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First, Best, Worst, Forbidden, and Regretted: Kisses and Kissing

Chances are you had your first kiss when taking part in a kissing game -- you know those age-old games, like Spin-the-Bottle, Seven Minutes in Heaven, and Run-Chase-Kiss? These games tend to take place during the transition from childhood to adolescence (and maybe some office parties later in life, but let’s not get into that).

But what about your first “real” kiss in a truly romantic or sexual context? Most people remember their first kiss quite clearly. For many girls, that kiss can prompt changes in a sense of self as a sexual person.1 Other first kisses also are notable. The first kiss in a new relationship is an especially giddy event, the novelty of a new partner lasts for a while, and research suggests that we use that kissing experience to sort those with whom we have good genetic compatability.2 At some point, most romantic relationships pass from the rollercoaster phase characterized by passionate kisses into the steadier and affectionate phase of companionate love.3 How does kissing change during this transition?

A survey of 695 adults (18-67 years) found that those in the early stages of a romantic relationship estimate that they kiss approximately 55 times a week, whereas those in more established relationships estimate that they kiss about three times a day (goodbye, hello, goodnight?).4 These differences were interesting in their own right. But researchers also asked participants to describe in some detail the different types of kisses that they have had, starting with their very first kiss--and the descriptions are fascinating.

First kisses typically occurred during early to middle adolescence, usually with a dating partner. And the predominant emotion that characterized these first kiss experiences? Nervousness. Yet when asked, most would change nothing at all about it.

Best kisses are remembered to have taken place with one’s current partner (47%) for many, or else an earlier partner (34%) or a crush (19%). What made it best was passion (35%), feeling in love (23%), anticipation or surprise (33%), or the thrill of who it was (16%) rather than the technicalities of a good kiss (12%), such as amazing lip action or perfect pressure and coordination. “It was romantic and delicious, and everything melted away.”

Worst kisses also often involved one’s current partner (44%), or an acquaintance or friend (51%), rather than an earlier partner (5%). What made it the worst?  The kiss itself, and we’re talking coffee breath, too much saliva, or knocking of teeth (52%), lack of passion (25%), or the kiss being forced (9%). Some illustrative quotes are the following: “Like trying to eat my face,” and “Felt like I was kissing a relative.”

Forbidden kisses were defined as kisses that take place when one or both individuals already have a partner. About half (51%) reported they had kissed someone who was not their partner -- despite already being in a relationship, and slightly more (55%) reported kissing someone who they knew had a partner. (Participants could report both types of experiences, hence the overlap in percentages).

Regretted kisses came in two primary forms: “Bad” kisses (see above) and kisses that did not go further.  “The Avoid-Breaking-Up-on-Valentine’s-Day kiss” or “My 2am wince memory. Thank you for reminding me.”

Most interesting was when the participants were asked whether they would rather give up kissing or receiving oral sex. About half (49%) said that they would rather give up receiving oral sex (no differences by gender or sexual orientation!), whereas 23% said that they would give up kissing. The remainder couldn’t decide.

In short, this research makes clear that there is a virtual smorgasbord of kisses, some more memorable than others, and kissing clearly adds valence to our experience. Someone once wrote, “Kisses kept are wasted.” Go and enjoy.

1O’Sullivan, L. F., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2005). The timing of changes in girls’ sexual cognitions and behaviors in early adolescence:  A prospective, cohort study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 37, 211-219.

2Wlodarski, R. & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2013). Examining the possible functions of kissing in romantic relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1415-1423.

3 Hatfield, E., & Sprecher, S. (1986). Measuring passionate love in intimate relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 9, 383-410.

4 O’Sullivan, L. F. (2015). First, forbidden, stolen & regretted: Kisses and kissing in the sexual scripts of men and women. Manuscript under review.

Dr. Lucia O'Sullivan
Professor of Psychology - University of New Brunswick
@LuciaOSullivan on twitter

Lucia’s research centers primarily around sexual communication and decision-making among young people, sexual health, functioning, and changes in the roles and interactions defining the intimate relationships of adolescents and young adults. A particular focus of her work in recent years has been the impact of technology and social media on intimate relationships, and has studied topics as far reaching as infidelity, fandom, romantic scripts, pornography, oral sex, and kissing. She is the Canada Research Chair in Adolescents’ Sexual Health Behaviour and has a long history of international collaborations on issues relevant to youth sexual and reproductive health.

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