sniffing male armpit sweat chose those indicating immune systems complementary–not similar–to their own.”

Certainly there exist women for whom the idea of a long session of male armpit huffing evokes an unseemly dark thrill. You might hope that one or more such women were among those who signed up for this study. But when pondering this pit-sweat-sniffing story, one must consider the long tour of ignominies visited upon countless women that led up to this particular moment in scientific history, and the moment in which each woman in the study was bade: Choose the best armpit.

(Alternately, the study may not have involved live male armpits at all, but rather the sniffing of previously collected male armpit sweat. Either way, it’s an odd study. It also provides me a rare opportunity to link to an only slightly related Old Spice commercial about armpits, men, manliness, and frenching):


Even if you don’t want to have kids or sniff anyone’s armpits, scientists say the kiss is still crucial: It can help you chemically decide whether you will have fun dating. At least that’s the assumption you could make from research results indicating that people clicked with others based on levels of hormones present in saliva. Testosterone and oxytocin–a hormone involved in maternal bonding with offspring–are among the many hormones expressed in saliva.

(In a thankfully totally separate yet related experiment, virgin sheep injected with oxytocin began to mother unrelated lambs, which they wouldn’t have done otherwise, and which they were surely confused about afterward. Other oxytocin studies reveal even more interesting things).

Those with average-to-poor dental hygiene can take some heart from these recent studies: Even with all the advertising focus on minty fresh sterile mouths, oral hygiene or the lack thereof doesn’t obscure these chemical clues, researchers say. Sloppy kissers who aren’t lesbians or philematophobes can take heart as well: Men apparently like more drool in a kiss, perhaps because they tend to have worse senses of smell and taste and hence need more to work with.

–with reporting by Kari Lydersen


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