As cliché as it sounds, a kiss can feel like a Michael Bay-level explosion, or it can make you feel absolutely zilch, zero, nothing. There’s more nuance to a kiss with a romantic interest or romantic partner than just an equation of lips and tongues, and there are easy ways to set the pace even if you’re not exactly the most experienced kisser. From setting the mood and making sure you’re not the only one in said mood to when to introduce tongue and how much to use to how to give potentially awkward feedback if there was something about your partner’s technique that could use some work, kissing can be much more complicated than movies and TV shows and hot, steamy music videos would have us all believe.
But, whether you’re brand new to kissing or just brand new to kissing your new partner, there’s plenty you can do to sidestep the potential potholes and diffuse any awkwardness before it happens to make your make-out session the best it can be—for everyone involved. The most important things to remember are to be open and honest with your needs and wants and to be aware of your partner’s signals and needs and ready and willing to adjust if you’re not meeting them.
Looking for a more detailed, step-by-step approach to navigating confusing kissing issues? Keep reading below, for a handy guide on how to take the reins on a make-out session like you’re a seasoned pro.
1. Freshen Up
It goes without saying that when you’re inches from someone’s face, no one wants to inhale whiffs of stale coffee or a mouthful of garlic and onion. Popping a mint or brushing your teeth shows you’ve put in some effort. No one wants to kiss someone whose breath smells like a mix of that morning’s coffee and lunch sandwich. Even if you’re kissing a long-term partner that you’ve kissed 1,000 times, try to avoid making them taste what you’ve eaten that day.
2. Time the Moment Right
Follow the other person’s body language cues to know when it’s the right time to initiate a kiss. Don’t insist on leaning in for a kiss if it doesn’t feel right, or leave the other person waiting so long that they start questioning whether you’re interested in them. When in doubt, ask!
3. Ask Permission
Sometimes, body language and glances and unspoken tension can all stack up to give you the confidence to lean in for the kiss, but if those things don’t stack up or if they seem to but there’s a weird X factor—like you’re both feeling bubbly after a glass of champagne at a party or you just met and don’t have an established flow of communication—it’s also more than okay to get a very spoken, verbal go ahead. Consent is key, so it’s always best to ask before leaning if you’re not sure.
4. Work Your Eyes
When you’re leaning in for a kiss, you can’t use your mouth to speak, so why not say what you need to through eye contact? When you’re actually mid-kiss, though, dial it back—it can be unnerving to find someone straight-up staring at you in close range (see: Bruno Mars’ “Grenade”). Temporary blindness during a kiss can intensify the way it feels; the sound of another person’s breathing, or the gentle touch of their hand.
6. Start Without Your Tongue
When you go in for a kiss, start without tongue to get your bearings and rhythm. Gently touch your lips to your partner’s and see how they respond. As you get a little more into the moment, you can increase pressure. When it comes to tongue, lightly touch your partner’s tongue with your own to start.
No one is into being slobbered all over during a make-out session. Keep your tongue game in check. You don’t want to go wild with passionate tongue-ing unless your partner is also into that kind of kissing.
6. Stay In the Moment
You’re guaranteed to feel more connected to the other person if you stop feeling anxious about your kissing skills or something you said 10 minutes earlier—just tune out any extra mental chatter and giving into the moment.
7. Take Your Time
Kissing is a team effort. Don’t squelch someone’s spirit by going on the offensive (a.k.a. getting too heavy-handed with tongue) or trying too hard to control the situation or lead the way. Take a deep breath (not while you’re kissing, that would be weird), and do what feels right.
8. Pack Some Balm
No, no one expects your lips to be “kissably soft” all the time. But it does help to pack some lip balm in your bag if your lips are a dry, flaky mess in winter.
9. Keep the Passion Up
Kissing makes you partner feel special and close to you. Go into kissing with the mindset of letting your partner know how drop-dead gorgeous they are. Boost the ego a little bit and make them feel wanted.
10. Pay Attention to Surroundings
Whether it’s candlelight, a tent under the stars, in the ocean, or in a sudden rain storm, exciting new surroundings make a kiss interesting. Because your eyes are closed most of the time during a kiss, you’ll hear and even feel the things that are happening around you more clearly. You want to stay in the moment, but it’s nice to take in what’s around you so you can better appreciate this moment. Just be sure you aren’t neglecting your kissing partner in the process.
