There's no denying kissing is important in love and sex, especially since it’s usually one of the first forms of physical contact with a new partner. It's also why a bad kiss can end things before they really start.
In fact, a 2012 survey by the State University of New York at Albany found that the majority of people will end a relationship because of a bad kiss, with 59% of men and 66% of women bidding adieu to someone after a kiss didn’t go the way they’d hoped. A 2014 study from Oxford University suggested kissing is a way for us to size up potential partners, as well as a way to keep long-term relationships together.
The effect of a great kiss can literally feel like a drug. This is due to a neurotransmitter called dopamine that's released while you’re locking lips with someone, causing you to crave more. “Anything that causes us to release dopamine, we will want to do again,” love biologist and science of love expert Dawn Maslar, M.S., tells Bustle. “But even more powerful may be the rush of oxytocin. That’s what gives us the warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s associated with love and security [and] reduces anxiety.” It's why we lust after people who are great kissers and forget the ones who aren't.
Of course, bad kissing is subjective, so learning how to be a good kisser is too. What makes a kiss good for one person might not for another. But in general, there are some little adjustments you can make to level up your kissing game and make your make-outs steamier. Here are 21 expert-backed tips on how to be a better kisser.
1. Keep Your Lips Moisturized
Have you ever tried to kiss someone whose lips were chapped? It's not great. So, make a point of prepping your lips before a kiss by applying lip balm. If you don't have any on hand, sip some water or quickly moisten your lips before leaning in, and the kiss will be much more pleasurable. “On top of this, stay hydrated in general,” offers Carol Queen, Ph.D., sex educator and staff sexologist at Good Vibrations. “Don't just wait for a kiss session for water to pass your lips! Staying well-hydrated will affect the softness of your lips overall, and it's good for you, too.”
2. Avoid Pungent Foods Before A Kiss
If you know your chance of kissing is high, you might want to skip strong-smelling foods like garlic, raw onions, cabbage, broccoli, and excessive coffee and liquor — whiskey especially. These items, although delicious, can do a number on not just your mouths, but your stomach.
Bad breath isn't always found on the tongue, but it’s also affected by the foods in your digestive system and bloodstream. While it's not the end of the world, knowing your breath is fresh will make for a better kiss because you won't be holding back.
3. Have Mints On Hand
You never know when a kiss might happen, so having minty candy or gum on hand is a great idea. But let's say for the sake of argument that your roommate stole the last of your minty freshness from your bag. In that case, lemon or ginger are decent options. The citrus and fresh pungency can neutralize bad breath. If you're in a restaurant, all you have to do is ask your server for a slice of lemon and drop it in your water, or ask for a hot cup of ginger tea.
“Anise is another breath-freshening flavor if mint isn't your favorite,” Queen tells Bustle. “Also, people carry a travel toothbrush or mouthwash for just this reason. If you brush your teeth [before] a kiss or sexual experience, use a soft brush and watch out for causing gum abrasions that might make it easier for bacteria to be swapped.” If possible, Queen suggests brushing an hour or so before your mouth comes in physical contact with another person.
4. Follow Your Partner’s Lead
Remember that it’s all about compromise — especially if you and your partner don’t have the same kissing technique. Not everyone kisses the same way, which is why it's often a matter of meeting in the middle. So, if you notice you have different approaches, try letting your partner lead the way.
“This isn't a power-play thing — it's a ‘learn your partner's style’ maneuver,” Queen says. “You might have the opportunity to talk about it before you kiss — but many times kissing is an ‘in the moment’ thing.”
5. If Need Be, Lead The Way
If things are going in a territory that isn’t your kissing scene, feel free to take the reins and lead the way. There's nothing wrong with taking over a bit when it comes to kissing, or showing someone what you like. “This also lets you express agency if there's something about your partner's style you don't prefer, that feels triggering, or that doesn't go in an overall pleasurable direction for you,” adds Queen.
Some folks are timid with their kisses, while others have never really learned how to kiss. Think of it this way — by taking control (in a gentle and consensual way), you'll be helping your kissing partner experience the joy of the perfect kiss.
6. Remember There’s More To Kissing Than Just Lips
A really awesome make-out session is about the neck, the earlobes, the collarbone, the cheeks, and maybe a bit of play-biting, if everyone is OK with it. It's also about occasionally stopping and looking at each other, or maybe even telling the other person how much you enjoy kissing them. “There are sensitive spots everywhere, and the pleasure in kissing can be even greater if you explore them — it's also a lovely technique to move away from the lips because then you get to go back to them,” Queen says. “It becomes a kind of tease technique if you want it to [be].”
