How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every Thursday night, Stoya and Rich will answer one bonus question in chat form. This week, kissing and telling the other person they’re bad at kissing.
Dear How to Do It,
It has come to my attention that I am not a good kisser—or at least one guy thought I wasn’t a good kisser. We had a casual thing going that he cut off suddenly, and I asked why, and he said there wasn’t “chemistry,” which led to him telling me this. Is anyone really a “bad kisser,” though? Is it possible we just have different styles? I’m not big on the tongue, for example, but I’ve had plenty of partners who seemed to be the same way. I was embarrassed when he told me this and I didn’t ask for more details, so I don’t really know what was “bad” about my kissing, and I am half-tempted to ask other old partners. (Don’t worry, I won’t.) But if he was on to something, how do I fix it?
Stoya: I’m sort of disappointed that they aren’t going to go back and ask previous partners to critique their kissing.
Rich: I totally agree. I think more people should do this. Use life experience to actually learn something. You may find the truth hurts, but in my experience, not knowing is excruciating.
Stoya: And the worst-case scenario is someone you no longer date thinks you’re a bit odd for coming back and asking how you can improve your amorous technique.
Rich: Yes. I have done something like this—I’ve swung back around to ask people why it didn’t work out between us. I have to say, the answers are usually vague. I interpret that as politeness, but because being kept in the dark is so brutal, that politeness is quite rude, if you think about it.
Stoya: It’s really hard not to worry about personal taste being conflated with individual worth in the world.
Rich: Which gets to the heart of the writer’s question: Is there such a thing as an objectively bad kisser?
Stoya: I don’t think so. I think we use bad to mean “not to my exact personal taste” way too often when we’re talking about sex.
Rich: Yeah, people do that all the time. They also say “gross” when it’s something they just aren’t into.
Stoya: Practicing “Not for me, thanks” would be a part of sex ed if I taught it.
Rich: I will say I have kissed some guys whom I would consider to be lost causes. Someone bit the inside of my mouth … as if he were trying to consume my entire mouth, I mean. It wasn’t like sexy biting. It was like, “I’m putting tooth marks in your gums.” “I kiss by eating you.” I didn’t think he was very good.
Stoya: Dude. I’m glad you’re here to tell the story.
Rich: Same! Another guy just stuck the tip of his tongue out. Like, literally, that’s it. “Here’s how I kiss. I present you a nub of my tongue.” A tiny maypole for me to dance around.
Stoya: It sounds like our letter writer would love that last guy.
Rich: But I mean, no movement, no nothing. Staring me dead in the face with his mouth half open would have been better foreplay. He might as well have poked his index finger into my bicep for an indeterminate amount of time for how dynamic and titillating it was.
Stoya: That does sound awkward.
Rich: It was decidedly unskilled. But then I think of the hundreds of other guys I have kissed and they have mostly been great. It’s less about technique, I think, than connection—which may require, in fact, an adjustment of technique.
Stoya: Yeah. There’s no one good way to kiss that people learn and use all the time with everyone. Kissing is kind of a together thing. And it’s different between different people. (At least I’ve never heard of solo kissing and would—obviously—love to hear from anyone who practices it.)
Rich: And it’s a good way to demonstrate how adaptable you are, an early indication of your willingness to meet your partner’s needs by reading (mostly) nonverbal signs.
Stoya: Very much so. A part of the sorting mechanism that is dating.
Rich: I was once told that I was a bad kisser. Well, maybe not in those words, but I heard “too much tongue.” I have gotten other comments on my intensity that have been less than flattering. But you know, many more people have complimented. I think it’s reasonable to change things up while maintaining an overall style, and if that’s not for you, OK, there are other people who really like it. I can bend and snap back into place, as life dictates.
Stoya: I agree. So our letter writer probably shouldn’t take the lack-of-chemistry comment to heart.
Rich: Yeah, or understand that it was just a lack of chemistry with that one person and that’s fine because no one is for everybody. It’s important to be adaptable during sex but also to maintain your individuality.
Stoya: Think of kissing as a way of discerning physical compatibility rather than something you can be good or bad at.
Rich: I guess the suckiest thing (pun intended) is that the writer didn’t realize the chemistry was off when it came to kissing. Ideally, they would have been picking up those cues, right?
Rich: That’s probably what feels cruelest, because they seemed to be in the dark about it.
Stoya: Right—it sounds like it happened abruptly. I suppose ghosting is still a thing?
Rich: Oh yes, increasingly so in a time when people often regard each other with the coldness that they do data. And that’s not completely irrational—people are busy, and often frank conversations about incompatibility with virtual strangers don’t go very well. But still: inhumane.
Stoya: All right, so they should know any abruptness is probably due to the cruel nature of modern hookup culture, that they almost certainly just have different styles, and that “not big on the tongue” is probably an acceptable style of kissing.
Rich: And you know, after that guy told me “too much tongue,” I’ve been a lot more aware of how much tongue the other person is giving me and will modify if they aren’t as full-throttle as I am. So that feedback was useful. Which is to say, would it hurt our writer to get a little more tongue-y? Probably not.
Stoya: It can be fun to try things we don’t usually do sometimes.
Rich: I wish the writer would go back and at least ask this guy what was bad about the kissing—they’ve already had most of the conversation.
Stoya: Same. I’d be willing to be the go-between. Which would make the whole thing exponentially more awkward but maybe also entertaining?
Rich: Oh yes, How to Do It Mediates would be perfect. Send him our way!