Why Kissing is One of Our Most Vulnerable Sexual Acts

by | Jan 8, 2023 | Sexuality | 17 comments

The way Hollywood sells it, kissing should happen effortlessly. We should long to kiss our loving partner all the time, and we should be in instant ecstasy the minute the kiss begins. When our partner approaches for a kiss, we should tilt up our head like a young starlet and receive his mouth like opening to the sweetest nectar. We should always be ready and hungry for the next kiss, and the first kiss should tell the entire story of the rest of lives: if that kiss sets off fireworks, you’re destined for happily ever after. But, god forbid, the kiss is… eh, so-so… you’re doomed for a lifetime of mediocrity.

That’s a lot of shoulds, and the reality of how women feel about kissing tells a very different story.

First off, the first kiss is just that: a first kiss. It can be great or it can be not-so-great, and it has absolutely no bearing on the satisfaction in your relationship. In other words, even if you start with a not-so-great kiss, you can still grow a passionate marriage. And if you start with a firework kiss, the relationship can still end in dying embers.

More importantly, kissing in a long-term relationship is an entire world unto itself. Because of the way it’s been sold, we expect kissing to be easy and effortless, but for many women, kissing is more intimate than intercourse, and it’s often a litmus test for how open and safe she’s feeling in her body and with her partner.

Kissing is also the carrier for a long legacy of expectations that we carry about what marriage or a long-term relationship should provide or include. We expect to kiss at certain times of day (morning, after work, goodnight), whether or not it makes sense or we feel called to kiss at those times. Expectation is just a step away from obligation, and where we feel obligated, we shut down.

If you’re not feeling open and safe, or if you’re feeling the backlog of 4,000 years of patriarchal expectations that says it’s your job to kiss your partner whenever they want to be kissed, you might find yourself flinching or bracing when your partner approaches for a kiss.

Let me be clear: Flinching or bracing does NOT mean that either of you are doing anything wrong. Your partner isn’t wrong for wanting to kiss you, and you’re not wrong for bracing against it. While that moment can be painful for both of you, we have to remove the belief that there’s something “wrong” in order to excavate what’s underneath.

I want to underscore how normal this dynamic is because when clients share this experience with me in session they often follow it with shame-based statements like, “Nobody else struggles with this” or “This must be evidence that I’m with the wrong person.” Neither of those statements are true. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of couples struggle with this exact dynamic.

What’s the remedy? To slow down that moment and become curious about what’s happening for each of you. This isn’t easy because you might both be triggered into a place of rejection or self-doubt, but it’s good to bring even those experiences into the moment.

Instead of seeing that moment of flinch and friction as evidence that something is wrong, I encourage both partners to see it as a signal to slow things down. If you’re the approaching partner reading this and you see your partner brace, you might pause and say, “Are you feeling scared or unsafe right now?” If you’re the partner being approached and you notice yourself brace, you might say, “I just noticed that I braced. Can we slow this moment down? I want to be close to you but I’m noticing that I’m protecting myself right now.”

Of course, this doesn’t only apply to kissing. We can flinch, brace, or shut down around any part of touch and sex. But kissing seems to carry its own worlds of expectations and vulnerability, and it’s the one that shows up most throughout a regular day (as opposed to full sexual contact).

As kissing is one of the ways that we can stay intimately connected to one another, it behooves us to shed the shame and replace it with curiosity so that we can unpack what those tense moments contain. When we learn how to slow down, trust our bodies, and listen to our voice, we can then bring this to our partner and begin a very different kind of conversation: one that leads to more closeness and safety instead of one that creates distance and resentment.

Learning to reduce shame so that you can trust your body and listen to your voice is what I teach in my Sacred Sexuality course. I am deeply passionate about this course because I know in my bones that releasing the shame that we carry around our bodies and sexuality is one of our most powerful pathways for healing. Our bodies are the conduit to our aliveness, our sensuality, our creativity, and our voice, and it’s time that we reclaim what is rightfully ours so that we can step into our true power as women.

If you’re ready to be guided along a gentle yet effective roadmap that will help you soften shame and ignite desire, please join me for this 8th round of Sacred Sexuality, which will start on January 14th, 2023. I very much look forward to connecting with you there.

