Janet Afary and Roger Friedland’s Research Contributes to “The Subversive Power of the Kiss”

Janet Afary and Roger Friedland’s Research Contributes to “The Subversive Power of the Kiss”

The Subversive Power of the Kiss By Jeremy Adam Smith

| February 11, 2016 | Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a wave of studies suggests that the rise of romantic kissing is linked to the changing roles of women.

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When kissing is dangerous

Two researchers are watching the transformation of sexual and marital relationships in the Middle East. Janet Afary and Roger Friedland—both religious studies professors at the University of California, Santa Barbara—have surveyed 18,000 people in seven Muslim- majority countries about marriage and romance. Most of the respondents were gathered through Facebook and ranged in age from 18 to 40 years.

Averaged across all seven countries, the overwhelming majority—60 percent—still believe kissing between unmarried people is wrong. In Pakistan, the most conservative of the countries surveyed, 71 percent say it’s always wrong. Throughout the Muslim world, on average, only 18 percent approve of kissing between courting men and women. It is still the norm for parents to play a role in arranging marriages, and the union is still considered one of two families, not of individuals.

But here’s where things get interesting: Younger people are dramatically more likely than older ones to think kissing is good, and young women are the ones who approve the most of kissing, by a large margin. In the survey results, kissing is linked to belief in voluntary, love-based, dyadic marriage, though “this does not mean that family arrangement is necessarily excluded,” Friedland adds. “The two can co-exist and interplay.” Many respondents still want their parents involved in the match—but the young women just want a chance to sniff and nuzzle their prospective groom before they spend the rest of their lives with him.

In short, the results of this anonymous survey suggest there’s an under-the-radar, woman-led sexual revolution underway in the Middle East, one that’s totally illegal in many places. Friedland emphasizes that this isn’t just a matter of private belief—young women are a voting with their lips, even in regions where kissing between unmarried people is against the law.

“The big story here is that women are daring to kiss,” says Friedland. “Love is dangerous in this world, particularly for women—but women are going after it. It indicates an incredible daring on their part.” This right to kiss is intrinsically tied to a right that seems fundamental to women in many Western countries: to choose your own mate.”