11. Be Spontaneous
Kissing is all about the about the back-and-forth exchange, so feel free to loosen up and experiment with different styles of kissing. Try gently—key word, gently—tugging on his lower lip with your teeth during a kiss. Do the upside down Spiderman! Try using more tongue or transitioning sides during a kiss or gentle biting, so long as both of you are into it. Don’t try to do something that doesn’t feel right in the moment.
12. Follow Each Other’s Lead
Good kissers will mirror each other’s movements so that they’re both on the same page. Take note of what your partner’s doing and imitate it. Or, take the lead if you want to try something different. Feel out each other’s impulses and kissing styles, and go from there.
13. Check In If Things Feel Off
It might seem awkward to break up the flow of a hot and heavy make out session with pesky things like words, but if you’re not feeling something your partner is doing and they’re not picking up on the nonverbal cues you’re sending about that fact, make those cues verbal with a little check in. Mid-make out is probably not the best time for a full feedback session (more on when you should do that later, though), but if something feels seriously off-key, there’s never a wrong time to hit pause. If your partner is doing something that makes you uncomfortable—physically or otherwise—never be afraid to let them know. And, likewise, if you’re getting vibes that something you’re doing might be not-so-welcome, take a beat, check in with your partner, and be ready to adjust without getting defensive if it turns out you have been unwittingly doing something on their personal no-no list.
14. Make it a Full Body Experience
A kiss will feel even deeper if you’re holding the other person close during a kiss or touching their neck or back. Touch releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. Be sure you’re making the most of it.
15. Use Your Hands
Speaking of the power of touch, it’s not just about pulling in for a close embrace. When you’re making the most of a make out session, sometimes you get that Selena Gomez feeling and you just can’t keep your hands to yourself. Getting handsy can make a make out session even better (if your partner is into it, of course—consent remains key in every situation, start to finish). This doesn’t mean you need to start rounding metaphorical bases, though—just caressing your partner’s back, neck, arms, or thighs can up the intensity even if no clothing comes off.
16. Don’t Forget the Erogenous Zones
On that note, don’t forget about the grazing potential for the earlobes, nose, collarbone, and the neck—just think of all those nerve endings. You can gently nibble an earlobe or run your tongue along a collar bone, but draw the line at tongue. If someone is covered in spit after kissing you, you’re doing it wrong. And be gentle unless otherwise specified. Hickeys aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, so don’t bite down or latch on unless your partner indicates that they’re into it.
Willie B. Thomas
17. Give the Bottom Lip a Little Nibble
While you’re kissing gently, take a second to take your partner’s lower lip in your mouth just for a moment, suck it, maybe nibble it slightly, and then go back to making out. Don’t swallow the whole thing like you’re trying to eat your partner. Just focus on the very tip. It can be super sexy.
18. Give Each Other Constructive Feedback
Give the other person positive, constructive feedback via your body language so that your partner feels good after a kiss. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if they’re not the best kisser in the world, gently guide them in another direction by slowing down, pulling back, and demonstrating a different technique. Then, talk about it afterwards. Tell them something positive, add in the constructive feedback, and then end with something positive. For instance, you can say: “I love when you kiss my neck. I like when you use a bit less pressure when we’re making out. You’re so hot.” Works like a charm.
19. Take a Beat to Bask in the Feelings
Whether you’re in the early stages of a relationship or you’ve been together for years, dedicating time to just kiss without the assumption of things going further can be powerfully sexy and incredibly bonding. When you wrap up a serious make out session, don’t feel like you need to run back to reality right away. Just laying or sitting quietly while holding each other for a few minutes after will give you time to truly enjoy the rush of the oxytocin your brains are flooded with and it will strengthen your bond (if a stronger bond is what you both want, of course—not all kissing is about building a long-term connection, and that’s totally okay too).
20. Remember We’re All Just Trying to Do Our Best
We’re all a little self-conscious when it comes to kissing someone we’re not used to kissing. This doesn’t ever really go away, no matter how many people you kiss. Any time you kiss someone new, there is a tiny bit of anxiety.
Just remember that we’re all just doing our very best to be impressive and hot. Most of us don’t really know we’re doing. We’re just trying a bunch of stuff and hoping some of it works. Kissing takes practice and chemistry with the right person. Not every kiss will be noteworthy, and a few of them will probably suck. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re all just here to have a good time.