Kissing as an evolutionary adaptation to protect against Human Cytomegalovirus-like teratogenesis

Med Hypotheses. 2010 Feb;74(2):222-4. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.09.033. Epub 2009 Oct 13.


Mouth to mouth sexual kissing is seen in more than 90% of human cultures. Various theories have been put forward to account for this but none offer a full explanation within an evolutionary framework. As mouth to mouth sexual kissing exposes each participant to the diseases of the other, it must confer significant benefit. Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a ubiquitous infection that carries a severe teratogenic risk if primary infection is acquired during certain critical periods. As HCMV is present in salivary gland epithelial cells and sheds from periodontitis induced lesions, female inoculation with a specific male's HCMV is most efficiently achieved through mouth to mouth contact and saliva exchange, particularly where the flow of saliva is from the male to the typically shorter female. The current hypothesis proposes that mouth to mouth sexual kissing enables females to control when they become infected with a particular male's HCMV and so protect their offspring from the threat of teratogenesis from primary infection during vulnerable times in their development. Females only gain this benefit if they also avoid becoming infected by other males. Hence HCMV induced teratogenesis is a strong viral pressure towards the development of monogamy as well as kissing as a behavioural strategy to protect against it.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / etiology
  • Congenital Abnormalities / prevention & control*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / embryology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / genetics*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Sexual Partners
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / transmission*