Is Kissing Sex or Love? Who Doesn’t Kiss?

Source: Daniel.lupu07 [CC BY-SA 4.0] Wikimedia Commons

Our general understanding is that kissing between two straight women is about emotional connection or friendship, without reference to sex. Between two gay men, then it’s about a romantic relationship because they’ve already had sex. Between two lesbians, then it’s about their relationship or a prelude on the way to sex—remarkably similar to how we see kissing within a straight couple. However, when two straight men kiss, well, they don’t unless it’s a joke or used as a means to entice a woman. There is some truthfulness to these perceptions.

Sequence of Sexual Development

First, what is a typical sequence of sexual events for straight couples? Smiler & colleagues and Diamond & Savin-Williams reported that a typical trajectory for them looks something like the following—both within a relationship and across developmental time:

1. holding hands

2. peck-type kissing

3. French-type kissing

4. feeling breasts and genitals over clothes

5. the same, except under clothes 

6. masturbating each other, fingering, oral sex

7. engaging in penile–vaginal/anal intercourse

Numbers 1 and 2 frequently occur during childhood.

Numbers 3 and 4 during early adolescence. If not, then the  youth might be considered “off-time” according to research by Leftowitz & colleagues.

Numbers 5 and 6 typically occur during middle adolescence, to varying degrees.

First intercourse, Number 7, varies but is generally between ages 16 to 18 for girls and boys in girl/boy and boy/boy pairings (lots of variability for the latter). As best as can be determined by the limited data, girl/girl sexual activities occur a year or two later.

Back to Kissing

Smiler & colleagues noted that whereas straight couples almost always kiss before having intercourse, gay youths usually have their first kiss (at least with a guy) during an intercourse session. Hence, the age when a straight boy usually has his first kiss with a girl is 14; for a gay boy (with another boy), then it is three years later, at age 17.

Kissing among male youth, however, might well be changing. In the UK with young men around age 20, many of whom were athletes, Anderson & colleagues reported that many straight boys, “have, at some point, kissed another male on the lips which they reported as being non-sexual: a means of expressing platonic affection among heterosexual friends.” About one-third had engaged in “sustained same-sex kissing, something they construed as non-sexual and non-homosexual.”

Could this mean that kissing as a prelude to intercourse no longer holds for straight boys, similar to girls of all sexual orientations? Could it be that for both sexes same-sex kissing is a means of expressing intimate, emotional connection? Perhaps—or are gay boys the holdout? Stay tuned…

Who Doesn’t Kiss

One assumption of individuals who have never kissed is that they are delayed or off-time in terms of their sexual and romantic development. Leftowitz & colleagues noted that those who have never kissed someone on the lips might be deficient in their expression of autonomy and ability to relate to others. Perhaps non-kissing individuals are simply not on a normative schedule in terms of emotional intimacy and homosocial development more generally.

With this in mind, here are the characteristics they found among those who were non-kissers (14% of a sample of university students):

1. tended to be Asian American

2. never had a romantic relationship

3. were more introverted and neurotic

4. were more likely to be in the Honors College

5. drank less alcohol

6. had mothers who didn’t facilitate independence

7. scored lower on self-esteem


These studies point in the same direction: kissing is less about sex and more about emotional connections and intimacy. Girls kissing each other we can accept, regardless of their sexual orientation. For gay boys, sex comes first, emotional connection comes later—whether this is changing is unknown. Now, there is evidence that straight boys are moving in the female direction—kissing for nonsexual but emotional reasons. When boys move in a female direction, it is nearly always a positive omen.


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