The Science of Kissing

Every romance reader (heck, every person) knows that the magic of any romantic relationship starts with a first kiss. I recently came across some fascinating information by Dr. Reese Halter on the “science” of kissing. This is part of his blog, reprinted with his permission:

“When the first kiss works, it’s powerful all right, as over 90 percent of lovers, irrespective of age, can remember exactly where and when it occurred. Moreover, that first kiss is a dealmaker or breaker because over 60 percent of first kisses, for both men and women, are a failure, terminating any chance for romance.
            Well before that first kiss occurs, the eyes are conveying important information to the brain, which in turn has a tremendous influence upon our feelings associated with love. Next time you get a chance watch how new lovers look at one another – it’s thrilling.
            After the eyes have helped set the mood in the brain, just prior to approaching that first kiss, the prospective lover involuntarily tilts his or her head, either to the right or left. It turns out that about two-thirds of us tilt to the right.
            It’s not right-handed related but rather correlated to head tilt direction while in utero as the fetus moves and tilts its head. Also, over 80 percent of nursing mothers cradle their babies to the left, thus the infant must turn its head to the right. Conditioning for feelings of love, affection and sustenance clearly begin very early in our lives.
            Assuming that first kiss feels just right, then five of the 12 brain nerves are now into overdrive including hearing, seeing, smelling and tasting. Individually and collectively, they affect the expression on the lover’s face.
            As the kiss heats up, blood vessels expand to allow more oxygen to the brain, breathing becomes deeper and irregular and pupils dilate (likely explaining why many lovers close their eyes).
            Invariably, there will be tongue contact, more often than not initiated by the male - but more about that later. The tongue allows us to sample our partner’s taste with the assistance of over 9,000 little bumps, or taste buds, spread across its surface.
            Now all five senses are sending messages to the brain; that is, tens of billions of nerves are firing rapidly throughout the body.
            Lips are very sensitive to pressure, warmth and cold; they contain the highest concentration of nerve cells on our body. There are over 100 billion complex nerve cells liberally spread throughout the lips. They are the gateway to tiny neurotransmitter molecules that help trigger hormones including dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and adrenaline.
            That first passionate kiss causes dopamine to spike throughout the brain. It’s a give-me-more insatiable gene all about pleasure; when we first fall in love and have those over-the-moon thoughts, that’s dopamine. Incidentally, when we first fall in love it affects the same part of the brain – giving us a craving just like cocaine. It also causes energy to elevate, loss of appetite, sleeplessness and even intoxication.
            Oxytocin is a love hormone that is crucial in promoting affection and attachment so that when dopamine wanes, oxytocin surges. That’s why a kiss, hug or tender caress helps to maintain a strong sense of attachment for lovers.
            Serotonin controls our emotions and movement of information to the brain, and those obsessive feelings (like dopamine) and thoughts about our new lover. When that first passionate kiss brings love into our world, the high levels of serotonin mimic those associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
            That first passionate kiss can cause some people to experience a sensation of weakness-in-the-knees due to high levels of adrenaline, which are also spiking in the brain.
            Women intuitively use that first kiss to assess whether a male is healthy and possessing ‘good-genes.’ If that first kiss feels and tastes good, that’s an excellent start in a bonding relationship.
            The other important link in determining whether that first kiss makes the grade is body scent. Not surprisingly the highest concentration of scent or sebaceous glands are near the nose, face and neck. Each of us has a unique scent and the human nose is able to detect over 9,000 different molecules. When you press your nose over your prospective lover’s neck or jaw-line, instinctively only you’ll know if their scent is just right.
            Lastly, there’s a valid evolutionary reason why men slip women a wet, sloppy tongue kiss. Male saliva contains testosterone, a hormone in short supply in females. Just a few male testosterone molecules raise women’s libido, readying that passionate scene for intimacy.”

Thank you, Dr. Halter! As romance authors and readers here at Fierce Romance, we all know how important that first kiss can be, but you’ve opened our eyes to the fascinating science behind the emotion of kissing. You can read more about Dr. Halter at:

What about you? How important is a "perfect"first kiss to a relationship? I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle sits on a rocky promontory where Loch Etive meets the Firth of Lorn in Argyll, not too far from Oban.  The name Dunstaffnage comes from the Gaelic  dun or 'fort' and two Norse words, stafr 'staff' and nes 'promontory'. Staff may refer to an office-bearer or official. This castle guarded the approach from the sea to the Pass of Brander which leads to the heart of Scotland. 

Dunstaffnage Castle
 Dunstaffnage was built around the year 1220, probably by Duncan MacDougall, grandson of the famous and powerful Somerled. At this time, Argyll was the dividing line between the kingdom of Scotland and Norway. Neither king controlled the area, and by 1150 it was ruled by Somerled, a half-Norse, half-Gaelic warlord. He seized the Kingdom of the Isles from his brother-in-law and ruled until his death. When Somerled died, his kingdom passed to his three sons. Dougall (spelled Dubhgall in Gaelic), the oldest, became Lord of Lorn. Duncan was his son.

