I used to be a terrible kisser. My first boyfriend taught me that there was more to kissing than lunging my tongue deeply into his mouth and vigorously swirling it around his tongue at rapid-fire speed. I believed covering the entire surface area of his tongue was the way to show him that I was in control, that I was no passive pansy afraid to take the plunge. He had the tact to spare me the embarrassment of telling me I was terrible; instead, he guided me with his sensual mouth, and I took his lead, my technique naturally improving with experience. It wasn’t until later in our relationship that he said I nearly smothered him during our first kiss. I had no idea it was that bad, but it was too late for embarrassment. I laughed at myself and thanked him for teaching me.
Unfortunately, not everyone is so quick to learn by example. Sometimes you have to verbalize the situation. When I was a student at Oxford, I hooked up with a fellow American who was Mr. Tongue Lunge Slobber Mouth whenever we locked lips. He also enjoyed washing my ear with his tongue, leaving a trail of saliva in his wake. In lieu of saying “You’re the worst kisser I’ve ever had!” or “Are you trying to remove my tonsils with your tongue?” I went for a more subtle approach. As I pulled away to catch my breath, I said, “Can we try this a little softer and slower? I like it like this.” And so I kissed him the way I wanted to be kissed. He tried to take control again but I held my ground: “Don’t do anything … Let me show you what I like.” He finally followed my direction, but the dorm room was hot with discomfort.
“Are you saying I’m a bad kisser?” he asked.
“Um … well … everyone has different techniques,” I said to the wall. “There’s always room for improvement.” The conversation snowballed into a breakup, but we remained friends and he eventually thanked me for showing him how to smooch.
So how does one smooch? There is no right way; what feels good to one person may be a turn-off for another. Yet when people say, “He’s a bad kisser,” or “She needs to go back to smooch school and take Kissing 101,” you know what they mean (if you know how to kiss). A good kisser is subtle and creative, instinctively adjusting to each pair of lips she meets; she’s pliable yet consistent, using all parts of the mouth like steps in a dance, each move reflecting an intent or emotion. The bad kisser has the erroneous belief that what was good for the first lover will work for every subsequent one. This type is either cursed with the notion that more is better—more tongue, more spit, more force—or decides to play it safe by holding back and never taking initiative.
Here are some signs that you or the person with whom you’re swapping spit is labially challenged … The Tooth-Knocker: Everybody knocks teeth once in a while, but continual bumping and grinding of the cuspids is a pain in the mouth (and a reason to fear for the safety of your genitals if the kissing progresses to other corporal regions). The Drooler: A healthy, sexually active adult should know that drooling into someone’s mouth is just not sexy. Wetter is only better down below. The Mechanic: A lusty mouth is not a machine in need of repair—drilling, scraping or any other invasive tongue tinkering is unpleasant for most people. The Bore: Lips smack (yawn), lips part (yawn), tongue enters (yawn), tongue rotates, lunges and retreats in an even rhythm. Every make-out session with a boring kisser feels the same. And finally, The Gagger: Tongue lunging and saliva to the extreme is hazardous to your health, unless you get off on asphyxiation.
Oral hygiene is just as important as skill and intuition when it comes to puckering up. One of my exes was generally a good kisser, but in addition to being an occasional Tooth-Knocker and frequent Drooler, he had chronic halitosis that would come and go even after I bought him a tongue scraper. I loved him, so I could tolerate a little extra saliva, but every time he drooled into my kisser during a bout of bad breath, I couldn’t swallow. I held the skanky spit in my mouth, turning my head this way and that to avoid his lips, giving him the impression that I was squirming with pleasure, while thinking about how I would rinse out the salivary filth once we were through. Although I managed to curtail his foul breath with the tongue scraper and a few awkward remarks, I was never able to tell him that I didn’t appreciate his slurpy smackaroos.
I wonder if my ex has been drooling into other women’s mouths. If I had told him the truth, they might be spared the disgust. It’s always better to say something, even if it comes out wrong, even if it’s awkward and he’s insulted and you never see him again. If you don’t say something, who knows if the next victim will? Silence perpetuates the curse of the bad kisser. Next time, I’ll do him a favor and speak up if he doesn’t get the nonverbal hints—he’ll probably thank me.