Often when speaking of sexual comfort and consent, people focus on the stages of intimacy that involve contact with the areas of our bodies we normally keep clothed. Kissing and intimate touch are viewed more often as foreplay and I seldom encounter guides to offer advice on these two activities.
It’s often expressed that they’re not sexy without the element of surprise — and it’s suggested that a person is just supposed to “go with the flow.” That emphasis places a lot of fuzziness on what it means to have and engage with enthusiastic consent.
What, in your experience, are excellent guides to 1) kissing well and 2) kissing with enthusiastic consent?
Right in the Kisser
You’re right — in the media representations that we’re given, a “good kiss” is portrayed as surprising, passionate, and reciprocated while a “bad kiss” is often characterized by someone being unskilled, the kissing partner rejecting someone’s advances, or by something just plain run-of-the-mill real life happening like being interrupted or having bad breath.
As with sex in general, with kissing, too, the Traditional Mood as staged by movies, mainstream, porn, social expectations, and the folklore of gossip actually does many of us a disservice in the consent department. The Traditional Mood demands that we spend the bulk of our energy being concerned about “ruining the mood” rather than being concerned with the safety, happiness, and enthusiasm of both ourselves and our partners. In this way, “the mood” is prioritized over people — a weighing game I find to be incredibly out of balance.
To rearrange our priorities around this when it comes to kissing specifically, it’s important to start off your kiss with a different kind of oral action — talking. Before you make moves with your mouth, use it to ask some questions or extend some invitations. Some great questions are “Can I kiss you?”, “I’d love to kiss you right now. Is that okay with you?”, and, if/when they consent to being kissed, some follow-up questions like “How do you like to be kissed?” and “Where do you like to be kissed?” might add some sexy and helpful clarity.
“Invitations” are another way to approach consent which, can come in handy if you feel like you’ve been getting A Vibe from a date such as my go-to (sorry all of my exes who might read this column): “If you’ve been thinking about kissing me, now would be a great time.” It’s important with invitations to make sure that you’re truly, optionally, inviting without pressure or force. And, if you’ve totally misread the situation, make sure to reiterate your lack of pressure or expectation.
The unifying, required elements of consent are that it’s mandatory, important, optional to give, can always be revoked with or without explanation, and free of coercion. However, the optional elements of consent include your personal style of how you’d like to practice the aforementioned required elements.
For example, maybe you want to talk about the factors of when, how, and where kissing is to happen or not happen via text before a date. Maybe you want to negotiate this in-the-moment. Maybe you take a lot of breaks in a make-out session to check in, make adjustments, drink some water, and hey, breathe! Enthusiastic consent is also about your safety — meaning find a style of engaging with consent that helps you feel confident that what’s happening is continually consensual.
To answer your direct questions about resources, I like the “A Guide to Kissing” on SexInfo Online, a site regularly updated by human sexuality students at the University of California. The only instructional book I was able to find (and have not read) is Kissing: A Field Guide by Violet Blue, which doesn’t seem to focus on consent directly and appears to be pretty gendered (and dated 2014).
Otherwise, I know that there are consent-focused sex educators out there who have taught workshops about kissing before such as Dr. Marth Tara Lee (@drmarthalee on Instagram), but I’m finding it difficult to find anything upcoming. I’ll be sourcing more sex advice pros, podcasters, and writers who provide consent-based education about kissing on my social media when this column comes out so feel free to head on over to my Instagram @the_vspot to see what pops up. Happy New Year and keep it kissensual in 2020!
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.