Don't be afraid to explore other parts of the face and body as long as you have your partner’s consent. “Share with your partner where besides your mouth you want the kisses to land,” offers sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure Amy Levine. “And learn what they like too. Sounds, especially around the ears, can be extra erotic.”
7. Educate Yourself About Other Erogenous Zones
While your lips are packed full of sensitive nerves, they're not the only erogenous zones in that general area. Aside from the neck and earlobes, the shoulders and fingertips can be arousing for some people, too. “Don't forget the palm and the inside of the wrists and elbows — basically all along the arm,” Queen notes. Erogenous zones love as much attention as they can get, and in touching and stimulating them, you're making your kiss that much better.
8. Don’t Be Afraid To Say What You Like
If the kiss isn’t going well, don’t be afraid to say something about it. If your partner values your input, they definitely want to hear what you prefer. “There isn't any need to take or give this as criticism,” Queen says. “People are different in what they like. The question is — can you figure out a style together that is pleasing to you both? This discussion won't just improve your kissing. If you can honestly and comfortably talk about kiss styles, you can talk about a lot of other things.”
Be receptive to their input on your kissing, too. Sometimes your lips and tongues can only haggle so much before you just need to stop and talk about it. It will be a learning experience for you both.
9. Talk About Your Preferred Technique
True story: Some people are more into lippy kisses, while others prefer more tongue. The reason why people kiss this way is either because that's all they know or what they ultimately prefer. Either way, it's definitely something to discuss so you can get on the same page. “If you both haven't experienced both kinds and established a preference, try this: First lips (which can get you used to the intimate contact of a kiss and warm you up), then more tongue,” Queen tells Bustle. “Find out if it is more pleasing in that order, and if it is, map out more specifics from there!”
10. Give Positive Feedback To Each Other
Nothing boosts a kiss like telling each other, “You’re a great kisser.” If you can't say that honestly, though, try sandwiching the positive feedback. In other words, give them a compliment, then a constructive critique, then another compliment. “This ‘sandwich’ feedback is super useful for any kind of sexual or even just touch-based communication,” explains Queen. “Make the constructive critique an ‘I’ statement so it doesn't seem to them that they've failed at kissing you... rather, you're helping them kiss you better!” This will soften the blow of pointing out a "flaw," while also making it easier to overcome.
11. Kiss With Your Whole Body
Passionate kisses mean putting your whole being into it, so try using your body to show just much you're enjoying yourself, possibly by caressing your partner's hair, holding their face, or pressing up against them. “Bodily touch and pressure (like holding, hugging, [and] grabbing) activate different nerve endings in different places, and the result is often to build up arousal and pleasure,” says Queen.
12. Don’t See It As A Necessary Step To More Physical Intimacy
Kissing, for some, is something you do as a lead-up to sex, but you don't have to see it exclusively like that. The act of kissing in itself is really satisfying, but if you’re thinking of it as simply foreplay, you’ll miss out on the satisfaction.
“Kissing by itself can be an intimate option for those who want to express their connection and share pleasure but who, for whatever reason, can't or don't want to proceed to other activities,” Queen tells Bustle. “You can still share that hot energy with another person.”
13. Be In The Moment
Try not to think about anyone or anything else. You won’t get the most out of the moment if you let your mind wander to places that have nothing to do with the kiss, like those bills you have to pay or that problem that happened at work. Try grounding yourself by focusing on the sensation of your partner's lips on yours, or other physical stimuli happening around you.
This technique is called “sensate focus” by sexologists and therapists, “and is an important way to reconnect yourself to the physical experience,” Queen says. “If your mind is wandering, it's worth considering if you want to be kissing this person right now,” they share. “It might also point to discomfort from a different source, like performance anxiety or worry about where this might lead.”
14. Don’t Compare Your Partner’s Kissing Techniques To Past Partners'
It won't do any good to compare your current partners’ kissing to those from your past. “Many people make the mistake of comparing like this, but also sometimes there is an underlying assumption that there's a right way to kiss,” says Queen. “There are so many right ways! The question is whether it's right for you and your partner.” While comparing doesn’t make you a bad person, it is an unfair way to approach physical intimacy. Not to mention, it'll take you out of the moment, which will further detract from the kiss.
