A lot goes on when two people kiss. If it's a romantic kiss, you've probably gazed at each other and imagined getting closer. When your lips touch, you cross into a zone of intimate touch and smell. You literally breathe each other in.
A kiss can determine if physical attraction will spark or fizzle. "The kiss is the thing early in a relationship," says Katherine Ellin, PhD, MSW, DTR, licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist in Cambridge, Mass.
When a kiss is right, it's magic. But a kiss that goes wrong is the stuff of tragedy. In this article, WebMD reveals the secrets behind a good kiss, and how you can become a better kisser.
1st Secret to Kissing: Pay Attention to Your Partner
"Kissing is almost like dancing with your lips," says social and personality psychologist, Jeremy Nicholson, MSW, PhD. Kissing styles range from closed-mouth pecks on the cheek to passionate French kisses. "You need to read your partner and figure out what style of kiss they're interested in," Nicholson tells WebMD.
You can be a better kisser with attention and practice, Ellin says. "Just like with anything sexual, you need to learn the technical skills first. Then you can add the artistry."
No matter what your level of skill and experience, kissing is not like riding a bike. Good kissers do not kiss by rote. Your ability to immerse yourself fully in a kiss plays a big part in whether your lips remain engaged or get shut out in the cold.
2nd Secret to Kissing: Start Out Slow
You might start by kissing your partner's face. "Around the lips, but not on the lips," says Ellin. Then lean back and gaze at your partner. If the object of your affection is leaning toward you, it's a good sign to continue. "It's better to leave your partner wanting more than feeling imposed upon by your kiss," says Ellin.
Start with a soft mouth when you first kiss your partner's lips. "You could have your lips overlapping and kind of nibble a little, maybe pull the lower lip out gently," suggests Ellin. "Some people like a little bit of teeth pulling on their lip and some people don't like it at all."
To graduate from technical skill to artistry, pay attention to your partner's sounds and body language. Some people like to have their faces touched, others don't. Some people like to be held very tight, others feel smothered. If the kissing progresses, it may naturally become wetter and sloppier as both of you get more aroused.
Women vs. Men: What You Want From a Kiss
It may come as no surprise that women and men often want different things from a kiss. A survey of 1,041 college students put science behind this assumption. Women described kissing as a way to start a relationship and keep it going strong. Men were more likely to see kissing as a prelude to sex.
This difference plays out around the globe. Arpita Anand, MSc, a counseling psychologist in Goa, India, has seen a sharp rise in couples seeking relationship advice in the past decade. As women in that country have become more independent and vocal in their relationships, kissing has risen in status.
"Traditionally, physical tenderness between couples was an alien concept," Anand tells WebMD. "But women crave tenderness. They want their husbands to kiss and cuddle with them to show they care about more than just having sex."
Plan for a Lifetime of Kisses
Attitudes toward kissing can change with time. Today, men and women both value cuddling. A survey of men between 40 and 70 years old found that those who kissed and cuddled with their wives or girlfriends were happier in their relationships. Likewise, women who said they kissed and cuddled with their partners reported being more sexually satisfied than women who kept their hands to themselves.
Are you missing out? Nicholson suggests couples make time for a variety of kisses -- kissing for closeness and kissing for sex. This means a lot of kissing, and that's a good thing. Kissing reduces stress hormones and strengthens relationships. "When I evaluate couples, the happier couples spend a lot more time kissing and cuddling," Anand says.
If you are in a long-term relationship, you may need to remind yourself to stop and kiss your partner.
"People talk about mindfulness. Kissing is mindfulness in a relationship," Ellin says. She suggests couples take at least two minutes a day to stop everything and kiss each other. If you focus on the moment, on your partner, and on getting grounded in your body, kissing can be like a meditation.
Don't Let Bad Breath Dampen Your Romance
The state of your mouth shows your partner how well you take care of yourself. Bad breath can signal sloppy hygiene, bad health, and poor long-term prospects. And while men and women both consider a clean mouth important, women seem more sensitive to the taste and smell of their partner's mouth.
And Don't Forget to Have Fun
Most important, have fun when you kiss. "Kissing is too important to be taken seriously," says Ellin. Whether you're in a long-term relationship or meeting someone new, your lips can take you to new places when you make time for a good kiss.