In a piece for the May 20 issue of The New Yorker, The Mindy Project creator and The Office veteran Mindy Kaling writes about one of her favorite parts of her job as an actress, particularly in a role where her character is dating a lot. She gets to kiss people, particularly those who might be otherwise unavailable for smooching because they are married. She says:
The problem is, kissing is no longer appreciated as a satisfying end in itself, as an inviting pair of lips and, possibly, a tongue, to interact with for a delightful moment. No. Kissing has now been cheapened into the nominal gateway gesture to sex. Kissing is to sexual intercourse as the phrase “Can I talk to you for a second?” is to a full-blown screaming fight.
She argues that we should take kissing less seriously so we can enjoy it more. “The fact of the matter is, marriage is a serious business and kissing is not. Just because I want to kiss someone doesn’t mean I want to love that person, share a bed with him, remind him to take his Lipitor, tell him not to use so much salt, or share one AOL e-mail account,” she explains. But her point about kissing as an act independent of sex actually argues for taking lip-locking more seriously in pop culture.
Sex is an awfully hard thing to choreograph in film and television. Some of the challenge comes from the simple limits of what you can show, whether you’re trying to make sure your movie falls under a certain ratings threshold, or because you need your episode to get past network Standards and Practices. (Red Widow creator Melissa Rosenberg once told me that ABC wouldn’t allow any thrusting during heterosexual sex scenes.) And some of the problem is that we all like different things during sex. It can be hard to pick an act, position, or choreography that gets everyone in your audience hot.
But you can show all of a kiss. More so than a hug, which can be platonic, or the taking of a hand, which can fizzle, a kiss is a gateway that can lead to disappointment, sex, or even just more kissing. No matter how old you get, in a new relationship, a first kiss is a ritual of excitement and anxiety. This isn’t to say that sex doesn’t elicit all of these same emotions, or open up similar questions about compatibility, trust, and emotional longevity. But kisses are where it all begins. So maybe it’s time to take Kaling’s advice to appreciate kissing for what it is. And whether a kiss is scot-free or the start of a life-long commitment, pop culture could get sexier and more romantic by focusing on what it can display—rather than bemoaning what has to stay off-screen.