15. Build Tension With A Little PDA
PDA isn’t for everyone, but if you’re both into it, showing a bit of affection in public can be fun. “This is an easy way to enjoy a little exhibitionism, when showing off in front of others adds to your arousal,” notes Queen, who wrote a whole book on the subject. “Just give some thought to whether there's likely to be anyone around who'd be triggered by too much PDA — this can be more likely if your kissing style is ‘handsy’ and looks especially sexual.”
If you and your partner feel comfortable with the idea of PDA, stealing a kiss on a sidewalk can add to the excitement. Just make sure you’re restricting your kissing to appropriate settings only.
16. Get Passionate
Passion is everything, especially when you're making out. Remember, a steamy kiss involves your whole body, so you might try pulling each other in close, letting your hands wander, and going for those erogenous zones.
To go one further, let yourself make noise if it feels good. While moaning may be something you save for the bedroom, it will add to the sexiness and make for an even better kiss. Just be cautious that this kind of passion can easily be interpreted as the first step toward something further, so Queen says this is a good time to communicate your boundaries with your partner. “Then, if they agree, enjoy,” they say.
17. Don’t Fear Being The Initiator
If you want to kiss someone and they’ve communicated that they want to kiss you, feel free to ask them if you can go ahead and do it. If you misread their signs and they politely tell you "no, thanks," then apologize.
If it does work out, the fact you're taking control can really set the mood. It shows you're super into the person you're kissing, and the kiss will be more passionate as a result. “It's also a wonderful way to demonstrate wanting your erotic experience (even if it begins and ends with kissing) to be consensual and desired,” Queen tells Bustle. “It's a form of respect, and you may feel braver knowing it's not all on you to ‘read the moment.’”
18. Have Regular Make-Out Sessions
Kiss often. Let your kisses linger and turn them into proper make-out sessions. Practice makes perfect, and research shows that kissing is healthy AF (and fun to boot)! “This is definitely good advice for longer-term partners who don't want the spark to go dim,” says Queen. “It's so common to hear from people whose sexual connection has waned that they don't kiss any more. So, keep kissing!”
19. Pay Attention To Your Partner
This isn’t necessarily about following your partner’s lead, but being cognizant of how they react to a playful lip bite, an ear nibble, a neck kiss, or a gentle slip of the tongue.
On the flip side, those same signs and signals will let you know what they're not into, so you can adjust what you're doing. For example, “Some people love hickeys, aka love bites, and sport them proudly,” says Queen. “Others are mortified to have them — so it helps to know how they happen so you can negotiate to prevent them if they're not your thing.”
“This skill — awareness of your partner — will also make you a better lover and partner in general,” adds Queen. “Think of it as a form of emotional intelligence.” Basically, paying attention to the other person is really what makes a good kisser.
20. Close Your Eyes
When you block out one sense, the other senses become heightened. Cover your eyes the next time you take a bite of pizza; you'll see that it tastes even more amazing. Closing your eyes while kissing will make it that much better, too. “On top of this, it can make a person feel shy to be eye-to-eye and so close-up,” Queen points out. “Eye contact can be wonderful, but sprinkle it into the experience and let eyes-closed moments give you space to sink into the sensation.”
21. Give A Bad Kiss A Second Chance
If you do come across a bad kiss, consider giving that person a second chance, especially if your date was good otherwise. While it's true that a kiss can make or break a connection, it's also a skill that can be practiced. “If you leave it at that one disappointing kiss, but you didn't do anything at all to communicate what you do and don't like, you really did not give them a chance,” says Queen, adding that people aren’t mind-readers.
“If you communicate and they're still a bad kisser (for you), at least you'll know — and they might have even sent the message that they can't or won't take your feedback,” they say. “And that is a reason to throw a fish back into the sea.” Being open is what makes someone a great kisser, and learning how to be better kissers together can be so much fun.
Hughes, S. M., Harrison, M. A., & Gallup, G. G., Jr. (2007). Sex differences in romantic kissing among college students: An evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary Psychology, 5(3), 612–631. https://doi.org/10.1177/147470490700500310
Wlodarski, R., & Dunbar, R. I. (2014). What's in a kiss? The effect of romantic kissing on mating desirability. Evolutionary psychology : an international journal of evolutionary approaches to psychology and behavior, 12(1), 178–199.
Dawn Maslar, M.S., science of love expert, love biologist, science writer, and adjunct professor at NOVA Southeastern University and Kaplan University
Carol Queen, Ph.D., staff sexologist at Good Vibrations
Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure
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