Sex Differences in Romantic Kissing Among College Students: An Evolutionary Perspective

Authors:

  • Susan M. Hughes (Albright College, Reading, Pennsylvania),
  • Marissa A. Harrison (Borough of Manhattan Community College, The City University of New York),
  • Gordon G. Gallup, Jr. (University at Albany, State University of New York)

Published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology (2007 5(3): 612-631) (full PDF).

Abstract

This study provides a descriptive account of kissing behavior in a large sample of undergraduate college students and considers kissing in the context of both short-term and long-term mating relationships. Kissing was examined as a mate assessment device, a means of promoting pair bonds, and a means of inducing sexual arousal and receptivity. A total 1,041 college students completed one of three questionnaires measuring kissing preferences, attitudes, styles, and behaviors. Results showed that females place more importance on kissing as a mate assessment device and as a means of initiating, maintaining, and monitoring the current status of their relationship with a long-term partner. In contrast, males place less importance on kissing, especially with short-term partners, and appear to use kissing to increase the likelihood of having sex. The results suggest that kissing may play an important role as an adaptive courtship/mating ritual.

Motivation

Various summaries have been published online, but they don't cover all the significant findings, and some botch statistics (namely, the eHarmony article published in May 2010, 3 years after the study was completed).

Scope

Three studies on 1041 college students in total, 93% of whom 18-24, about 2/3 women. Limitations: self-reporting (no direct observation or experiments); the findings may not apply to older adults, or to couples with children.

Findings

Nothing really surprising:

  • kissing between sexual or romantic partners occurs in more than 90 percent of human cultures

  • men and women averaged the same number of kissing partners

  • roughly 10% of the students indicated having kissed 1-2 partners, 15% 3-5 partners, 23% 6-10 partners, 27% 11-20 partners, and 25% kissed 21 or more partners.

  • 52.8% of males would have sex without kissing. Only 14.6% of women would.

  • women rated kissing as more important across all situations (before/during/after sex, long-term relationship/casual partner)

  • men prefer wetter kisses than women (hypothesized explanations: males have reduced chemosensory detection in comparison to females, and may want to introduce hormones into women's mouths, such as testosterone, which increases libido); women prefer wetter kissing with long-term partners

  • men prefer more tongue contact, with both long and short-term partners

  • around 65% of both males and females prefer open-mouth kissing a long-term partner

  • increased bonding after kissing with long-term vs. short-term partners

  • kissing is more important before intercourse than after intercourse

  • females are more likely to initiate kissing after intercourse

  • for men, kissing is more important for inducing sexual arousal, than for bonding

  • more males than females used kissing to attempt ending a fight

  • more men consider French kissing as having sex

  • women rate the partner's breath, taste, and appearance of healthy teeth as more important than men

  • "males placed more importance on facial attractiveness, the attractiveness of the woman's body, and their weight."

  • when asked to rate which factors are important for a good kiss, several sex differences emerged. More males than females indicated that a good kiss is one where their partner lets them initiate tongue contact, where kissing leads to sex, and their partner makes moaning noises. No other features showed significant sex differences.

  • females are more jealous when their partner kisses someone than males; there is more jealousy in both sexes when the partner kisses someone with tongue contact

  • Previous studies have shown that during initial dating with a romantic partner, women wanted physical contact, hugging, and sensuous kissing, whereas males wanted to touch their partner's breasts and genitals [...] Together these findings suggest that females place more importance on kissing, and are more reliant on kissing as a mate assessment technique.

  • At the moment of a kiss, there is an exceedingly rich and complex exchange of postural, tactile, and chemical cues. [An] unrelated survey included the question "Have you ever found yourself attracted to someone, only to discover after kissing them for the first time that you were no longer interested?" Out of 58 male respondents, 59% answered "yes", and 66% of 122 female respondents also answered in the affirmative. Thus, what transpires during an initial kiss can have a profound effect on the future of that relationship.

  • women in committed relationships use kissing (wittingly or not) to update, monitor, and assess the status of their partner's continuing commitment (or lack thereof) to the relationship. "Males tend to employ romantic kissing as a means of increasing sexual receptivity and gaining sexual access, to affect conflict resolution, and to possibly monitor the fertility of his mate."

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