Turns out that locking lips with someone helps us size up potential partners, and once in a relationship it can be one way of keeping a partner around, according to a new British study.
Researchers from Oxford University surveyed 900 adults to confirm that kissing plays a central role in assessing a future partner's genetic potential, particularly for women seeking a future mate in what the researchers describe as the, Jane Austen problem.
"Mate choice and courtship in humans is complex," said head researcher Dr. Robin Dunbar in a press release. "It involves a series of periods of assessments where people ask themselves 'shall I carry on deeper into this relationship?' Initial attraction may include facial, body, and social cues. The assessments become more and more intimate as we go deeper into the courtship stage, and this is where kissing comes in."
"In choosing partners, we have to deal with the Jane Austen problem: how long do you wait for Mr. Darcy to come along when you can't wait forever and there may be lots of women waiting just for him? At what point do you have to compromise for the curate?" he said.
The findings showed that women rated kissing as generally more important in relationships than men. Plus, men and women who rated themselves as being attractive, or who tended to have more short-term relationships and casual encounters, also rated kissing as being more important.
The team found that kissing's importance changed for people according to whether or not they were in long-term or short-term relationships. While in short-term relationships, both men and women said kissing was important before sex, but less so both during and after sex. In committed relationships, women rated kissing as more important than men, and kissing was also seen as an important way to bond outside the context of sex. More frequent kissing in a relationship was linked to the quality of a relationship, while this wasn't the case for having more sex, the researchers said.
"What Jane Austen realized is that people are extremely good at assessing where they are in the mating market and pitch their demands accordingly," Dunbar said.
"It depends what kind of poker hand you've been dealt. If you have a strong bidding hand, you can afford to be much more demanding and choosy when it comes to prospective mates. We see some of that coming out in the results of our survey, suggesting that kissing plays a role in assessing a potential partner," he said.
Findings of the research are reported in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.