I was eight years old when I had my first kiss. Her name was Jamie and she was the cutest girl in 3rd grade. We were playing “kiss catch,” a version of tag that definitely wasn’t school sanctioned, when our eyes locked across the field.
Jamie was “in” and she began to run as fast as she could toward me. I made my escape (more a leisurely jog than an all-out sprint), but surprise surprise, she caught me. Then it happened. She kissed me. On. The. Lips.
I remember it being a pretty big deal at the time, and I knew that I felt pretty special when Jamie kissed me. But I was only eight years old, and hardly thinking about relationships or what it meant to kiss a girl.
When I started high school, that all changed. I distinctly remember, on the first day, one of my friends asking, “Sam, have you hooked up with anyone yet?” “Hook up” is a term that can mean a lot of different things, but in my 9th grade class, it referred to passionately kissing someone (with tongue — there, I said it).
All of a sudden, this was what it meant to be one of the cool kids. We all knew that our class was divided into two distinct groups: the “Hook Up Club” and the “No Hook Up Club” (again, not school sanctioned), and you did NOT want to be part of the latter.
It started to feel like I was the president of the No Hook Up Club, until one day, a girl from my class messaged me, asking me out on a date. I wasn’t romantically attracted to this girl, but I felt all this pressure to find a girl to hook up with, so I said yes.
The next Saturday, we met down at the beach and in case you’re thinking, “Omgosh, romantic beach date!” let me reassure you — it was not. There were long periods of awkward silence, punctuated by occasional conversation about our favourite Linkin Park songs. But after a couple of hours, I summoned up the courage to kiss this girl, and we “hooked up.”
Afterward, I remember thinking to myself, “Well you finally did it. You hooked up with someone. You should feel amazing.” But amazing was about the farthest thing from what I felt. Biking home that day, I didn’t feel happy, or excited, or content. All I felt was empty.
The Meaning of a Kiss
Our culture often tells us that a kiss means whatever you want it to mean. If you want a kiss to be an expression of your loving commitment to someone, then great, that’s what it is. But if you want a kiss to be “no big deal,” just a bit of fun, then fine, that’s what it means instead.
The problem with this logic is that what we do with our bodies, especially physical intimacy, “says” something. If you were walking down the school hallway holding hands with someone, what would people think? They would most likely think the two of you were in a dating relationship. Why? Because that’s what the body language of holding hands “says.” It expresses affection and commitment toward that person.
The same is true for kissing. When you kiss someone, you’re expressing your affection for that person. You are saying, “I care about you,” “I am committed to you,” and even “I love you.”
When I kissed that girl on the beach, my body was communicating to her that I cared about her and wanted to be with her. But if I’m being brutally honestly, I didn’t really care much about this girl. I was just using her because I wanted to fit in with my friends and experience “hooking up” with someone. I think that’s why I was left feeling empty that day.
There’s nothing wrong with affectionate acts like holding hands or kissing, they’re great! But it’s important that what we say with our bodies is consistent with our intentions.
That’s why Catholics believe that just “hooking up” with someone for the fun of it is wrong. You’re expressing to someone that you care about them, but really all you care about is your own enjoyment. It’s like you’re telling a lie with your body.
Start with the Heart
Even within committed relationships, kissing can be kind of a grey area. Some people don’t have any issue with it, while others think kissing should be reserved for serious relationships or even marriage. There’s also a big difference between giving your girlfriend/boyfriend a brief kiss goodbye and having a steamy couch make-out session!
So what’s the place of kissing in a relationship? Well, specific boundaries in this area are important, but what’s even more important is making sure your heart in the right place. Often with physical intimacy, the temptation is to ask, “How far is too far? How far can I go with my boyfriend/girlfriend before we do something we shouldn’t?”
When someone asks this question, usually, they’re focused on what they can get from a relationship. It’s the wrong question. Instead of asking, “How far is too far?” we should be asking, “How can I protect the heart of my boyfriend/girlfriend? How can I lead him/her closer to God? How can I make sure that what I’m telling this person with my body lines up with the intentions of my heart?”
Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship will be almost impossible until our heart is focused on these questions.
Take it Slow
With that being said, setting specific boundaries which recognize the meaning of physical intimacy is really important. When my girlfriend and I began our relationship, we set a couple of boundaries about kissing in particular.
The first was that we wouldn’t start kissing right away. What a lot of people don’t realize is that our bodies are made to bond during physical intimacy. When we kiss, our bodies release chemicals that make us feel connected to the person we are with.
My girlfriend and I had both been in previous relationships where the bond that formed from getting too physical, too quickly acted as a cover up for a lack of real love in the relationship. We didn’t want that to happen with us, so we decided to take it slow.
We also didn’t want physical intimacy to be the focus of our relationship. Kissing is great but the purpose of a relationship is to get to know each other on a deeper level, not just to kiss each other. Too often I’ve seen relationships start off well, but as the couple becomes more focused on the physical side of their relationship, they begin to neglect the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects.
My girlfriend and I decided to take time to build up these other aspects of our relationship first. Only when we had a solid emotional, social, and spiritual foundation did we introduce kissing into our relationship.
Keep it Simple
The second boundary we set was to save passionate kissing for marriage. To get painstakingly specific, this meant drawing the line before tongue kissing or lengthy make outs.
Again, this came down to what we were saying with our bodies. A simple kiss expressed affection, whereas passionate kissing expressed a desire to go further.
An important thing to understand here is that generally, men and women are different when it comes to sexual arousal. Women tend to be aroused sexually more gradually than guys are. I’ve met some young women who find it surprising that guys are sexually aroused by passionate kissing, but generally, we are.
Since these desires can’t be morally satisfied outside of marriage, my girlfriend and I knew this kind of kissing didn’t belong in our relationship before then. Instead, we decided to keep our affection simple.
It might sound counterintuitive but putting these boundaries in place has actually given us a real sense of freedom in our relationship. We delight in even the simplest forms of physical intimacy (holding hands on a date, cuddles on the couch, a kiss goodbye) and we’re learning to love each other in so many non-physical ways.
It isn’t always been easy; there are times when we’ve caught ourselves pushing the boundaries. But whenever that’s happened, we’ve always had an honest conversation about it and recommitted to our standards.
Say “Yes” to Love
If you’re having a difficult time accepting these boundaries, I’d encourage you to honestly ask yourself why. If you couldn’t passionately kiss your girlfriend or boyfriend, would it really hinder your ability to love him or her? Does what you’re saying with your body line up with the intentions of your heart? How much are your intentions directed toward your own pleasure, and how much toward doing what’s best for your girlfriend or boyfriend?
Boundaries can often sound like a lot of “no, no, no,” but what I’ve come to realize is that they’re actually about saying “yes.” Yes to having integrity in what we do with our bodies, yes to recognizing the true meaning of physical intimacy, and most of all, YES to relationships filled with authentic love.