Also, I’m excited to be sharing two free offerings on this topic:

1. A one-hour webinar tomorrow, January 9th, at 6:15pm ET. You can sign up here.

2. Our recent Gathering Gold episode called “Sovereign Sexuality”, which you can learn more about here.

17 Comments

  1. My mind has just been blown. This makes so much sense!! How is it that such an intimate act has been reduced to a thoughtless ritual that we’re expected to perform on cue?? Kissing is a multi-sensory experience. You smell your partner’s breath, you feel their lips against yours, you taste their mouth, you meet their eyes, you hear the sound your lips make when they part….How on EARTH have we reduced such a gesture to the romantic equivalent of a handshake?!

    It reminds me of when I was a teenager, and oral sex was dismissed as not “real” sex, lol. It still involves sensitive areas of the body. It involves risk. It involves trust. It involves vulnerability. It has the potential to result in (ideally mutual) enjoyment. In what universe is that not “real” sex? And if it is truly no big deal, why is our culture so obsessed with it?

    I think there’s a real danger in long term relationships of intimate acts coming from a place of expectation rather than a place of desire. Whether it’s sex, kissing, or simply being touched. It still involves physical and emotional vulnerability. We all need to remember that.

    Thank you for this!
    Niamh

    Reply
    • YES, to every word, Niamh! Especially this:

      “Kissing is a multi-sensory experience. You smell your partner’s breath, you feel their lips against yours, you taste their mouth, you meet their eyes, you hear the sound your lips make when they part….How on EARTH have we reduced such a gesture to the romantic equivalent of a handshake?!”

      And the parallel to oral sex: YES. Thank you for your wise comments!

      Reply
  2. Thank you for these reflections, particularly around the idea that an expectation is akin to obligation, which can cause shut downs. This spoke to me, as I can easily create expectations and rules around certain acts, to feel safe and make sure that we’re “doing things the right way.”

    Would you apply this logic around kissing also to hugging, or even to emotional vulnerability, such as when one might ask, “how are you feeling right now?” Either of these can sometimes – if triggered, tired, or not dropping down into oneself and one’s vulnerabilities in the moment – also result in bracing? Or would you perceive emotional vulnerability as separate from physical?

    Reply
    • That’s a really interesting question. I would say that whenever there’s an “approach” from a partner, whether physical or emotional, it can feel like an invasion or violation if we have any history around boundary violations (which of course can be emotional as well).

      Reply
      • Ah, a helpful and enlivening reply/idea, thank you! That makes a lot of sense in our case. I’m thinking too of the idea of co-regulation versus self-regulation, and how one or the other can feel bracing or invasive if it’s not the default way that our family navigated intimacy.

        Reply
      • This spoke to me that whenever an “approach” can feel like a violation. I feel this more because in the past there have been some boundary violations by my partner. He is very careful now but I brace everytime he approaches.

        How should I respond? Should I say no to him everytime he asks for a kiss?

        Reply
  3. Dear Sheryl,

    Your articles are always amazing. I’m interessted in the open your heart course. My boyfriend is a very kind person. i don’t have anxiety in my relationship but since we startet dating last year in July he told me, that he likes me so much and more. Since a knew that he is “safe” my feelings for him went down and I’m analyzing him. Even i know, that he is a really good guy with a good heart.
    Would that course help me to give him the love that i want to give him. I don’t want to lose him.

    Reply
    • I recommend the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course. As soon as you start the course you’ll see why :).

      Reply
  4. I find this article interesting because I have issues with intimacy and one of the things that trigger me the most is kissing. I avoid it due to the levels of intimacy that it entails. I am working on it but the blockade is too great…

    Reply
    • You’re not alone and I hope you found some validation and guidance in the post.

      Reply
  5. Can I sign up for the course on 14 of Jan, is there any deadline for signing up?

    Reply
    • Yes, as long as there are spots (indicated by the registration buttons on the Sacred Sexuality page) you can sign up.

      Reply
  6. Does this article also apply to men? I noticed that kissing is much more intimate than sex is, to women. Is it also the same for men?

    Does it matter who initiates? And if it’s always the same person?

    Thank you for another interesting article Sheryl

    Reply
    • It’s for men if it resonates! I would say that everyone has their own relationship to kissing, and for some men it’s absolutely as intimate as intercourse.

      Reply
      • Thank you for your reply Sheryl. Yes this does resonate, at least partly. As I find I put a lot of importance on a greeting kiss, after work kiss, and definitely a goodnight kiss though it doesn’t always happen. Primarily because I’m a physically intimate person and she is not.

        How does one know if something is intimate? Do we base this off from a feeling? I would assume not, but base it off the motivation behind it, for me it’s keeping the connection going and expressing love towards your partner.

        Reply
        • Yes, I would say that intimacy and connection are synonymous.

          Reply
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    Reply

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