Jane, a 21-year-old barista from L.A., hates locking lips. “I will only give people I really like a peck or longish kiss, but casual partners I will not kiss,” she says. “It’s so gross to me, and I’ve never been a fan.” It’s not that she’s prudish or anti-casual sex in general — “I will engage in literally everything else,” she tells me — but kissing is a revolting sensory experience for her. “I have a huge aversion to mixing saliva, and kissing with tongue is the grossest thing to me,” she continues. “It’s so wet.”
I ask Jane, who identifies as “mostly straight,” how she gets around this in relationships. “I try not to bring it up because it’s so easy for the other person to feel hurt about it,” she explains. “Many people are self-conscious about their kissing skills, and it’s one of those very, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ subjects.” She says that if any of her partners ask her outright whether she likes making out, she’s honest with them that she doesn’t, but she usually doesn’t bring it up and dodges the kiss to segue straight into foreplay. “I’d say that it might have put off one guy that I can remember, who I met at a party,” she tells me, explaining that he perceived her reluctance to kiss him as rejection of him rather than of the act of kissing. “So that never went anywhere, even though I did actually like him.”
For the most part, kissing is a noncontroversial semi-sexual activity. Some of us may worry that we aren’t skillful kissers, but we tend not to consider kissing an optional extra in the same way that we do acts like swallowing cum or eating ass. However, Jane isn’t alone in her strong dislike of making out. Over the past week, I’ve spoken to 20 men and women who find kissing “revolting,” “tedious,” “overly intimate” and “invasive.” For example, Mannie, a 38-year-old government employee in New Zealand, is in the latter camp; for her, kissing feels like an invasion of space. “It feels annoying and intrusive, and like I’m being crowded,” she explains. “I don’t want someone’s face all up in my face.” She adds that she’s had a run of bad luck kissing people with halitosis, which she describes as “no fun, especially when I’m already not a fan.”
For others who hate kissing, it comes down to the sensation of the tongue. “I was a late bloomer and went from kissing to sex very quickly, so making out never had the high-school nostalgia value it has for some people,” says Maya, a 29-year-old dominatrix in New York. “I’ve always hated tongue, and still do.” She adds that open-mouth kissing “feels gross and slimy,” and like Jane, she tends to quickly move on to other forms of foreplay or sex.
Ariel, a 25-year-old student from Michigan, tells me it’s taken several conversations for her boyfriend to understand that her misophonia — a condition that causes a strong reaction to specific sounds — is what makes her hate kissing, not anything that he’s doing wrong. “I absolutely detest the wet mouth sounds that any kiss but a peck produces,” she explains, adding that she despises the sound of people chewing or eating yogurt, too. “On top of that, I don’t want your saliva on my skin around my mouth,” she adds. “Yuck! It really grosses me out.”
Kissing can be especially unpleasant for neurodivergent people or those with certain mental illnesses or phobias. Dorsey Massey, a social worker who helps run dating and social programs for neurodivergent adults, told The Atlantic that seemingly basic, non- or semi-sexual touching can be uncomfortable for people with autism. “It may give them discomfort for someone to kiss them lightly or hold their hand,” she says. “They need pressure, and that’s not typically what you think of with tender, romantic love.” Charles, a 25-year-old researcher in California who is on the autism spectrum, says it’s not so much the lightness but wetness of kissing that bothers him. “Like a lot of similarly neurodivergent people, I have certain sensory experiences that are really unpleasant for me,” he explains. “I don’t like fluids or the feeling of being wet, so the feeling of the inside of mouths is unappealing to me.”
Charles also has generalized anxiety, though, which means that kissing doesn’t just feel gross, it’s also terrifying for him. “I have what could be called an unreasonable fear of STIs,” he explains. “My anxiety means that, if there’s something I’m afraid of happening, any possibility feels like a certainty.” He recognizes that, in practical terms, the likelihood that anything serious would be transmitted through mouth-to-mouth contact is low: although herpes and syphilis can be transmitted through kissing, it’s considered a low-risk activity, and while HIV transmission from open-mouth kissing is possible in certain circumstances, it’s a remote risk. However, it’s enough for Charles that all of this is “theoretically possible.” “It means I can’t swap spit without the creeping feeling that I’m swapping something worse,” he says.
Kissing can provide a reminder of a negative formative experience as well. Recall that, for Mannie, kissing a run of people with bad breath helped put her off kissing permanently; Maya, on the other hand, partially blames her ex. “I was in a terrible relationship with a person who had very thin lips,” she says, explaining that this took her from being neutral about kissing to actively disliking it. Emily, a 30-year-old administrative assistant from Vancouver, chalks up her dislike of kissing to men being “almost universally terrible at it.” “They’re over-aggressive, with SO MUCH tongue,” she says, “putting both their lips over both my lips and smooshing their mouth onto mine.”
Kissing was also repeatedly described as being too intimate for comfort. “Kissing feels more personal to me than sex,” Sarah, a 27-year-old office administrator based in New Zealand, tells me. “It makes me feel like I’m losing control of myself.” She admits her feelings probably come down to a fear of intimacy, especially because she feels the same way about holding hands.
Elise Franklin, a psychotherapist based in L.A., says that she has patients with intimacy issues like these, especially those with avoidant or anxious attachment styles. “Anything that is too close or too intimate will send an avoidant running the other way, and the disorganized person will often act out,” she tells me. “To protect themselves, they might just avoid this connection all together.” She says that people who have experienced trauma may also find it hard to summon the trust and vulnerability kissing requires, and she’s increasingly finding that porn plays a role. “Porn used to be art imitating life,” she says, “but now I often hear about sterile sexual experiences in which it feels like life is now imitating art.” She explains that patients recount to her sexual experiences in which they felt like they were being treated as porn stars rather than real people. “In a lot of these cases,” she continues, “kissing is not part of the experience.”
For others, though, kissing isn’t so much revolting or overly intimate as it is tiresome. Dana, a 22-year-old student in Canada, finds kissing to be “kind of like work,” rather than something she enjoys doing. “I find it gets very repetitive and distracts me from everything else going on,” she says. “Or I zone out and think about something else.” Marissa, a 28-year-old management worker in New York, agrees. “I largely find kissing tedious, and tend to phase it out of long-term relationships as soon as possible.”
“It’s boring,” she adds. “Like, c’mon, let’s get this show on the road.”