Those who visited the castle found good anchorage in Dunstaffnage Bay. It still serves this purpose and you will usually see yachts anchored in the bay.

Dunstaffnage Bay viewed from the Castle's wall walk

Dunstaffnage is one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland and it served as residence for lords for over five hundred years. It was only abandoned in 1810.

The curtain wall and three projecting towers survive from the 13th century as does the nearby chapel. As you approach the castle, you will see a strong, forbidding fortification. It's easy to see how it would have intimidated those who might have wanted to attack. 

The castle has a long and violent history. It served as a key locale during the 14th century Wars of Independence. Later it served as a stronghold of the Campbells, earls of Argyll. The Campbells earned the king's favor, and therefore power, by policing the region, especially the Western Isles, against uprisings of clans such as the MacDonalds.

Although trees surround the castle now, back when it was a fortified castle, it offered its residents expansive views over the Firth of Lorn and Loch Etive.

The castle sits on high rocky promontory, and the walls rise more than 6 more meters. The original tops of the walls are gone, so it's unknown if they were battlemented or covered in a timber structure. Excavations show that the castle was originally surrounded by an eight meter wide ditch. The only openings in the landward side of the curtain were narrow arrow slits. After 1500 these were blocked up and even smaller gun loops inserted.

The original castle had no projecting corner towers, just the massive 11 feet thick walls. The stonework would not have been visible. The walls would've been harled (coated with white lime render.) Harling provides a long-lasting weatherproof shield and was often used on Scottish castles and other buildings. Traces of the harling still survive at Dunstaffnage.

Duncan's son Ewen probably built the three round towers onto the castle, and constructed or enlarged the hall inside.

Dunstaffnage Castle Gatehouse being repaired

The building above the entrance, which looks like a house, is the gatehouse. It was rebuilt in the late 1500s. When we were visiting, repairs were being made on it. The Captain of Dunstaffnage resided in the gatehouse. The man who filled this role in the 1500s probably had this gatehouse built to replace the poor accommodation of the old donjon. The gatehouse is three floors with one room on each floor. We were not allowed inside nor near it with the repairs to the roof, etc.

entrance door

The entrance dates from the late 15th century when the Campbells took over the castle. The doorway is within a pointed arch recess. The stone steps leading up to it were built around 1720. Before that, there must have been a drawbridge over the huge ditch. Evidence of a drawbridge pit remains.


The donjon is a dilapidated tower at the north corner. This is the largest of the three towers and was added around 1250. It was built to allow archers a better view of the outer faces of the wall and to furnish the lord with better accommodation. It was probably three stories high. The ground floor was a storage cellar with no stairs leading from it to the upper floors. It had three arrow slits. The upper part held the lord's hall and chamber. There is a spiral stair linking the two and in it a latrine, sometimes called a garderobe.

Dunstaffnage Castle, interior
 The area of the castle wall below the wall-walk has several recesses which originally gave access to narrow arrow slits. Later they were altered for guns. There may have been buildings here in early times.

From the beginning, the castle had a wall-walk around the landward facing walls of the castle. This allowed the garrison to keep an eye out and defend this vulnerable side of the castle. The wall-walk has been repaired so visitors can walk on it. There's a great view from up here over Dunstaffnage Bay.

Hope you enjoyed this visit to Dunstaffnage. Next time, I'll talk about the chapel.

 My Fierce Highlander is on sale for .99 cents. Last Saturday morning, because of the sale and an ad, this book broke into the Kindle top 100 and ended up at #47 on the overall bestseller list! At B&N it landed at #8 on the Nook bestseller list! And it was #2 in historical romance at iTunes! A huge thanks to everyone who bought the book!!

Gwyneth Carswell, an English lady banished by her father to the harsh Scottish Highlands, wants nothing more than to take her young son away from the violence of two fighting clans--her own distant kin, the MacIrwins, and their enemies, the MacGraths. She risks everything to rescue the fierce MacGrath warrior from the battlefield where he’s left for dead by her clan. She only knows she is inexplicably drawn to him and he wants peace as she does. When her clan learns of her betrayal, they seek vengeance. Dare she trust the enemy more than her own family?

Laird Alasdair MacGrath is driven to end two-hundred years of feuding with the MacIrwins. But by taking in and protecting Lady Gwyneth and her son, he provokes more attacks from his mortal enemy. As the danger and conflict surrounding them escalate, Alasdair and Gwyneth discover an explosive passion neither of them expected. With the arrival of a powerful man from her past, a horrible decision confronts her--give up her son or the man she loves.