The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a monkey-wrench into our standard ways of dating and relating. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and movie theaters are closed or are operating under a ton of restrictions, so we have to get creative with where we meet for dates. That’s assuming we’re comfortable meeting in person at all. But once we’ve established a mutual attraction, how do we then act on that in a way that keeps us both safe?
We’re running a series of essays on safe sensual-to-erotic-to-sexual touch during this time period, based on an interview I conducted with Dr. Patti a couple weeks ago. This first essay focuses on kissing: why kissing is important, whether we should or shouldn’t kiss each other, and potential alternatives to kissing.
Why Kissing is Important
Kissing is an opportunity to inspect a prospective lover, using the range of our human senses, especially those of touch, taste and smell. It is also a form of testing the potential bio-alignment of two persons, providing an untidy exchange of bacteria, viral protection, and of course the sniffing out of each others’ pheromones. It’s a getting-to-know-you act that used to be considered part of initial foreplay.
Mouth kissing is a way of activating all of the systems of the body. It’s part of the arousal pathway for most humans. For many couples, kissing is the initial arousal gateway to other more sensual / erotic / sexual behaviors. Without mouth-to-mouth kissing, those behaviors have to become activated in some other way, later along the continuum of arousal, which may feel too abrupt. Without the kissing element of arousal, other erotic behaviors may feel strange, invasive, and may not work. In many sexual encounters, returning to mouth-to-mouth kissing is often a way to hit the pause button or put a soft break on arousal that is not available otherwise.
Kissing has two different functions in the arousal pathway. It can either slow things down (inhibition of arousal) or amp things up (escalation of arousal). This is a perfect illustration of the Dual Control Model from Emily Nagoski’s popular book on female sexuality, Come As You Are, in which kissing plays a part in both the excitatory and the inhibitory systems.
When kissing is removed from your repertoire, you may not have a reliable pathway for your arousal. For people who are very kissing oriented, trying NOT to kiss during passionate interactions can be incredibly anxiety-provoking and could actually interrupt the whole excitement process. Plus, if access is denied to a reliable aspect of a couple’s usual sexual pattern, then it can actually create shutdown and heightened anxiety. Absence of the passionate kiss can produce other breakdowns, such as erectile challenges and/or lack of orgasms. Denial of the proverbial wet kiss can impact our ability to lubricate and all of the goodies that accompany getting turned on.
Why Kissing is Now Dangerous
During this era of Covid-19, one of the negative fallout elements has been the inability to share kissing mouth-to-mouth because the virus is spread by particles that emit from the mouth. This is one of the most dangerous acts prospective lovers can engage in. What I found is that often kissing gets relegated to the least safe of all erotic / sexual activities. Counter-intuitive? You bet it is, especially for newly matched lovers.
Covid-19 is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is transmitted by particles that can be picked up through contact with mucosal membranes, such as mouth, nose, or eyes. It has become increasingly dangerous for two people to kiss mouth-to-mouth. As a result of that, kissing is now on the “totally unsafe” list unless you know exactly the risk behaviors of the one you’re kissing and where they have been in terms of being potentially exposed to the virus. And even then, asymptomatic kissers may be ruled out for safety’s sake until a Covid-19 vaccine or a cure are found.
But even though kissing is out, other behaviors are in.
To Kiss or Not To Kiss?
Everyone needs to assess their own risk tolerance in regards to contracting Covid-19, including who they could infect in other areas of their life (family members, work colleagues, roommates, etc). And then you need to determine how your prospective partner’s risk tolerance aligns with yours. Do you both feel the same level of anxiety about the virus? Are you at similar levels of health, or have similar vulnerabilities?
Next, you’ll have to discuss how that risk tolerance translates to actual risk behaviors and see how closely you overlap in that area. Then there is a sticky issue that affects your decision-making, such as whether you trust this person to be honest? Don’t allow your touch hunger to blind you to the fact that if you just met this person, you have no solid basis for trust. Consider taking things really slowly at first and see how this person responds to your caution and your request for transparency. Do they respect your boundaries or chafe against the restrictions you request?
Alternatives to Kissing
If you and your partner decide NOT to engage in wet, open mouth kissing at this time, there are other fun things you can do to bypass kissing as an entry point onto the arousal pathway. For instance, one person could stand behind the other and kiss the back of their neck, shoulders, and back. Trailing fingers up the arm or leg can result in delicious tremors of excitement. Running hands through hair, even some gentle erotic hair pulling, are other options for ratcheting up arousal.
If you need to slow things down and take a breath, instead of kissing, you could massage your partner’s buttocks or rub their quadriceps, or simply hold their hand(s).
There can even be an element of arousal and excitement just by wearing facial coverings or sexually provocative masks. Think about showing up at your door (assuming your home space is a safe one for erotic company), wearing only opera length satin white gloves and a matching white sparkly face mask (with or without the mascara on your bedroom eyes). Or going the distance and buying a mask (from your local BDSM shopping online) that’s a full face covering of a pig, dog, or horse, complete with animal sounds while you greet your lover on your knees. Got the picture yet?
By diminishing one or more of the senses—the sense of touch and maybe taste and maybe smell (because of how a mask is worn for Covid-19 purposes)—visual and auditory excitement may be heightened. You could incorporate the wearing of masks into a role play scenario (pirates and princesses or nurse and patient, even if it’s a bit outside your normal comfort zone). Or you could introduce a slight aspect of BDSM, where you’re costumed in body restraints, an eye guard, a face mask. If you can’t see, and you’re being denied access, you could actually invite an elevation of interest and or desire. The fact that you can’t kiss can actually make things even more exciting.
Let Covid-19 Heighten Your Erotic Creativity
There is plenty of frustration, anxiety, and stress during this time period. But there are hidden gifts in almost every situation. Right now is an amazing opportunity to hone your erotic creativity. We can’t just rely on old, tried-and-true but potentially boring strategies for sexual interaction anymore. Instead, we get to delve into all the other delightful ways to connect and build interest, arousal, and excitement that don’t include mouth kissing. Who knows how much you can expand your erotic horizons if you try?