She: What do you want?
He: What do you do?
She: Everything. But I don't kiss on the mouth.
He: Neither do I.
It's Valentine's Day and we're being blitzed with images of couples smooching so I was suddenly reminded of that scene from Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts' character was a prostitute who didn't kiss her johns on the mouth because for her, kissing was intimate but sex was not. Interviews with real sex workers reveal that they often do avoid kissing as a way to stay detached1,2. But just what is it about kissing might be more intimate than sex? And what should you make of it if you're involved with (or are) someone who barely pays lip service to lip locking?
Deep kissing has different meanings to different people. It's sexually arousing; it's a way to communicate romantic feelings; it increases intimate bonding and attachment and even contributes to mate selection. (See Sheril Kirshenbaum's The Science of Kissing for an in-depth look). There is some survey support for gender stereotypes around men being more focused on the arousal and agentic functions of kissing and women being more attuned to the bonding features4,5,6, but I think that regardless of gender, people who aren't ready to merge love and lust will be more likely to avoid or be uncomfortable with kissing. I think it's because no other physical act offers so many potent and equal sensory experiences for both partners simultaneously (regardless of sexual orientation). Here's why:
The bottom line is, kissing offers a truly level sexual and intimate playing field regardless of gender or sexual orientation. In a lovely piece called How To Kiss Well , a self-proclaimed "guy who loves kissing" named Ben Van Heuvelen summed it up beautifully:
"In its fully realized form, kissing is an alternate language in which lovers conduct a parallel courtship - they tease, they connect, they discover an accord.... Sarah began to appreciate how a good kiss, like a poem, suggests more than it says outright, expressing those feelings that lovers can share only indirectly".
Happy Valentine's Day!
Copyright, 2010, Linda R. Young, Ph.D. All rights reserved