The main reason is to express our affection, our love for our partner. Another reason is cultural—we’re surrounded by TV shows and movies where kissing is extremely important in a romantic context, so we learn through a kind of osmosis. And the third reason is, as Freud pointed out, we all go through various stages of development, the first of which is the oral stage, and so, certainly it’s still a part of our pleasure drive—oral contact is a lot of fun.
In your book you say that the lips have a lot of nerve endings.
Yes, they do. The tip of the tongue has more nerve endings than any other part of the body. It’s extremely sensitive. And most people don’t realize the lips themselves have taste sensors so it’s not only the tongue but the inner part of the lips that can taste things; so when you kiss you’re actually tasting your partner.
A kiss can mean so many different things, can even convey bad feelings or intentions. Like the kiss of death in The Godfather.
Oh, exactly. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Judas kissed Christ and that was a kiss of betrayal.
How did you get into the kissing lecture circuit, the “kissing business?”
I wrote the book [ The Art of Kissing] and immediately got a call from students at Boston College, where I was teaching, asking me if I did lectures on the subject. I hadn’t, but I said, Of course, I’ll be happy to speak to you about it, but it might be kind of dry and dull if I just get up there and talk; do you have any of your friends who might be interested in demonstrating some of the different kisses? When I showed up they had 4 couples ready for me—I had 20 minutes to rehearse them—and we went out there in front of 150 students who leaned forward, listened very carefully, and then laughed hysterically through all the demonstrations.
Before I knew it, I was getting calls from other schools who had heard about this little lecture. It kind of took over my life, changed it in a very pleasant but unusual and unexpected way. I never thought I’d be doing kissing shows, but that’s how I earn a living. It’s so much fun: I travel, I meet people, and I direct kissing shows.
Here’s another question I’m sure you field a lot: do people ever ask you for your “credentials?” I’m sure you know what I mean.
[Laughs] I’m actually a retired attorney. I did not study kissing in school. My credentials are that I’ve surveyed over 100,000 people in 23 different countries and all across the United States and tabulated their responses. I taught English for 20 years, so I looked at kissing in literature. But my book is for the popular audience.
You list statistics—for example, 67% of men don’t mind a woman’s wearing lipstick when kissing, 53% of women prefer a clean-shaven man, and 33% of people open their eyes while kissing. Do you have favorite statistics?
Women’s favorite spot to be kissed, other than the mouth, is the neck. Ninety-six percent of women reported that they like neck kisses, while only about 10% of men do, so a guy will not even believe that a girl likes being kissed on the neck because it doesn’t really do anything for him. So I tell guys to move or slide off the lips occasionally down to the neck, and that will produce big results; we demonstrate that onstage. Similarly, women like being kissed on the ears much more than men do.
So the odds a neck kiss will succeed on a woman are…1 in 1.04. What about men?
Men often respond most to the French kiss, whereas women often respond to a romantic kiss. Guys will say they’re not really getting excited unless there is some tongue contact, while girls will often say if you’re passionate and loving, a lip kiss is good enough. You don’t have to rush in and, you know, trigger the gag reflex with the tongue.
When I made my DVD, we spent half of the project on just the French kiss. One girl says, “When I turn blue, doesn’t he realize it means I can’t breathe?” Another says not to use your tongue like a dart, but put some finesse into the French kiss. That’s the number one mistake guys make.
Women also complain that men don’t do enough variations in kissing, that they’re too machine-like or repetitive. Women would like a number of different kisses: the neck, the ears, “liposuction,” which is moving from the upper lip to the lower lip…be creative.
The number one mistake girls make is not opening their mouths wide enough, probably because the guy is trying to initiate a French kiss.
Do you think a relationship can survive a bad first kiss? Or a bad kisser in general?
Certainly, because I hear complaints from women that “My partner/husband’s a bad kisser.” But the chances of a relationship’s success are greater if your first kiss is good. Many people, especially women, report that they are sensitive to that first kiss. If it’s romantic and loving and stimulating then the guy is going to have a much better chance of continuing the relationship. Love is important, chemistry is important, but technique is also important.
You write that practicing alone is nothing to be ashamed of.
Absolutely. The greatest lovers of all time have rehearsed mentally, including Cleopatra, and Peter Abelard, who wrote that he fantasized about kissing Heloise for months before they actually had their first kiss. So mental rehearsal is perfectly valid, and in fact if you don’t do it you’re probably not going to have as good a first experience.
What are some of the more unusual kisses?
The most unusual is probably the Trobriand Islands kiss, from the South Pacific. The natives there groom each other, pull little twigs out of each other’s hair, and then they do a 3-step procedure—they begin by biting each other’s lower lip very vigorously, and then they pull their partner’s hair, and finally they nibble off their partner’s eyelashes—
I’m sorry, you said nibble off?
Yeah, they nibble on each other’s eyelashes and often they bite them off. It’s definitely different. It’s a status symbol there to have short eyelashes, because it shows how popular you are. That’s probably the most unusual.
In Asia, they can be very shy. In the Japanese kiss, renamed the Shy kiss for the latest edition of my book, they just touch lips and then look left and right to make sure no one is looking.
Another very unusual kiss is the Eskimo kiss. Most people think it’s just rubbing noses, but it’s actually an 11-step procedure which includes pressing your nose into your partner’s cheek and inhaling while making a smacking noise, without kissing, to the side of your partner’s lips. What they’re doing is inhaling the hopefully delicious scent of their partner.
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