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Ever think about how weird kissing is?
Hear us out: Kissing is just two people smooshing their faces together, exchanging untold numbers of germs, and yet it’s considered the starting point of intimate behavior. It was the subject of pop songs since before pop existed, and it’s the climax of approximately a million Hollywood flicks. It’s even how people seal the deal on marriage.
But if you think locking lips to express affection sounds strange—if not downright unhygienic—we have some good news: It turns out the majority of world cultures agree with you.
According to a new study published in American Anthropologist, researchers studied 168 cultures around the world, and found that people in only 77 of those cultures use the lip-to-lip classic as a sign of romantic affection. In the other 91 cultures, the romantic kiss was barely present at all. Socio-sexual ethnographers spent time on the ground carefully documenting intimate behavior to this surprising end: Not a single romantic kiss was witnessed in sub-Saharan Africa, AmazonIan Foraging cultures, or in New Guinea.
Furthermore, previous studies have shown that when some indigenous groups first saw Westerners romantically kissing, it was perceived as disgusting and unsanitary.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any minor pecks going on. The study’s authors only focused on romantic kissing, so they ignored things like parent-child kisses or cheek-to-cheek greetings that we associate with Euro-types. They also left out less common practices like the so-called “oceanic kiss” (go ahead, Google that one). No, we’re talking about some real-deal, Western-style snogging: the moment at the beginning of the sex scene that—for us Americans at least—serves as a signal of desire and even love.
And it does signal love here: The U.S., with many immigrant cultures and subcultures, is one of the romantic-kissing hotspots. But some of our close neighbors think otherwise. Only 55 percent of indigenous North American cultures kiss romantically, and only 70 percent of Europeans do. All 10 Middle Eastern cultures surveyed in the study embraced kissing as a romantic gesture.
So yeah, plenty of people around the world recoil at the thought of a makeout session. This might be of some comfort to you next time you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing in the bedroom. Better yet, you can check out our tips here.