There was chemistry: intense, yearning, leg-crossing chemistry! We had been talking and laughing effortlessly across a narrow table in a bar for more than two hours. Our hands were almost touching when the talk finally stopped. He leaned in. I leaned in. I closed my eyes, instinctively tilted my head to the right, we kissed...
Just then, my right elbow slipped off the table, my body reeled in the same direction, our lips abruptly parted. Only my hand slamming against an adjacent wall saved me from completely sliding off the chair. I was not drunk or suffering from vertigo -- this kiss had actually made me swoon.
I know I'm not alone in this feeling of amorous light-headedness (though I'm not sure how common it is to lose balance with it). Since I've been collecting stories about kissing experiences, it's clear that an intense rush, giddiness or even seeing stars is not unusual during an exceptionally passionate kiss.
One woman described her most memorable kiss this way: "When I closed my eyes I felt as though I was floating. I saw stars appearing and disappearing in the darkness."
But most of these head spinning kisses have something in common and mine was no exception -- according to scientists, romantic kissers are at least twice as likely to tilt their heads to the right (as opposed to the left). Numerous research studies have confirmed this, suggesting around 80 per cent of adult kisses in the Western world are initiated this way.
During the last 20 years, a number of theories have been postulated to explain this phenomenon such as: innate motor asymmetry, cultural reading direction, and a right head-turning bias observed in early infancy that might express itself later in kissing.
But more recently, this multifactorial evidence prompted research scientists Jennifer Sedgewick and Lorin Elias, from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, to ask: "Can the emotional context of the kiss influence kissing bias?"
In their research, published earlier this year, they explain:
The current literature has exclusively focused on kisses between romantic partners, though people kiss for purposes other than romantic gestures, such as the affection of a parent kissing their child. A weaker or reversed bias between a parental and romantic context could be presented, as other lateral behaviours have revealed opposing biases dependent on the emotional context. Individuals asked to pose for a portrait, for example, tend to display more of their right-cheek when provided with a concealed emotional context, but with their left-cheek when asked to express as much emotion as possible.
And the answer to their question seems to be YES! Their work re-confirmed the right turn preference for romantic kissing but it also found something new: the directionality of kissing is indeed, at least partly, dependent on the emotional relationship of the kissers.
One hundred and sixty-one images of romantic kissing (mothers kissing fathers) and 529 images of parental kissing (mothers or fathers kissing sons or daughters) were studied, revealing a significant left turning bias for the parental kisses and a right turning bias for the romantic kisses. (There was no significant gender difference.)
The report suggests the right turn in romantic kissing could be due to increased activity in the brain's reward, pleasure and motor circuitry -- in the left hemisphere -- which can in turn trigger rightward movement in the body. (Could this explain my lurching to the right during the swooning kiss?)
One explanation for the parental left turn is that parents might learn to turn this way to kiss their children because the dominant cradling position in babyhood is leftward.
In any case, this latest research seems to suggest that tilting the head to the left is a more platonic kissing position. Think of your most memorable kisses, your fantasy kisses, favourite film kisses, your day to day family kisses, and note the way you turn to kiss -- is there a difference depending on who you are kissing?
And does all this mean you can increase the pleasure of a romantic kiss by turning to the right? Unlikely, but it could mean that the more passionate the attraction, the more likely it is that you (and your partner) will lean in to the right.