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Pucker problems, or: What can I do if I don't like kissing?

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Annalisa asks:

I've realized that I just don't enjoy kissing. I love to be close to the person, and I like quick pecks on the cheeks, lips, and neck, but I don't enjoy deeper kissing. I do it, but I always feel as if I'm doing it for the other person, not for me. Holding or being held by the person just does a lot more for me sexually. Is there something wrong with me? Am I abnormal? What can I say to my partner, and what can I suggest as a replacement?

CJ replies:

What someone likes or doesn’t like, both in general and more specifically as it relates to pleasure, is an intensely personal thing. As much as we sometimes like to pretend this isn’t true, there just aren’t universals about certain activities that Every Single Person Ever absolutely loves, or things that everyone hates. In many ways life might be easier if sexuality, pleasure and relationships were that black and white, but the reality comes in all sorts of shades of gray. There are our personal preferences, desires and limits, all of which can shape our experiences of sexuality. Then there are also other factors, like the context of a relationship, the communication between partners, and outside events or circumstances that can shape how we’re feeling and what we’re into. There’s nothing inherently wrong with not really enjoying kissing. You don’t necessarily need to change anything about yourself to be a good partner or to be someone who gives and receives pleasure.

In many ways, I think that kissing can be a far more intimate experience than many other sexual activities, including things like intercourse that people would generally call pretty intimate. Not only are you physically really close to someone when you’re kissing, but the mouth is full of nerve endings and the site of such intense communication—whether put forth in words or gesture.

If your blah feelings about kissing are something that bother you, it might help to think about whether there’s something specific that you can identify about kissing that takes away from its appeal. If you have a specific preference about how it’s done, it’s important to communicate that with partners so they can help make things more pleasurable for you. For something that seems like it could be pretty intuitive, there’s a lot that goes into a kiss and plenty of things that can make or break how it feels.

Your relationship with the other person, your attraction to them and how the two of you communicate can all affect your experience of a kiss. Your own headspace, including whether you’re feeling stressed or worried (about the kiss itself or about anything else), is also a big piece of it.

But let’s say that there’s nothing identifiably wrong in a situation. You’re feeling the attraction. You and your partner have open and honest communication. There’s no stress or pressure to perform. You feel safe. You feel good about yourself…and the kiss still sucks. It could happen.

And, you know, OK. It’s happened. The question now is what to do about it. I don’t think that it’s ever helpful to view relationships in terms of task lists or chores. So if you’re focusing only on this issue and trying to “fix” or “solve” it one way or another, chances are it’s going to be hard to be fully present—both with yourself and with your partner. Sharing intimacy in any form should be something that’s enjoyable for everyone involved, not something that turns into a point of contention or shame for anyone involved. When we focus so much on one little piece of a relationship or an interaction it can be hard to see the bigger picture or to feel good about what’s happening.

If you know for sure that you’re not really into kissing and aren’t into exploring that any more for yourself, that’s perfectly cool. As with any aspect of our sexuality or emotions, there’s no way for someone else to automatically know that information unless we tell them. I think it’s fine (actually, desirable) for you to let any partners know that kissing isn’t really what you enjoy or feel turned on by. You listed other things, like cuddling, that give you more satisfaction. The thing is, everyone is different. In any relationship—no matter how compatible the people are—there will be things about which they disagree. I think that there’s huge power in being up front about what you’re feeling. When we own our own feelings, there’s less risk (though there’s always some) that our partners will take something really personally or feel like they did something wrong. What do you think might happen if you simply said, “Hey, kissing isn’t something I’m into but I’d love to [fill in the blank with whatever feels preferable to you]”?

That gives you ownership over what you’re feeling and what you want/don’t want, and gives the other person the opportunity to weigh in on what you’re feeling. Your partner then can also share what he or she likes and dislikes, and their thoughts about what you’ve suggested that you could do together. You may come across people who think that kissing is totally amazing and an integral part of their relationships. In those cases, maybe you won’t be a great match with those people if they put a lot of importance on an activity that you don’t enjoy. But other people might not feel that same importance, and still others might wholly agree with you.

If you’re finding that you’re otherwise really into someone but they feel really strongly (and positively) about kissing, that’s a bit harder. When you feel obligated or talked into doing something that you don’t like that can lead to resentment, hurt feelings and emotional discomfort. One should never have to do something—or feel pressured to do something—they don’t want to do. It’s your call to make the choice about whether you feel OK kissing people if you don’t get a lot out of it if it’s something that they really enjoy or want, or if it’s something that you just feel uncomfortable doing. It’s impossible for me to know the depth of how you feel about kissing and which decision or decisions might feel the best for you in any given situation.

When you watch movies, read books or see things on TV it can often seem like there’s a 100% script for how a sexual encounter should go. If you just follow the steps and go in order then everything will be perfect, right? Not so much. When we have the chance to think outside the box and to explore for ourselves, chances are we’ll find out a lot more about what we like and don’t like, want and don’t want, or are interested in considering. We often associate sex and pleasure with our genitals, but the reality is that our bodies are absolutely full of parts capable of feeling and giving pleasure.

There’s no one path that is better than another, and no specific set of rules that work out perfectly for every person or every couple. Exploring can be a lot of fun. I’d encourage you not to think about other activities as “replacements” for kissing. Kissing is kissing. It’s one way to share intimacy, but far from the only way. You and your partner can explore together and find other activities that feel good for both of you. That exploration should be for the sake of pleasure and enjoyment, not for the sake of replacing something that is missing. If you frame things in terms of deficits—meaning you’re looking at “everything else” as just filling in for the missing act of kissing—I think it’d be pretty hard to feel good about what’s happening.

One of the hardest things we ever need to do in relationships is be honest about our feelings and take the risk that if we speak those feelings, someone else will judge us or reject us. Vulnerability is a necessary and important feeling in any relationship, and I’m not sure it ever becomes easy…no matter how much practice you’ve had. It can still feel scary or overwhelming. But there’s also a lot of good that can come from that risk, like becoming closer to a partner, feeling heard and respected and feeling proud that you’ve stood up for what you believe in and stayed true to your desires.

It’s impossible to know whether your feelings about kissing might ever change, but either way communication skills and negotiation skills will always be important in relationships, romantic and otherwise. Figuring out what you do like—and being open to communicating these desires with your partners—can be a place to focus that might feel more positive and less stressful than worrying about whether it’s OK that you have a limit or already know what you don’t like.

Here are some additional articles that might be useful for you:

written 20 May 2010 . updated 28 Jan 2014

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