Kissing guidelines apply to basically everyone who doesn’t have a few very specific kinks. Don’t lick someone’s entire face in the manner of an excitable golden retriever. Try not to bash teeth or any teeth-related hardware together. Fresh breath is generally appreciated. Other than those kinds of broad rules, kissing is a lot like sex in its uniqueness. Each person has their own preferences, which can change throughout their lifetime. As a sex educator, coach, and human with kissing experience, I know that what makes a toe-curling kiss for one person might fall flat for somebody else. Some people prefer a rougher, more intense kiss, while others want it slow and soft. For some, enjoyment of a kiss may depend entirely on the context.
If I hadn’t already known all of this, I would have learned as much when I asked 14 people for their best kissing advice. The diversity of opinions you’ll read below emphasizes that there’s no one “perfect” kiss. Instead, there are a lot of different ways you can take your kisses to an entirely new level depending on what you and your partner like. Here, 14 people share exactly what makes a stellar kiss for them.
1. Get consent to kiss.
Asking for permission to kiss someone may seem stodgy, but it can honestly be hot. For some people, this is a sign of respect that will make them want to kiss you even more. “Consent is sexy,” Alanna, 27, from Canada, tells SELF.
Kim, 37, from Illinois, recommends straight-up asking someone if they want to be kissed. If they say yes and it feels right, you can even ask how they want to be kissed, Kim tells SELF. The key here: “Show them you listened to their answer.” This can result in a mind-blowing experience. “[Kissing is] better once you’ve learned what the other person likes,” Scarlett, 26, from Colorado, tells SELF.
Norma, 60, from Canada, totally agrees about asking first. Her best-ever kiss was when she was 15 years old, and the vocal consent was part of what made it so memorable. “My date looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Would it be OK if I kissed you?’ I had never been asked by anyone before,” Norma tells SELF. “With my permission, he gently leaned in and gave me a gentle but firm kiss. I'm 60 now, [and I] still think of him in the most special way.”
2. Introduce your tongue slowly.
Kissing with tongue (also known as French kissing) can be really pleasurable for some people, but you should make sure to introduce your tongue into your partner’s mouth slowly and sensually. (Unless you’ve both verbalized that you’re into more intense tongue action right off the bat.) As you may have experienced, an unexpected tongue darting in and out of your mouth can be an unwelcome surprise.
“Chemistry and harmony of the tongue make kisses amazing,” Michelle, 27, from Texas, tells SELF. “When you just slow down and channel the other person’s next move, you feel connected to them intimately.”
Melissa, 25, from Illinois, agrees. “Start slowly, and work your way into rougher kisses,” she tells SELF. “Coax my tongue into your mouth, starting with just the tip.”
3. Build your way up to sharing more saliva.
Among people who love French kissing, everyone has a different threshold for the intensity. Sharing each other’s saliva can feel very intimate for some people, so it’s best to build your way up slowly, and make sure your partner is enjoying it, too.
Melissa is in the less-tongue-is-better camp. “Don’t use too much tongue because that gets wet and gross,” she says. “No one wants to feel like they’re being slobbered on like a dog.”
April, 32, from the British Virgin Islands, is in a similar boat. “I hate sloppy kisses—hate them,” she tells SELF. “I love gentle, full smooches with lips and a slight caress of [our] tongues.”
But it can be a fine line to walk. Annie, 30, from California, notes that using too much or too little saliva can be less than pleasant. She’s all about that happy medium.
Of course, “slobber,” “sloppy,” and “happy saliva medium” are relative terms when it comes to spit-swapping. One person’s overwhelming slobber can be another’s super-sexy, romantic French kissing session. You won’t know how your kissing partner feels about saliva unless you ask. Even something as simple as, “Is this OK?” or, “Do you like that?” may do the trick.
4. Use your hands.
Kissing can be about more than just the lips. Holding and caressing your partner’s face and body can take the romance into new territory. “A good kisser will kiss with their lips but reinforce with subtle gestures of bodily intimacy,” Gabriella, 21, of Pennsylvania, tells SELF.
JJ, 47, from Idaho, says she adores when her fiancé uses his hands as well as his lips. “He has this whole-body approach that I love,” she tells SELF. “He has his hands in my hair, and he pulls me in close, really tightly, and presses against me.”
Maria, 55, from Washington, D.C., agrees. “I love when a man holds my face when he kisses me,” she tells SELF. “It makes me feel cherished.”
If you introduce your hands when kissing, you’ll still want to proceed slowly and make sure to be attuned to your partner’s body. “Start out [sensually], hold their face, or have a hand gently placed at the back of the neck,” says Alanna. “Listen to their body and your own.”
And remember it’s always good to ask if you’re even remotely unsure about how your partner feels about what you’re doing or want to do, whether it’s touching their body or anything else.
5. If you’re going to bite, be extremely gentle.
When it comes to delivering little nips or bites, you want to be frisky as opposed to accidentally harmful. No drawing blood allowed!
Urszula, 24, from New York, tells SELF that the best bites for her are infused with a sense of play. Thus far, she’s shared her most sublime kisses, which were “full of passion and love,” with an ex-boyfriend. “We'd ... tend to bite each other’s lips lightly,” she says. “We'd look into each other eyes and see the love between us.” Try gently nibbling your partner’s bottom lip while you’re kissing, then gauge their response and move from there.
6. Keep your lips soft.
No matter how bomb your kissing technique, dry, cracked lips can make the experience uncomfortable for both partners. It's worth doing what you can to keep your lips soft for everyone’s pleasure. “Having soft, pillowy lips makes everything better,” Annie says.
If you’re not a regular lip balm user, now would be the time to start. If you have a lot of dead, flaky skin on your lips, don’t pick at it. This can lead to bleeding. Instead, regularly exfoliate your lips with a wet washcloth or a sugary lip scrub, and then apply a thick layer of moisturizing balm right before bed. Adding a humidifier to your bedroom while you sleep can add to this routine’s moisturizing power. For even more tips, sign up for the Rise and Shine, Sex Edition to getting the softest lips possible. (If a medical concern such as cold sores is affecting your lips, these tips won’t cut it—see your primary care physician or dermatologist for proper treatment.)
7. Be in the moment.
Kim, 58, from Arkansas, says that staying rooted in the kissing experience is of the utmost importance. “A bad kisser is one [who] isn't giving their partner full attention,” she tells SELF.
If you’re distracted, you might miss out on apparent cues that your partner is loving the kiss, like tiny moans or the way they’re leaning into you. Being in the moment can also help you notice if your partner is doing something like slightly pulling away, in which case you can back off and make sure they’re OK with continuing to kiss.
Finally, being in the moment allows you to fully give yourself over to kissing’s heady rush. It’s a classic way to make it a better experience for both of you.
8. Give and take kissing feedback gracefully.
Making good kisses even better is a lifelong skill. You need to be open to communicating your own desires, as well as listening to what your partner wants.
If you feel a little shy about straight-up telling your partner what you’re into, you can tell them you’d like to show them the kind of kiss that makes you weak in the knees, Devoreaux, 28, from Texas, tells SELF. “Playfully display what you like in a kiss, showing where and how you enjoy it most,” she says.
If your partner has kind and respectful kissing feedback for you, try not to take it personally. No one comes out of the womb as a seasoned kissing expert, and everyone has their own preferences. Getting kissing feedback doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, just that the two of you have to figure out how to make your kissing styles up match up in a more tingle-inducing way.
In that case, the best thing to do is listen, learn, and improve through a lot of kissing practice. All in all, it’s not the worst way to spend your time.
Follow Us on Instagram @Nowprmagazine