Few traditions loom as large as the New Year’s kiss. It’s a custom that dates back to Ancient Rome, when during the festival of Saturnalia (Winter Solstice), Romans would celebrate by smooching. Centuries later, as the tradition evolved, people would kiss the first person they saw on January 1st to set a joyful tone for the year, according to English and German folklore.
Whether it’s the first person you see when the clock strikes midnight or your longtime bae, you might want to make an extra effort to pucker up this Wednesday night. Turns out kissing is good for your emotional and physical health—and if you're single, key to finding your future mate. Consider the science-backed case for making out.
Kissing feels so good because it literally makes you high. When you kiss someone (and enjoy it), your brain releases feel-good hormones including dopamine and serotonin, as well as endorphins, which lead to a sense of euphoria. Kissing also releases oxytocin, better known as the “love hormone,” which helps humans form attachments. You really do take your first steps toward love with your lips.
Researchers believe one reason kissing evolved in humans was to help us select a mate. According to two studies from Oxford University, humans may use kissing to pick up on biological cues from partners involving genetic compatibility. In other words: A great kiss could signal that a couple should pursue the relationship further, whereas a bad kiss may warn that two people shouldn’t mate.
How often you kiss your partner may reveal how content you truly are. In a study of nearly 1,000 participants, researchers found that frequency of kissing in a relationship, having a partner who participants considered a good kisser, and satisfaction with the amount of kissing were all directly related to relationship satisfaction—even more so than how often the participants were having sex.
One reason kissing feels so good is because our lips are damn incredible. They’re densely packed with nerve endings, disproportionate to other parts of the body, which in turn sets off a wave of biological activity: When we kiss, our breathing changes, cheeks flush, pupils dilate, pulse quickens, and basically, whole body explodes with feeling. In a word: fireworks.
In our busy, busy lives we need as much help as we can get in the stress department. Good news! Kissing is a simple way to chill out. Research has shown that kissing, along with increasing feel-good hormones, actually lowers not-so-feel-good stress hormones like cortisol, allowing us to feel calm and composed. So sit back, relax, and grab some ChapStick.
Kissing has such a profound impact on us that people tend to remember their first kiss more vividly than the first time they had sex, according to researchers. In a study of 500 people, researchers from Butler University found that most participants could recall up to 90 percent of the details of their first kiss, regardless of how long ago it took place.
A good kiss may decrease your cortisol level, but a bad kiss causes your body to release more cortisol, basically leading to chemical chaos, Sheril Kirshenbaum writes in The Science of Kissing—and may discourage both partners from continuing the relationship. In other words, kissing is like your very own bad relationship detector.
Kissing plays a vital role in women’s lives, especially when it comes to long-term romantic relationships. A study published in the journal Human Nature found that at key times during a woman’s menstrual cycle, she becomes pickier about her partner’s kissing. Specifically, researchers found that women place more value on kissing when they're most likely to conceive (i.e., when they’re ovulating), in order to help determine mating compatibility. No pressure, guys.
Kissing isn’t just fun, it’s also a nice little workout. Research has shown that locking lips can burn between two and seven calories per minute, depending on how passionate things get. Just think: A half-hour make-out session could burn off that Pumpkin Spice Latte.
It can’t make you immortal, but it could add a couple years to your life. A study from the 1980’s out of University College London found that men who kiss their wives before leaving for work in the morning lived five years longer than men who didn’t. Sure this could be purely correlational—men who want to kiss their wives may be happier, in better marriages, and healthier to begin with—but if puckering up helps even a little, it’s worth a shot.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.