In this piece, writer Rachel Charlton-Dailey talks about what kissing means to her.
TW. This article mentions abusive relationships. If this is something that you are also experiencing, you can seek help from Chayn, a non-profit, survivor-led resource.
When you think of kissing, what does that conjure in your head? A peck on the cheek, a kiss hello or a full-blown make-out session that leaves you desperate to take in as much of your partner as they’ll give?
I’ve been thinking a lot about kissing lately. It’s one of the most intimate things we can do with a partner, and definitely one of my favourite things to do, but I’ve found myself wondering…does it always have to be sexual?
The dating show Too Hot To Handle seems to think so. Found on Netflix, the rules of this reality dating show state that in order to form deeper, longer-lasting connections all forms of sexual contact is prohibited – this includes kissing. When a couple breaks these rules they have amounts deducted from the prize money. The contestants are watched over by Lana, an Alexa/ Big brother hybrid who sees all and doles out punishments for rule breaks.
Whilst this show is out of the ordinary in many ways, the inclusion of all kinds of kissing under the banner of sexual activity seems particularly curious. I would argue that kissing is an important foundation to any deeply emotional romantic relationship. For me, it’s much more than just a step on the way to sex, which is how it’s portrayed in Too Hot To Handle. Rather, it’s a vital touchstone in building and maintaining trust in a relationship.
As Viktor Müller, author of the study Hyper-Brain Networks Support Romantic Kissing in Humans, states: “kissing synchronizes our brains to produce a state or conditions for a better understanding of each other”.
At the beginning of a relationship when you’re just getting to know each other it can be hard to share tough things from your past, but when you do, it adds another layer to your relationship. And one way for partners to show understanding and to express support is with touch, such as cuddles and kisses.
I have a history of abusive relationships, and so coming into a new relationship I found I needed a lot of reassurance. It’s been five years but I still get anxious and nervous even now. For me, kisses are an assurance that I’m okay and safe. It was that unspoken acknowledgement that my partner understood me and was there for me, that I wasn’t my past.
I’ve discovered through chatting with friends that I’m not the only person who feels this way about kissing. One friend said “For me kissing my partner is a very intimate sign of care and affection. The closeness that kissing brings can enhance your feelings of companionship as well as showing your love and passion.”
“Kissing can be used to show so many emotions. Comfort, reassurance, love, passion, lust, friendship. This is the beauty and power of a kiss” added another.
This is also evident in Too Hot To Handle when the couples open up about past traumas. For example in season 2, when Larissa thinks Nathan won’t commit, he bravely opens up and shares that he is struggling with his fear of abandonment after his ex-wife walked out on him. The moment makes the pair see each other clearer and the first thing they both say is “I wish I could kiss you right now” because they know that’s the comfort they need in that moment.
Granted, sometimes kissing does lead to sex. I am also a big fan of kissing during sex, because of the intimacy and connection this can create between myself and my partner. Kissing is overcoming a barrier and letting someone in. It’s often the first intimate contact we have with someone in a new relationship. If we don’t have sparks when we kiss someone, it can make us assess whether we can have a whole relationship with them.
Again though this isn’t necessarily sexual – a good kiss is just as much a barometer of emotional intimacy as it can be about sexual compatibility.
In Too Hot To Handle Larissa and Nathan are allowed to kiss each other, and it’s through this first (and subsequently only) kiss that they discover that they have no romantic chemistry, no real spark. Although they do have feelings for each other, those are purely platonic. This helps Larissa make the decision to leave the island. Similarly in real life, a kiss can help you understand what you feel about a person, and whether you have chemistry or not, making kissing an important part of the process when it comes to building – and maintaining – relationships.
Discovering your partner’s favourite types of kisses and what they mean to them is all part of getting to know them. The sweet kisses that thank them for thinking of you, the cheeky kisses when they’re passing you in the kitchen, the absolutely got to kiss you right now kisses that you still think about days later and the lazy good morning kisses that don’t end until you have to give in to your alarms.
“Good kissing leads to feelings of bonding and attachment”, Dr. Jeremy Nicholson, social psychologist and founder of Attraction Doctor writes in Psychology Today. “Sharing a kiss creates and maintains a feeling of connectedness, which is important both early in a relationship and over time.”
Similarly, Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of the book, The Science of Kissing says “It’s a way to connect with someone and get your feelings across when words simply just won’t do. It’s the body’s way of conveying how we feel.”
There are so many times when a kiss does what words can’t.
It’s I missed you, I’m going to miss you, I just wanted to, I needed to. It’s thank you, I can’t eat until I’ve kissed you, be safe, you’re hilarious, I love you. It’s coming in from a crap meeting and just wanting a kiss to feel better. It’s an I’ve got you, we don’t need to do anything else.
It’s about knowing that your person is there for you no matter what.
Here’s to more kissing.
Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is a freelance journalist and disability activist. She writes openly and honestly about bisexuality, disability rights, sobriety and class. Their work has featured in HuffPost, Metro, The Guardian and Healthline. She is also the founder and editor of The Unwritten, a publication for disabled people.