When I was five years old, I kissed Doyle Dawkins under the bow of a motorboat that was parked in his parents’ backyard.
I liked Doyle because he was a boy (he also happened to live next door, so he was a boy in my general proximity). Where before boys had always been either my father or other flesh-colored, breathing things I had come into contact with, boys were now Doyle Dawkins and his large brown eyes.
Kissing a boy on the lips was both intoxicating and a big, fat deal. I had kissed a boy. On the lips. I didn’t even think my neighbor, Kaitlin, who was naturally more wild than myself and had a difficult home life that probably would have influenced trouble-making, had kissed a boy on the lips.
But I had. I was now both a hussie and a braggart.
After kissing Doyle on the lips, I ran away. I ran straight to the sliding door of my family’s mobile home, burst in and declared with what was mostly embarrassment, “I kissed Doyle on the lips!”
My mother was setting the table and laughed in an uncertain way before telling me to go wash my hands for dinner. As I ran off down the hall, my father yelled after me, “Wash your lips, too.”
To kiss or not to kiss was never a question for me.
By the time I was a teen I had heard tell of some horrendous book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and even without knowing much about boyfriends or kissing I knew I had no interest in that book. Dating was this mystical experience teenagers and adults got to have, and dating meant kissing. I wanted both in moderation.
But then I grew up, and I encountered people who believed that kissing was the equivalent of Satan’s handshake.
“KISSING LEADS TO SEX!” was the cry of so many (mostly) good-intentioned people who were trying to get the youths of the 2000s to not have sex. I didn’t want to have sex (well, actually I did, but not right then), but I did want to kiss people, as I had more than a few fantasies about kissing a boy on a bridge somewhere at night.
To a few annoying folks, kissing was the start of a slippery slope towards the ol’ dirty deed itself. To me, kissing was mega fun.
A few months ago, I was giving a presentation on sex and relationships to a group of students at a high school youth group. Afterwards, a young woman approached me and asked if we could talk (I love when this happens!).
As we sat there on the bench, she told me about her boyfriend she had been seeing for almost a year. They had kissed, and they had gone farther than kissing at times. Her parents didn’t approve of kissing (let alone anything else), so she had yet to tell them what had happened and was feeling mired in isolation and fear.
She looked away at the stage where I had been standing a little while before and said, “Do you think kissing is wrong?”
“No,” I answered with hesitation. “I don’t think kissing is wrong at all.”
While I ended up telling this girl that ultimately she should probably honor her parents views of kissing as long as she was in their care, what I really wanted to say was that her parents need to get it together and stop equating physical affection with shame and fear.
But I didn’t say that, because I’m realizing these days I am expected to be a responsible and compassionate adult.
So instead I told her that I had been kissing people for the last 20 years and had yet to have sex with anyone. And if it was her choice as well to wait to have sex, then she could pull this off too.
I told her that she is smart and capable, and because of this she has the ability to make wise choices about the situations she may find herself in.
I told her that kissing someone (or having sex with someone) doesn’t in itself make her a bad person. I told her she’s not weird, or the only one who has done this, or now so flawed no one else will want her (as some books will lead you to believe).
I told her I believe in kissing, that kissing is not a bad thing or the gateway drug to sex. It could be that, but it also probably won’t be unless allowed.
She looked relieved to hear all this, and I felt relieved to tell her; to remind myself that eventually (hopefully) we do understand through encounters, experiences, hopes, changes of mind, stories, and real life, what it is we want in our lives (kissing included).