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SAPIENS, an online journal of anthropology, marked the season of valentines with an article noting that less than half of the world’s cultures practice romantic kissing.

The rest think it’s gross.

international-kissing-day“The Half the World That Doesn’t Make Out,” by William R. Jankowiak, Shelly L. Volsche, and Justin R. Garcia, was based on their earlier research, published as “Is the Romantic-Sexual Kiss a Near Human Universal?” in the American Anthropological Association’s journal Anthrosource. Wanting to see if the widespread assumption that nearly all peoples enjoy kissing is true, the researchers surveyed ethnographers to collect data from 168 different global cultures. The answer turned out to be surprisingly negative: just 46 percent of the cultures examined practice romantic-sexual kissing, defined as “lip-to-lip contact that may or may not be prolonged.”

In other words, while parents in most cultures will cuddle and kiss their children, more than half the world’s cultures don’t make out — or at least, not in public where ethnographers can observe them.

By coding a variety of data points and comparing them across cultures, the researches found a distinct correlation between social complexity and romantic kissing. With few exceptions, egalitarian hunter-gatherer or horticulture-based societies did not exhibit romantic kissing, while more complex cultures with greater social stratification were far more likely to enjoy mouth-to-mouth interaction.

Researchers postulated that “the emergence of the romantic–sexual kiss may coincide with other factors, such as oral hygiene or the rise of elite social classes that value self-control of affect and emotional displays.”

We learn from our own culture and what other people do, of course, and the researches noted that when romantic kissing is societally ritualized as a part of romantic or sexual foreplay, “kissing may well serve to bolster the pair-bond relationship, by way of biobehavioral partner assessment or conforming to the imagined cultural sexual script.”

Who knew we needed an academic analysis of something that seems as natural as a kiss? Whether we grasp the scholarly lingo or not, we can at least be grateful that we live in a socially complex society.

Tony Cartledge

About Tony Cartledge

Tony W. Cartledge is contributing editor of Baptists Today, in addition to teaching Old Testament studies and various ministry courses at Campbell University Divinity School. He formerly served as editor of the Biblical Recorder, newspaper of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and as a pastor for 26 years. Tony is a graduate of the University of Georgia, Southeastern Seminary and Duke University, where he earned a Ph.D. He is the author of several books including the Smyth & Helwys commentary on First and Second Samuel and Telling Stories: Tall Tales and Deep Truths and several Bible study books for Nurturing Faith.