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Is the Romantic–Sexual Kiss a Near Human Universal?

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Abstract

Scholars from a wide range of human social and behavioral sciences have become interested in the romantic-sexual kiss. This research, and its public dissemination, often includes statements about the ubiquity of kissing, particularly romantic-sexual kissing, across cultures. Yet, to date there is no evidence to support or reject this claim. Employing standard cross-cultural methods, this research report is the first attempt to use a large sample set (eHRAF World Cultures, SCCS, and a selective ethnographer survey) to document the presence or absence of the romantic-sexual kiss (n = 168 cultures). We defined romantic-sexual kissing as lip-to-lip contact that may or may not be prolonged. Despite frequent depictions of kissing in a wide range of material culture, we found no evidence that the romantic-sexual kiss is a human universal or even a near universal. The romantic-sexual kiss was present in a minority of cultures sampled (46%). Moreover, there is a strong correlation between the frequency of the romantic-sexual kiss and a society's relative social complexity: the more socially complex the culture, the higher frequency of romantic-sexual kissing.
... The careful concealment of the sexual region has doubtless favored this transfer" [82]. Reorientation toward the face was further assisted by romantic kissing, a practice unknown to most hunter-gatherers [83]. As an expression of erotic desire, kissing seems to have first gained broad acceptance in the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and South Asia [82,84,85]. ...
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... Kissing is an important part of sparking arousal and feelings of closeness during sex (Jankowiak et al., 2015). In a study comparing women in same-sex versus mixed-sex relationships, no differences in recalled use of non-orgasmic sexual activities (e.g., kissing) were identified between heterosexual and lesbian women (Holmberg & Blair, 2009). ...
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Few things come more naturally to us than sex—or so it would seem. Yet to a chimpanzee, the sexual practices and customs we take for granted would appear odd indeed. He or she might wonder why we bother with inconveniences like clothes, why we prefer to make love on a bed, and why we fuss so needlessly over privacy. Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior invites us into the thought-experiment of imagining human sex from the vantage point of our primate cousins, in order to underscore the role of evolution in shaping all that happens, biologically and behaviorally, when romantic passions are aroused. Peter Gray and Justin Garcia provide an interdisciplinary synthesis that draws on the latest discoveries in evolutionary theory, genetics, neuroscience, comparative primate research, and cross-cultural sexuality studies. They are our guides through an exploration of the patterns and variations that exist in human sexuality, in chapters covering topics ranging from the evolution of sex differences and reproductive physiology to the origins of sexual play, monogamous unions, and the facts and fictions surrounding orgasm. Intended for generally curious readers of all stripes, this up-to-date, one-volume survey of the evolutionary science of human sexual behavior explains why sexuality has remained a core fascination of human beings throughout time and across cultures.