Ask before you kiss?

From Everyday Feminism:

Ask before you kiss someone. (Or touch them, or dance with them, or hug them.)

Hm. We’ve heard this suggestion. We’ve also heard the opposite. Both expressed with apparent sincerity. Which side has the better reasons?

First, does there need to be a universal answer? Different folks are going to have different preferences. If someone has expressed their individual preference then it seems sensible to go with that.

We don’t usually have this personalised information in advance. Putting this on one’s dating site profile isn’t a custom (yet). So for now, we’ll have to go by generalised advice.

If you know someone well and have kissed them a lot, you can probably read their body language pretty well, but if you just grab someone you’ve never kissed before, you’re not giving them room to say “No,” or “Maybe,” or “Not now but maybe later,” or “Can I think about it?” You’re forcing them into a position where they have to decide right that second, while your lips are on their body.

If you’re kissing someone without asking, you’re taking a bet that the response they’d implicitly give is ‘yes’. And ‘right now is a good time’. You have some degree of confidence that you’re kissing someone who wants to be kissed, by you, here, and now.

But you could be wrong — making a type I error —  in your estimation. So what? So they don’t want the kiss. You’re not necessarily swooping in at full speed here, they can turn their head away so you peck on their cheek instead. You’re both in an uncomfortable situation for a moment.

So what if we want to avoid inflicting discomfort on others? Never kiss? Always ask first? No, we need not hastily conclude either of those.

One beneficial thing asking does, as we see above, is giving them room to refuse or take some time to decide, avoiding surprising them with sudden close physical contact. But there are other ways to achieve this. You could simply tell them your intentions in advance.

If you’re thinking that asking first is awkward, unsexy, clinical, or unromantic, ask yourself, why is that?

It could be for good reasons, how about that? Sex evolved before language. Preference for minimal wordiness in affectionate interactions isn’t strange.

Why does our culture think it’s weird to talk about physical intimacy and make sure it’s consented to? Why is it seen as graceful, sexy, passionate, and romantic to grab someone and kiss them when you aren’t sure they’d like it?

You think you’re ever going to be sure? All action, including social interaction, takes place in a realm of uncertainty. Using unambiguous language may seem to reduce this uncertainty, but it cannot eliminate it. She says she wants you to kiss her? She could be insincere. She could change her mind just after you get her permission.

To act in the face of uncertainty, with skin in the game, boldly, confidently, is attractive too. That’s why it’s “sexy, passionate, and romantic”.

To act wordlessly avoids a possible source of awkwardness: stumbling over words, misspeaking, and verbal misunderstanding. Such missteps can impede charm.

For these reasons, the act of asking may be a turn-off: it can show a lack of confidence, or lead to verbal bungling.

Look, at any given time, for every desirable person within kissing-range, you can consider whether a spontaneous, wordless kiss from you would be appreciated. When it feels like probably the right time, you can estimate your level of sureness:

0% – you have no belief that they’re interested in you at all.

20% – low probability that they want a kiss from you.

50% – they might like it, or not. 50-50.

80% – decent probability that they’d say yes.

99.9% – you’re pretty sure they’d be disappointed if you didn’t go for it.

I didn’t go up to 100%. There’s always some uncertainty, as discussed above. Even asking and getting an affirmative answer doesn’t solve that. There is always the possibility of rejection, because people have free will.

This percentage number is a subtle thing. How do we generate it, to start with? We observe the other person, and gauge how much they like us from behavioural indications – how much are they smiling and laughing with us, how physically close are they getting, etc. We try to be as objective as possible. We are aware of that which may compromise our objectivity: overrating from ego, underrating from low self-esteem.

(I didn’t set out to discuss Doc Love’s concept of interest level in this post. But I’ve ended up here, with something quite close, in this number… well let’s keep going.)

Back to the potential kissing scenario. What do you do with the number? It depends! There’s another variable here, how much do you like them? Put a number on that too, if you like.

Am I going to declare some minimum quantity that either of those numbers need to reach, before kissing becomes appropriate? No. They are just bits of information to roll around in your head while you make the decision. Isn’t it better to make an informed decision?

Maybe not. There’s information overload. Overthinking. Can you overcome that with… more thinking?

Other things to consider: what’s the downside, in a given scenario, to rejection? That’s a rejection to a verbal request, or a head-dodge. What’s the upside to a successful kiss? What about disappointing them?

Asking before a kiss can be sweet, intense, and a great way to show that you care about the other person’s pleasure.

No doubt! None of what I’ve said here is meant to rule this out as a perfectly cromulent means of expressing affection. My point is: there’s a cost to consider too.


This post was written by a dude who hasn’t kissed anyone for over 20 years. To learn why, and what he’s doing about it, keep reading Moonpod Rising 😀


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