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By Devin Coldewey

A kiss between lovers is such a common sight these days that one might think that it's always been done, and all over the world. But a new study finds that many cultures don't feature romantic kissing — in fact, it seems to be a relatively new and largely Western practice.

Since it has been observed in apes, some anthropologists and biologists have theorized that kissing is something that goes back to our animal roots, perhaps as a way to gauge the health of a partner. As great a proportion as 90 percent of cultures have been previously estimated to kiss — but the evidence, the researchers write, doesn't support this idea.

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The study authors, from Indiana and Nevada State Universities, looked at surveys of dozens of cultures and quizzed anthropologists around the world who had spent time with many more. What they found was that just under half of cultures studied showed evidence of romantic kissing — that is, the mouth-to-mouth kind between mates and lovers, not kiss-like gestures within families or among friends. Those that did were more likely to be Western and feature more class-based social structures.

"We found no evidence that the romantic–sexual kiss is a human universal or even a near universal," the authors wrote in the paper's conclusion. "While kissing may be a way to communicate intimacy in some societies or may function as a specific eroticized activity in others, it is important to note that for quite a few kissing is seen as unpleasant, unclean, or simply unusual."

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The paper was published earlier this month in the journal American Anthropologist.