My first encounter with explicit pornography occurred when I was 11 years old. Several friends and I got a hold of one of my friend’s dad’s porno movies. The one scene that was forever imprinted upon me involved a guy flying through a window wearing a Superman outfit. He dropped trow, put his hand on his hips, and was fellated by a damsel in distress. No talking, no kissing, no foreplay—just spandex and a blowjob and sex.
At a party the other night a young woman I work with was talking about how “hot” one of our male co-workers, Danny, is. The woman recently made out with Danny, but, despite finding him physically attractive, stopped doing so because she thinks he’s a horrible kisser. She’s told other girls at work that Danny doesn’t know what he’s doing in that regard, and the news is spreading through my workplace like a bad internet meme (OK, I heard two separate girls talking about it—close enough). I estimate that Danny is now marked with a giant circled ‘K’ with a line through it which means that he’s sexual toast at work.
Though I’ve always known that kissing is important in building attraction, I had forgotten just how important kissing is to women. The fact that I had to be reminded and the fact that Danny apparently sucks at sucking face are two data points suggesting that men forget this and to our own detriment. And I wonder if pornography has helped create the problem.
Several years ago, Wired magazine ran a piece citing the 1964 classic “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” sung by Betty Everett. In the article, the song was held as an inadvertent truism on the information provided by the kiss—an act, by the way, that seems sort of strange when you think about it. Kissing transfers chemical signals from one person to the other and can reach deeply entrenched psychological caverns that tell us whether or not the person we’re kissing is “worthy”—of what generally depends on each kisser’s sex. If kissing science is correct, Everett may have been on to something when she sang:
is it in his eyes
oh no you’ll be deceived
is it in his sighs
oh no he’ll make believe
if you want to know if he loves you so
it’s in his kiss
that’s where it is
The deeper insight is that women seem to be more keen on kissing than men. Albright College psychologist Susan Hughes has conducted some of the only research dealing with the question of sex differences in the importance placed on kissing. She found that men use kissing as a means to an end—the end being (surprise!) sex. Men also kiss more sloppily than women in an attempt to basically force more testosterone-carrying saliva into the mouths of the babes. While, for men, kissing is a tool, women interpret it as a signal:
Perhaps more surprising than the fact that men like sloppy kisses is that “they’ll even forgo kissing altogether if they can just have sex,” [Albright College psychologist Susan] Hughes told Life’s Little Mysteries. Indeed, Hughes’ survey found that over half of men would be willing to have sex with someone without kissing them, while only 14 percent of women would do so.
In general, the importance of kissing to women is correlated with the importance they place on pair-bonding. Kissing tends to be seen by men as an ancillary act to sex. Women on the other hand have a different strategy. Their incentive, given their long gestation period and limited egg production, is to seek a quality mate. Kissing and other foreplay is a better indicator of mate quality than is ability to have sex like a porn star. Yet, being the biggest consumers of porn, men idolize the porn star’s efficient investment of time and energy. The porn star persona is an exaggeration of what men prefer in the first place – sex without the prologue – but it ratchets up to the level of fantasy and helps men forget that women typically don’t have such sexual goals.
Thus, men are cued up to ignore an extremely important part of the process. Again, perhaps the ideal setup for a man—from an evolutionary perspective—is detached sex with as many women as possible. But realistically, men want women who like them, want to date and spend time with them, and—at some point—have sex with them. An eye on the first-best ideal sets men up to fall short of the second-best ideal.
Growing up using pornography as a template for igniting a woman’s erogenous zones ignores important parts (to women) of the attraction-building process. In porn, men see women deriving sexual pleasure from intercourse. And while it is certainly true that women receive pleasure from sex, porn-viewing can lead men to think of both sexes’ sexual priorities as homogenous. Thus, if kissing isn’t all that important to me—a man—it probably isn’t all that important to women either. If I think like that and think of kissing only as a means to an end, I may never reach that end.
Just as Superman flew faster than a speeding bullet, if men had it their way they’d time warp through all of the ‘wasteful’ baubles of kissing. But we aren’t Supermen, and we aren’t porn stars. Perhaps rather than spending as much time and energy worrying about our sexual performance, we may want to spend more time thinking about our kissing performance.