Kissing in casual sexual experiences
By Aaron Ben-Zeév Ph.D.
“My best, most passionate kissing, involving open wet lips and tongues touching, was during a casual sexually experience.” Mia
Intimate kissing is central in romantic and sexual experiences. Why then, do some people avoid kissing during casual sexual experiences?
Kissing, which is a sign of love, sexual desire, reverence, or greeting, becomes most intimate when the two lips touch each other. In the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley, when kissing “soul meets soul on lovers’ lips.” Adding tongues (French kissing) makes kissing even more intimate.
Should kissing be part of casual sexual experiences?
Intimacy and kissing in commercial sex
Unlike intimacy, which develops over time, commercial sex is typically a one-time, brief, non-intimate experience, whose purpose is sexual release. Hence, some sex workers refuse to kiss clients on the mouth. However, some clients request the “girlfriend experience” in which sex workers provide additional activities, such as kissing, cuddling, and hugging. (If the sex worker is male, the service is called a “boyfriend experience”.)
Elisabeth Bernstein (2007) coined the term “bounded authenticity” referring to the common sale and purchase of authentic emotional and physical connection. This is contrary to the quick, impersonal sexual release associated with street-level prostitution. Bernstein found that sex workers try to manufacture authenticity by trying to simulate—or even produce—genuine desire, pleasure, and erotic interest for their clients, while endowing them with a sense of desirability, esteem, or even love. While doing so, they also create a meaningful experience for themselves. Bernstein reports of a sex worker who really enjoyed having sex with an attractive man – a rare thing – and who offered him a special, lower price for their encounters. For another man she was attracted to, she suggested he might “come for free.” Both men panicked and never returned since they wanted an emotional connection without obligation.
The additional intimate aspects in girlfriend (boyfriend) experiences are enhanced in sugaring, which involves money, sex and bounded intimacy. Sugaring bridges one-off, impersonal sex and intimate profound love. Compared to commercial sex, sugaring includes an extended version of the girlfriend experience, both in terms of time and shared activities. Sugaring’s popularity indicates the need for an authentic, bounded intimacy.
Intimacy and casual sexual experiences
“Kissing is the most intimate activity. I cannot kiss and have sex with someone I have no deep emotional bond with.” Susan
“In casual sex, I allow men to cuddle and kiss me in any place on my body but the mouth, which is disgusting!!” Grace
“Kissing is the most intimate activity, and I enjoy hot French kissing in casual sex.” Fiona
The essential role of kissing in intimate experiences is generally accepted. There are, however, conflicting attitudes concerning kissing in casual sexual experiences lacking profound intimacy: (a) avoiding both kissing and sex; (b) having both kissing and sex; (c) having kissing, but avoiding sex, and (d) avoiding kissing, but having sex. The three first attitudes are often normatively accepted, as they assume the greater intimacy of casual sex, which typically includes kissing. I focus on the fourth option, which is more complex (and problematic).
Catherine Hakim (2012) believes that sex is no more a moral issue than eating a good meal, since sexual desire is a biological drive like hunger and thirst. Accordingly, meeting a secret lover for a casual encounter should be as routine as dining out at a restaurant instead of eating at home. In contrast, Roger Scruton (2011) argues that unlike biological drives, the objects of sexual desire are not indifferent to the vessel—as is the case with drinking water. What distinguishes sexual desire from hunger is the richer nature of the object (the sexual partner) that creates the essential difference between eating and having sex (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019).
A casual sexual partner is neither a sex worker nor a human vibrator—you neither pay him nor buy new batteries for him. Casual sexual experiences are not merely penetration and sexual release, but human interactions involving genuine desire, pleasure and sexual interest; hence, they should have some bounded intimacy. We should respect and be kind to those with whom we have even superficial interactions, such as waiters, taxi drivers, insurance agents, bankers, and cleaners. We should be even kinder with those who we have sex with.
Indeed, a recent study has shown that casual sexual experiences tend to be evaluated more positively than negatively, despite the fact that they are often associated with a short-term decline in emotional health. Women, and those with less permissive attitudes toward casual sex, tend to respond more negatively, and if the casual sexual experiences involve penetrative (oral, vaginal, or anal) rather than nonpenetrative contact (kissing and touching), they are more likely to be emotionally damaging experiences (Wesche et al., 2020; and here).
Should casual sex include French kissing?
