Skip to main content
Some people call it first base. Some people call it making out. Some people call it heavy petting (even though around 100 years ago, petting used to be the popular terms for "everything but" intercourse).
I call it what it is, kissing, snuggling or cuddling.
Kissing and snuggling get a bit of a bad rap. They're considered less important, less interesting, less exciting, less "mature," less toe-curlingly awesome than other sexual activities. They don’t deserve this reputation at all!
Kissing and snuggling are not simply rungs on a ladder towards sexual satisfaction. They’re not just training wheels to be discarded once one has definitively learned the art of "true" sexual interaction (that's not possible, by the way, and I'm not sure what that even is). They’re not just exercises, warm-up activities, or get-to-know you activities. They are, for many people, rich, engaging ways of interacting and expressing feelings, including when people have other ways, including other ways of being sexual, to interact and express their feelings and desires.
Honestly, I would probably rather give up explicitly sexual contact in my life before I would give up kissing or snuggling friends or partners. -- Mo, Scarleteen Volunteer
All of these are my fancy ways of saying that I think kissing and snuggling are awesome. As an educator and advocate of healthy sexuality, I think they're generally really good for people and think more people would be a lot happier if they did them more. As a person, at the risk of exaggerating, I have to say I think kissing and snuggling are magic.
The first "date" I was ever on culminated in a three-hour snuggle capped off by a traditional, almost chaste, goodnight kiss. That relationship didn’t last, and we never did anything else together intimately. While I have some regrets about how the relationship ended, the memory of that snuggle is so rich and delicious that I treasure it still, even though I've had more involved sexual adventures since then.
Terms for other sexual activities, terms like “going all the way,” “going further,”, “getting intense,” “not being able to resist” make kissing and snuggling sound simple, uninteresting, and like something only to be engaged in until something better comes along.
Kissing and snuggling are powerful in themselves. All by themselves they can be "all the way." They are powerful as solo activities, that is, not just as part of a string of ever more “intense” activities. They have an almost unparalleled erotic potential. You can have a deeply meaningful, connected, sexually charged (or all three) encounter with someone without doing anything more than kissing and cuddling. You can also have a leisurely, chill, friendly encounter through these same things. I think kissing and cuddling are sexy. When you do these things with someone with whom you have a sexual, intimate, or romantic bond, the experience can be just as sexually charged and satisfying as any other sexual activity.
How many times have your friends asked you about your relationship: "So, when are you two going to do it?" Or how many times have you heard people say: "Hey, I heard that Taylor and Mackenzie went all the way."
What we don’t hear enough of is "Wow, they give the most awesome snuggles." or "My partner is an amazing kisser!" Or "I love to cuddle. It's my very favourite way to connect with my sweetie."
Like other ways of being sexual or affectionate, in a lot of ways, kissing and snuggling are whatever you want them to be.
A snuggle can be so many things: arms around each other, bodies fully entwined, one person being held by the other. People can be sitting, reclining, or lying down. How much or little clothing each participant in the snuggle is wearing doesn’t matter, though prolonged close contact between bodies can get a little toasty, especially if you're wearing a parka. Folks may, depending on the relationship and their comfort levels, opt to dispense with or reduce clothes or blankets.
Like snuggling, kisses can take so many forms: light caresses of lips to hair, mouth-to-mouth kisses that leve you so breathless you feel like you might need mouth-to-mouth ressuscitation, or affectionate kisses on the cheek. Virtually anything that brings your face in contact with your partner's body can count as a kiss of some sort. What we often think of as traditional kissing, with the mouth, is really more of how kissing has been practiced in Europe and places colonized by Europeans.
The historical practice of kissing, or kissing-like behaviours as they're often called by anthropologists and researchers in other countries and cultures doesn't always include the mouth, and you don't have to include your mouth either. You can "kiss" with other parts of your face, such as by giving what somecall butterfly kisses (fluttering your eyelashes against someone else's skin).
Kissing and kissing-like behaviours are, researchers suggest, about physical closeness and getting to know someone through your senses of taste, smell, or both. Hence, even a close activity like resting your cheek on that of your beloved is a form of closeness comparable to a kiss.
Next to water, food, and shelter, touch is likely the most integral requirement for being a happy, healthy human being. Infants can literally fail to thrive when deprived of touch. It has the power to affect how we feel. Touch can have all sorts of physical and emotional benefits.
Touch isn't limited to sexual or romantic activities. It's also not limited to platonic relationships. Touch can span the range of relationship possibilities, and is a way to connect with anyone you choose, whether it's your sister, your closest friend or your lover.
What I'm talking about here, specifically though, is romantic kissing and cuddling.
We know that, for some people, that distinction can feel strange sometimes, when we're trying to negotiate the difference between giving a relative a peck on the cheek or a best friend a happy greeting hug, and expressing affection, love, or sexual feelings to and with a partner. The intention behind touch really can change how it feels and what it means. So, giving a friend a quick hug of greeting, or Aunt Laura an obligatory peck on the cheek, or enjoying a long, soul-touching hug with your partner can and do all feel different.
I’m going to make what, by some, is considered a radical assertion: I think that the draw many young people, all people, feel towards sexual activity is primarily a draw towards touch.
As we grow into adulthood, people stop touching us as much, and we, quite often, don't want to be touched as much. Our boundaries change, as does our need to be regarded as our own person, separate from other people. The flipside of that is that we still do want and need touch; we just want it on our own terms. Round about the same time this starts happening, we start becoming more aware of our own and others' sexuality. We feel a draw towards sex, and a draw toards touching and being touched, and we think we can't have the second without the first.
But we can if we want.
I've always been a snuggler, whether with family, friends, or boyfriend, so I'm probably a little biased. Heck, my boyfriend and I occasionally will almost fall asleep snuggling, but he twitches when he falls asleep, so there goes that... [Razz] Still, it's very fun, and while it can be a stepping stone to other things, it certainly isn't always. It's a way to relax at the end of a day, or to start a day happily, and in those cases, is often accompanied by pillow talk about just about anything you can think of. It also occasionally turns into a tickle war, which is oh-so-fun, even though I lose every single time. -- CSandSourpatch, Scarleteen community member
Snuggling and kissing can be amorous, affectionate, and everything in between. The experience of snuggling can even move seamlessly from one end of the affectionate-sexy spectrum to the other within one snuggling session. There's no hierarchy with kissing and snuggling. Even a simple hug from or with someone you deeply care about, or a quiet time of hand-holding, can be a moving, sensual, or romantic experience worth remembering and savoring.
Kissing and snuggling are available to pretty much anyone who wants to do them so long as someone else wants to do them with you. Either one, or both, can be done by anyone with any level of experience (and I'm not just talking sexual experience, but life experience), any orientation, any gender, any body type.
People with some physical disabilities may kiss or cuddle differently, or may be recipients of kissing, cuddling, or both, rather than actors. Being a physical recipient of any sexual or affectionate activity does not mean someone isn't an active participant. There's a lot more that goes into being sexual than the physical.
Most often, regardless of anyone's abilities, it's what people bring to the interaction, whether it's passion, curiosity, enthusiasm, love, some or all of these, or something else entirely that make the activity fun and engaging for all parties.
As mentioned above, I think kissing and snuggling have untapped potential. Here's why:
Versatility: The ways to kiss and snuggle are only limited by your imagination and the desires you and your partner both have.
No supplies, costs or pre-planning required: All you need is consent from everyone participating -- plus your body, the body of your partner or partners, and -- usually, but not always -- somewhere comfortable to put those bodies.
Can be done anywhere: Kissing and cuddling are portable activities. They can also be stopped and started quickly (though if the kissing leads to sexual arousal, the physical signs of arousal that many people show, such as flushing or rapid breathing, aren’t as easy to turn off so quickly if we're interrupted).
100% risk-free for pregnancy: There is no way someone can get pregnant from kissing, snuggling, giving someone a hug, or holding hands. For people for whom pregnancy is a worry, these activities can be engaged in with no concerns at all.
Low risks of STI transmission: There’s no risk of transmitting STIs through snuggling, hugging, or holding hands. Kissing can, however, facilitate Herpes transmission. The common cold, and other infections, can also be passed through kissing and close physical contact. If you tend to get sick a lot, you may want to be especially careful of spending close snuggly time with someone who clearly has a cold or flu. You'll also, in general, want to avoid kissing someone on the mouth if one or more kissing partners has open sores or cuts on, around, or in the mouth.
Can happen at any point in a relationship: That is, whether the relationship is just starting or has been going on for a while, snuggling and kissing can be great ways to connect with a partner. Whether you've just met, or have known each other for years, kissing and snuggling are typically low-pressure, low-risk ways to get to know someone or to spend time with them.
Longevity: Kissing, for most people, and snuggling for even more, is something that can last a long, long time: a lot longer, on average, than sexual activity involving genital contact. This is just the nature of bodies for most people. Part of what makes many people's genitals so sensitive is also what makes them easily tired or chafed. Snuggling is also generally much less labour intensive than other sexual activities. In other words, you expend less energy so can spend a longer time doing that activity. There are also no rules about intensity, and often few expectations: your kissing and snuggling session can be as relaxed and laid back as you need or want it to be.
At Scarleteen we hear some surprise from people when they get sore or uncomfortable after repeated bouts of genital sexual activity within a short period of time. But it's really not that surprising. Genitals are one of the more delicate areas on most people's bodies, both because of the nature of vulvar, penile, and anal-rectal tissues and because genitals generally don't see the light of day or engage in regular activities that would toughen them up, as it were.
Low Commitment: Kissing and cuddling are generally considered low-commitment activities by most people. Being low risk, they can be fun and safe ways to interact with multiple partners, or with partners you don't know very well otherwise.
Can be less intimidating than other sexual activities: Depending on the person, kissing, snuggling, or both can feel less physically intimate or less emotionally loaded than other sexual activities.
Just getting to hold someone close and/or be held can be so soothing, and though I don't deny it can be a lead-in to other sexual things, it doesn't have to be. As someone who deals with occasional gender dysphoria and also the simple exhaustion of being a college student overcommitted to a lot of classes and projects, I'm sometimes in a space where being touched sexually can be scary and saddening, or just plain uninteresting because I am so tired. However, snuggling with people feels really cozy and relaxing for me, and often makes it way easier for me to nap, which I need on occasion. -- Cricket, message board user
Figuring out whether you want genitally-based sexual activity at any given time can be intense. You've got social norms, health concerns, pregnancy prevention (if the kinds of genital sex you're interested in can lead to pregnancy), and so on. When it comes to kissing, snuggling, or both, all you really need is your body, the body or bodies of any partner or partners, and a mutual willingness to kiss, snuggle, or both for as long as everyone wants to do so.
Once upon a time, I read in a novel about two people who held hands, "making love" with their fingers. This instantly captured my imagination. Could people really "make love" just between their hands? Could that really be as powerful as anything else?
Turns out the author of this book had something important whether they actually realized it or not; the hands are one of the most nerve-rich areas of the human body. More nerve-rich than the genitals? You bet.
It turns out that our hands, feet, and lips are the top areas of most people's bodies for receiving sensation. Take a look at this diagram to see what I'm talking about. Pretty cool, huh?
Culturally, we've built up this mystique around the genitals, prioritizing their sensations and experiences above the sensations and experiences of any other part of the body. Yet our own anatomy and physiology flies in the face of this cultural belief.
However you want to: really.
