The Republic of T.

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A Kiss Just Ain’t A Kiss

Let’s leave politics aside for the moment. It’s been a long time since I’ve written about things that really matter, and asked really important questions like “When did you know you were heterosexual?”, “What made you fall in love?”, and “What turns you on?” Too long, in fact.

So, allow me to make up for it now with an equally important question. Do you like to kiss? Before you answer, though, you might want to take a look at the latest research on kissing, and see if it matches your experience.

Here’s a hint, apparently as with the questions above, men and women tend to give different answers. And after reading the Washington Post article I find myself once again having to read between the lines when science doesn’t include or acknowledge another experience. Which is a shame. Because gay people kiss, and gay people have brainsÑwhich is apparently where the real action takes place anyway.

Fisher believes kissing is all about choosing the right mate.

“There’s so much information exchanged when you kiss someone that I just thought it must play a vital role in mate choice, and this paper is elegantly showing that,” Fisher said.

A disproportionate amount of the brain, she noted, is geared toward interpreting signals from the mouth.

“When you look at the brain regions associated with picking up data from the body, a huge amount of the brain is devoted to picking up information from the lips and tongue,” she said. “Very little of the brain is built to pick up what happens to, say, your back. There have been case reports of people being stabbed in the back without even knowing it. But even the lightest brush of a feather on your lips and you feel it intensely.”

This isn’t exactly breaking news. According to a press release, the research was done and the report published last year. I haven’t read the full report (available in PDF format) yet, but what’s in the WaPo article holds true for me, at least for the most part.

For example, I can relate to the three hypotheses that were pretty much confirmed by the research: that kissing is a way to assess a potential mate, promote bonding, and a way of inducing sexual arousal. Those all make sense to me, but at some points in the article it felt like I was looking at the world from the other side of a looking glass. If men and women kiss differently, and for different reasons, then I have to admit: I kiss like a girl.

Sort of.

But let me back up and answer the initial question: Do you like to kiss?

Oh. My. Good. Good-ness. If by “like” you mean that I can be perfectly happy doing that and nothing but that for hours at a time, with the right person, then my answer is yes.

It wasn’t always that way, though. See, I’ve kissed girls before. Yes, it’s true. It was just a few times when I was fooling around, just before I came out around the age of 12 or 13. I tried it, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what the big hairy deal was that made it such a popular pass time with so many people.

Then I went off to college and kissed a guy for the first time. Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of a sudden, there it was. Big. Hairy. Deal. My brain exploded, something that never happened the times I kissed girls (during which I was thinking I must not be doing something right). In fact, an awful lot of time passed before I even thought about the fact that there was even more stuff we could do.

And I think part of what turned me on about that kiss is part of what seems to turn heterosexual women on; something I’ve written about before.

I have a confession to make. I love how men, some of them anyway, smell. Not a big surprise, I guess. After all, IÕm gay. ItÕs not unusual for me to take a deep breath, when a good looking guy happens to pass by me, stand in my general vicinity, or sit next to me on the train. In fact, itÕs almost instinctive, and Ñ depending on the guy Ñ could make me a little lightheaded and more than a little interested. The last time it happened on the train, an attractive young (20-something) got on the train Ñ hot and sweaty, fresh from an evening jog Ñ and ended up standing right next to me. If it hadnÕt been for the pole I was holding on to, I would have swooned. When I hold my husband, I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

ItÕs something that goes back at least as far as middle school, around the time puberty hit. (Which, incidentally, was around the time I came out.) It was also around the my male classmates got an extra ingredient added to their sweat. Something that drove the girls wild. And me too, of course, though I had to be a quieter about it then.

It’s similar to the way heterosexual women respond to male pheromones, and more than a little related to their motivation for kissing, too.

Women place more emphasis on the taste and smell of the person they kiss than men do, the researchers found.

“That clues us in that females may be using it more to make mate assessments than men,” she said.

Women were also more likely to refuse to have sex with a partner unless they kissed first. More than half of the men said they would have sex without kissing first, but fewer than 15 percent of the women said the same.

That’s also where I dismissed any doubts that the study was limited to heterosexuals.

As a single gay man, kissing was a part of sex for me, in part because it gave me some important information. There’s a whole category of men who have sex with men but identify as heterosexual, and kissing is one thing they don’t do in situations with other men. (Actually, there’s a whole list of things they don’t do, in order to protect their apparently precarious position as “straight” men.)

So, a guy who said “I don’t do kissing,” was likely to get “Then I don’t do you,” as a response. That’s partly because some of those guys have a nasty habit of panicking after having sex with another man who does identify as gay, and the gay guys end up dead. (See the “panic room” posts from the LGBT Hate Crimes Project here, here, and here for more.) And it’s partly because half the time those guys have girlfriends, wives, and even children—none of whom know what they’re up to. That’s something I just wouldn’t do.

But my real question is this. Why does research into why human beings kiss seem to miss entirely the reality that some human beings are same-sex oriented and kiss members of their own gender for a lot of the same reasons? I don’t know, but I’m willing to give the researchers the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t actively seek to exclude same-sex couples. Maybe they just couldn’t find any who were willing to participate. (Though I doubt that, because in most  college towns you’ll find at least a small gay community.)

But I do which researchers would think about this and take some actions to include gays & lesbians in this kind of research. Maybe they can’t go out and recruit gays specifically, because it would undermine the credibility of the research because the sample wasn’t entirely random. Still, something important is being missed when this aspect of human experience is left out.

There have been scientific studies suggesting that gay men respond similarly to heterosexual women and lesbians respond similarly to heterosexual men where pheromones are concerned. What would have been discovered if same-sex couples had been included in this research? What might have been discovered about why lesbians kiss? What might have been discovered about why gay men kiss (or why heterosexual men who have sex with men don’t kiss men)?

Nothing in the article suggests that such inclusion was the case, and that’s a damn shame, because we might have learned a lot more; like a kiss ain’t just a kiss most of the time, no matter who’s locking lips.

One Comment

  1. Actually the paper says they asked on the survey what gender people mostly kiss, and excluded same-sex respondents, because they were interested in relating the results to theory about mating behavior.