Kissing for Dummies

“If you’re going to f**k me, you’ve got to kiss me first.” G.W. Bush, 1999

She told me that I was a good kisser. Even though I’m still not sure I believe that, it wasn’t the first time I’d been told that – and it wouldn’t be the first time that their opinion would change over time. But where, exactly, is kissing in our culture? Where’s the how-to books? Where’s the kissing spam?

I hadn’t really noticed the absence of kissing advice and literature until I read “Unnatural Acts”, an excerpt from Sex is an Unnatural Act and Other Essays by Leonore Tiefer. In retrospect, the most explicit mentions of kissing vis a vis love and sex I’m aware of in popular culture are in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and in the film Pretty Woman. The former (despite its flaws) makes a strong effort to shatter taboos and explore sensuality and spirituality simultaneously. Its popularity at the time of its release – with grok even entering the cultural lexicon – is evidence of the repressed desire for this exploration. The blank looks one gets today when mentioning it, however, are stronger evidence of the maintenance of the status quo.

But the status, as Dr. Horrible would say, is not quo. Though Pretty Woman makes it explicit, the kiss has popularly been held up as the significant difference between sex and love; the first step towards that “fusion of bodies” and… yeah, you’ve read the same overwrought prose too. So, there’s a whole lot of importance put on a kiss in our culture that simply doesn’t allow for anything other than mind-blowing awesomeness. If, for whatever reason, your kisses, sex acts, or whatever don’t feel like the unfolding of a romance novel, our culture tells us it must be crap.

Which brings us back to my kissing technique. I had – and at some level still do – buy into this concept of kissing as a vital signal of being in a romantic relationship. Both implicitly and explicitly, I have believed that a kiss completed an unspoken contract. In a disturbing parallel to the conclusion of Gethsemane, a kiss was the sign that the person I was kissing was “the one”.

Despite the examples of numerous movies, this did not always work out well. This explicitly mechanistic view led to awkward attempts to kiss another; rather than being swept off their feet and into a relationship, they instead became offended. (Yet at other times it did work; is it possible that my dating success is directly related to the amount of buy-in the women I was attracted to had with John Hughes (you know, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles) films of the 80’s?)

Ah, yes. But there’s the bit where I’m (supposedly) a good kisser. I’m willing to bet that this holds true across cultures and is valid regardless of techniques of kissing. Not so much that I am a good kisser – but it’s the same skills across cultures, regardless of how you kiss.

It’s not really about particular mouth movements, where one kisses, or even how you kiss. It’s about focus and attention. As relationships changed and soured – or even as things became more busy or routine – the amount of focus and attention changed. Think about the stereotypical Dagwood kiss out the door – it’s obvious that his focus is elsewhere, even though we’d never really blame him for it. Even if the mechanics of the technique remained the same, the person I was kissing would be able to sense the difference. Even more so than the sex act itself, kissing is all about the social process of interaction, and maintaining focus on the other instead of the self.

So if you’re not satisfied with the way your partner kisses, then ask what’s going on in the relationship. What can you do to change things – not about the kisses themselves, but about the relationship? And try to carve out some time to kiss – time where you’re not distracted by other things, other worries.

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  1. January 31, 2009


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