I’m not going to tell you how to kiss. People sometimes wonder why we here at Scarleteen talk so little about sexual technique. We think it’s much more respectful, and way more fun and interesting, for people to figure out what they want to do with their own body parts. Too, since none of us are going to be kissing or snuggling any of you, what we'd say about kissing and snuggling and how to do it wouldn't be very helpful, since that's always going to be mostly about what we and our partners have enjoyed, who may or may not be anything like any of you in our likes and dislikes, or our personal preferences. How we figure out how to do anything sexual, sensual or affectionate is something we primarily find out from our own experiences, and by communicating between ourselves and the people we're doing those things with.
There are plenty of people out there who have claimed to study, categorize, and name types of kisses. You can do a search anywhere for "ways to kiss" and find any number of these. The one that sticks out most in my mind is "lip-o-suction." If you ask me, the name alone doesn’t make the activity sound particularly sexy or inviting, but what do I know? Being playful and inventive with kisses, and responding to the expressed kissing wants and needs of both you and your partner, does sound inviting.
So long as you and the people you're kissing and snuggling are all into it, do whatever you'd like. Even what one of our volunteers described as "Slobbery facegobbling yuck!" is going to float someone's boat.
There's no technique in kissing or cuddling; it truly is just one way for people to connect and express their feelings or desires in a physical way. That said, not everyone will like to kiss and snuggle in the same ways, and people who want to kiss and snuggle together may find that they need to negotiate how they kiss, snuggle, or both. One person might really enjoy snuggling while lying in bed, while someone else might not like that at all, for any reason, including that that just feels too intimate, or that it's just too warm to snuggle with one or more other human bodies in the midst of blankets and pillows.
While the acts of kissing and snuggling are not complicated, it doesn't mean that everyone will want to do these things in the same way. As with any other activity involving your body, it's okay to tell someone that they're kissing you too hard (or not firmly enough), or kissing you in places you don't want to be kissed, or squeezing you as if you're a wet dish rag, not a human being who likes gentle hugs.
As I've already mentioned, kissing and cuddling are often seen as starter activities. Not only this, but they're often seen as ways to get other sexual activities going. Because of this, people can tend to interpret kissing, snuggling, or both, as silent consent for other activities.
Kissing doesn't send any sort of message except for the message that someone is agreeing to kiss you right now, or that you are agreeing to kiss them right now. Snuggling doesn't send any sort of message except for the message that someone is agreeing to snuggle you right now, or that you are agreeing to snuggle them right now. If you or another person wants to then do something else sexual or affectionate together, then you or they have got to ask about that first, rather than assuming or presuming if someone wants to be close enough to kiss or snuggle, they must be good with other things, too.
What if you don't like to kiss or snuggle? That's okay. Just like it's okay for someone not to like or want to have, say, anal sex or oral sex, it's okay for you, or anyone, not to like or want to kiss or snuggle.
If you're thinking that you don't like kissing and snuggling because you haven't liked it in the past, do keep in mind that there's more than one way to kiss, and more than one way to snuggle. It's also sometimes going to be that something that seemed repulsive with one person, seems perfectly desireable with another, and vice versa.
If your partner likes a lot of close bodily contact, and you don't, you still have options, such as compromising on the amount of time you snuggle so it only goes on as long as you like it, you holding them versus the two of you holding each other, or giving them a full-body massage (clothed or unclothed) which gives them the enjoyment of touch and body contact while only involving your hands. You also get to negotiate how much, when and where you kiss each other.
Kissing and snuggling are some of the most high-reward, low-risk activities I know of. Doing one, the other, or both, are low-pressure, fun, relaxed ways to get to know someone new or to connect with a partner in a long-standing relationship. Does this mean every kiss is going to be fantastic, or that you'll want to snuggle everyone you meet? Probably not. (Sorry.)
What it does mean is that kissing and snuggling are huge areas in which you can play and explore, without the stresses and responsibilities that come along with many other sexual activities.
You'll hear all sorts of do's and don'ts around cuddling and kissing, especially kissing. I only have a few for you.