The prospect of cooties didn’t bother me in Kindergarten when I pinned down my crush at recess and laid one on him (though I was a little disappointed when he cried and stormed off toward the water fountain). Fortunately, my kissing abilities and understanding of consent have both improved since then, and it turns out that even if cooties are real, they might actually good for your health.
Seriously: Making out has some very real, science-backed benefits that you can read about, below.
1. Kissing is good for your teeth—as long as you’re both fairly hygienic
According to New York-based cosmetic dentist Sivan Finkel, kissing leads to increased saliva production, which helps our teeth rid themselves of harmful bacteria. “The extra saliva helps re-mineralize the teeth and protect them from acid attacks,” he said.
Even better, some experts say saliva's mineral ions can also promote repair of small lesions in tooth enamel—but again, oral hygiene is key. “Before you swap [spit], check their breath and if they pass the sniff test, then kiss away,” says Dr. Finkel.
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2. Kissing can give your immune system a boost
More than 700 types of bacteria have been found in the human mouth, but no two people have the exact same makeup of oral germs, so exchanging saliva with someone can introduce your body to new “foreign” bacteria—which isn't a bad thing.
“Trillions of microorganisms live on or inside us, and collectively they're known as the microbiome,” says Shilpa Ravella, gastroenterologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Ravella points to a recent Dutch study that found when we kiss for more than 10 seconds, around 80 million bacteria transfer between us and our partner, which can introduce new and sometimes helpful bacteria to our mouths. “Many studies have shown that having a variety of bacterial species correlates with good health. A diverse microbiome can help regulate the immune system and protect against harmful germs.”
We’ll take that over a booster shot any day.
3. Kissing can lower anxiety
One of the primary health benefits of kissing, from a chemical standpoint, is its ability to release the hormone oxytocin, also known as the "love" hormone, according to Stephanie Hartselle, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Brown University, who cites its ability to induce a sense of calm, relaxation, and bonding in humans. Since the hormone is released during foreplay, orgasm, and, yes, kissing, “It has been shown to be as powerful as meditation and many anti-anxiety medications in producing a feeling of peace and contentment,” Dr. Hartselle says.
Research has also shown kissing can lower the chemical cortisol, which is associated with stress.
4. Kissing can help lessen allergic reactions
Bet you never knew making out can help ease itchy symptoms that come with nasal or skin allergies.
Stay with us on this one: In 2006, allergist Hajime Kimata studied 24 patients with two types of allergies: mild atopic eczema (a skin allergy) and mild allergic rhinitis (a nasal allergy). She studied them before and after kissing lovers or spouses for 30 minutes while listening to soft music.
"Usually, when you have an allergy, your body overreacts by producing IgE, an antibody to a specific allergen," says Srini Pillay, M.D, a Harvard psychiatrist. "But in these groups, after kissing, this antibody was decreased, thereby decreasing the allergic reaction and symptoms."
5. Kissing can help lower blood pressure
According to New York-based plastic surgeon Dr. Ryan Neinstein, our lips are made up of blood vessels, which get dilated during kissing. “The blood is then directed towards the face and away from the rest of the body," he says. "So the demand on the heart goes down resulting in lower blood pressure."
Also, remember that fact about cortisol? When cortisol levels are lower, so is your blood pressure. "The more you kiss, the more your heart races, and the more your blood flows ultimately reducing high blood pressure,” says Dr. Neinstein.
6. Kissing can help delay signs of aging
Another reason to kiss as much as possible: Its increased blood flow to the face can stimulate collagen production and contribute to anti-aging. "The higher blood flow increases the number of small blood vessels helping to nourish the machinery of the skin,” Dr. Neinstein says.
It also stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, which is the substance “that beautiful skin is made of.”
“In order to move your lips, your whole face has to get involved, which increases elasticity," he adds. "Have you seen face yoga, or facercises? There are yogis, estheticians and dermatologists training women to do exercises for their face to stimulate collagen and reduce the need for a face lift. Passionate kissing can lead to firming the face, especially the bottom half of the face.”
7. Kissing is kind of like a treadmill—for your face
While a “simple” kiss only burns a calorie or two, kissing with tongue uses all the muscles in your face and can burn up to 26 calories per minute.
“There are 43 muscles in your face and eight in your tongue,” says Dr. Hartselle.“Kissing increases the blood supply to those areas by dilation of the vessels, and it’s possible that the muscle workout combined with the facial flushing is allowing your facial muscles to be healthier and revitalized with extended kissing sessions.”
8. It increases your sex drive
This one may seem obvious, but Dr. Rachel Abrams, a physician, integrative health expert, and author, points out that testosterone—the hormone responsible for sex drive in both women and men—is released into saliva during prolonged kissing.
“In a study, males were more likely than females to initiate open-mouth kissing and kissing with tongue contact, and male saliva contains measurable amounts of the sex hormone testosterone, which can affect libido,” says Dr. Abrams. “Testosterone is also an anti-depressant, and helps with mental focus.”
Another fun fact: Women who kiss other women also exchange testosterone, since we’ve got it too. So whether your partner is male or female, you're sharing hormones and pheromones.