“Kissing enables the partner to reveal oneself, one’s taste, smell, and kissing style (gentle, aggressive, or non-fixed, in dialogue with one’s partner). Kissing involves reciprocity, which is often absent in oral sex. I would never stay with a bad kisser.” Isabelle
“In my many casual sexual experiences, women have never refused kissing. If it happened, I would be insulted.” Ethan
“I endlessly kiss my kids, and gladly kiss my wonderful dog, but not my husband.” Gloria
Bounded intimacy, involving touching and kissing is also exciting in casual sex. Nevertheless, many people avoid kissing during casual sex—despite liking kissing during profound intimacy. Kissing enhances intimacy and sexual arousal, so why should we oppose it? Why cannot we be generous toward our casual partners and let them enjoy greater intimacy?
Here are several possible reasons:
The brief and superficial nature of casual sex indicates that activities outside the actual sexual experience are to be avoided. Thus, although lovers should not leave the room immediately after orgasm, they may not wish to sleep over, or share breakfast. However, it can be argued that even if kissing somewhat prolongs sexual experiences, it is not to the extent of modifying their brief nature.
Those opposing kissing may think that in doing so, intimacy would increase beyond what they want. This is similar to the case of the men refusing to return to a sex worker after being offered free sex, as they worried about greater obligation and intimacy. However, it could be countered that penetration does not make for lesser intimacy and obligation.
Additionally, there are those who do not wish to kiss on a first encounter when they do not feel intimacy. Conversely, authentic intimacy may develop over time and have no rigid boundaries, so some intimacy can be expected even in casual sexual experiences. Examples include cuddling, hugging, and kissing the neck and lips.
Likewise, others may be disgusted French kissing without strong intimacy. However, we may question whether kissing on the lips is less revolting when in loving relationships. And is oral sex less disgusting than kissing on the lips?
“My new lover had his hand deep in my hair, pulling my head back as he was passionately kissing me. When our lips parted he whispered ‘Kiss me like you love me!’ I went into the next kiss with unabashed enthusiasm, letting myself go entirely. Kissing is sexually intoxicating; it makes no sense to restrict it in casual sex.” Robin
“Kissing is the most intimate activity; nevertheless, I do not consider kissing as sex or cheating. I would also not consider intimate conversations as such.” Margaret
Kissing is sometimes overrated. Though it feels natural during sexual encounters, it is not a sacred activity we should only take part in during our most intimate moments. As kissing enhances intimacy, its usage should hardly be restricted while engaging in casual sex. At other times, kissing is underrated; it is more intimate than mere conversation or dining out at a restaurant.
Not all types of intimacy are suitable for all people in every situation. Some people avoid kissing in the absence of profound intimacy. Others are less strict and allow kissing in non-intimate casual sexual experiences or passionless marriages. The first approach tends to follow an all-or-nothing attitude; the second admits compromise. While both are legitimate, the latter seems more suitable for life’s complexity; it also expresses greater emotional generosity.
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The arc of love: How our romantic lives change over time. University of Chicago Press.
Bernstein, E. (2007). Temporarily yours: Intimacy, authenticity, and the commerce of sex. University of Chicago Press.
Hakim, C. (2012). The new rules. Gibson Square.
Scruton, R. (2011). Beauty: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.
Wesche, R., Claxton, S. E., & Waterman, E. A. (2020). Emotional Outcomes of Casual Sexual Relationships and Experiences. The Journal of Sex Research, 1-16.
Professor Ben-Ze’ev is considered one of the world’s leading experts in the study of emotions. His research focuses on the philosophy of psychology, and especially the study of emotions. Most recently, his research has centered on love and the impact of time on romantic love.
Professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev is from University of Haifa, Israel. He received his Ph.D. is from the University of Chicago (1981). Major books: The Perceptual System (Peter Lang, 1993); The Subtlety of Emotions (MIT, 2000), Love Online (Cambridge UP, 2004), In The Name of Love (with Goussinsky, Oxford UP, 2008); Die Logik der Gefühle (Suhrkamp, 2009); The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time (University of Chicago Press, 2019). He is Co-editor (with Angelika Krebs), of Philosophy of Emotion, Four Volumes (Routledge, 2017). He has published over 130 scholarly articles in scientific journals.
At the University of Haifa, he was President (2004-2012), Rector (2000-2004), Dean of Research (1995-2000), and Chairperson of the Philosophy Department (1986-1988). He is the Founding and former President of the European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions.