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Welcome to the Osculation Chronicles

August 20, 2011

I finished reading The Science of Kissing by Sheril Kirshenbaum last night. I’ve told some people about it since I started reading, and they’ve replied with statements like “You can’t really learn how to kiss from a book. You have to just do it.”

ATTENTION: This is not a how-to manual! This is the kind of book that will explain to you that osculation is what all the cool scientists call kissing.

The Science of Kissing

The book was good, great even for a nonscientific-type like me, but I have one caveat: I wanted more. Wow. I never thought I’d say that about a science book. I feel like I earned my nerd glasses for the week without breaking a sweat.

The book journeys through theories about the likely origins of the human kiss as well as through “kissing-like” behaviors in the animal kingdom. Here’s where I had a big problem, though: Where were the prairie dogs? When talking about animals that have “kissing-like” behaviors, prairie dogs are the first critters that come to my mind. So my reaction was this when I didn’t find any mention of them:

Okay, so my reaction was actually much less dramatic.

The book moved on from origins and critters to study kissing in history and culture. I learned that the German language includes the word nachküssen, which means “a kiss to make up for those that have not occurred.”

I need a nachküssen. And can somebody please tell me how to pronounce that?

From there, the book moved into progressively deeper scientific waters, exploring topics such as gender differences, scent, hormones, cooties (not kidding!), and the brain’s role in kissing. It all leads to one truth: The simplest kiss isn’t simple at all. When you kiss someone, you give and receive a lot of subtle information, you establish or reestablish a bond, and more.

This wasn’t just a science book. Sheril wisely saw fit to sneak in some humorous notes that at times made me laugh. And, sometimes, I think, she was entirely serious but cracked me up anyway. When describing a survey she’d researched that questioned male and female students about kissing and kissing preferences, she described how frustrated she felt because the survey results seemed to support “clichés about the sexes.” However, she theorized that the results were slightly skewed due to the limited variation in the survey participants, so she decided to conduct her own informal survey with much greater variation in age, gender, orientation, etc. The result?

I hoped to blow some gender expectations out of the water.

Then came a big surprise: I couldn’t.

The title of that chapter is “Women are from Venus, Men Are Easy.” Love it.

This book is the size and style of a coffee-table book, but I fully intend to use it as a reference. In conclusion, I hope for a Volume II, and please, bring on the prairie dogs.

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