The internet is an unruly place when it comes to social commentary. Last December Hillary Duff posted a picture of herself kissing her four year old son on the lips at Disneyland and the internet quickly began to growl. The happiest place on earth turned to “ew”. Duff suggested viewers who found the photo distasteful to click a quick unfollow. There was an equally harsh response when Victoria Beckham posted a similar picture of herself kissing her daughter on the lips for her birthday. To the normal viewer, these kisses are pretty innocent and are nothing more than sweet reminders of the love we feel for our children, but not to UCLA psychologist Dr. Charlotte Reznick. In response to a picture of Harry Connick Jr. kissing his eight year old daughter on the lips Reznick said that “parents should never do that”. Apparently harsh commentary isn’t only reserved for those hiding within the internet. It begs the question, why so much negativity when it comes to kissing your children on the lips? I think the answer lies in a deeper understanding of our peculiar associations to sex and intimacy.
To Dr. Reznick, the stimulation of lip kissing, mixed with psychosexual development, can cause children to confuse a kiss on the lips with a passionate kiss between adults. It gets even more convoluted when she suggests that if you start kissing your child on the lips you may never know when to stop, implying that personal boundaries may be violated. But what is this ultimately leading to? Incest? Confused sexual identity? Inappropriate associations between kissing and sex? Who knows, but one thing is certain, if kissing your son or daughter on the lips when they’re older was uncomfortable or confusing to them they would have turned their cheek a long time ago. Children seem to know when it’s time to stop holding their parent’s hand, or stop being kissed, and they let us know. It is not confusing for them to differentiate a parental kiss on the lips from ones they see on TV or the internet. The confusion lies with the adults.
We have kissing all wrong. When a mom kisses her child on the lips – like Duff, Beckham, and Connick did – we get all bent out of shape about it. These “dry kisses” only involve two muscles to engage and causes no unusual arousal or stimulation. A French kiss, on the other hands, involves 30 muscles and can get deep and steamy. Simply put, not all kisses are created equal. Therefore, a kiss on the lips for your child is decidedly different than a kiss you would give a lover. A lot of the confusion lies in the fact that our lips are the most sensitive part of our body. When put into an adult context, a deep kiss is stimulating and can easily lead to other forms of sexual expression. When placed in a parent-child context, it is a very one-dimensional experience because it’s not intended to lead to anything more than an innocent form of affection. As we get older our physiological responses naturally become associated to a completely different type of relationship than one that characterizes the parent-child bond. It’s a natural progression of intimacy that activates a different part of the brain. To assume that a child can become confused by the two, as Reznick suggests, is to dismiss common sense altogether and alludes to just how distorted our view of sexuality has become.
In our culture, kissing is arguably the most intimate thing that adults do. Yes, it’s far more intimate than any other form of sexual relations because it’s far more stimulating. You cannot kiss on the lips without getting in each other’s face. It can be sensual, erotic and seductive. It can include a gaze, a touch of the cheek, the smell of warm breath, the taste of morning coffee, and the breathless sound of excitement. None of those things are associated to a kiss on the lips from a parent to a child. I would say that blowing raspberries to the stomach is much more stimulating to a child than a kiss on the lips. But for adults, it’s different. Think of adult kissing as a gateway drug to more passionate forms of interaction. When a spouse refrains from cheating and says he or she only kissed it’s like saying, yeah I broke my sobriety but I didn’t get drunk. Yeah, but you broke your sobriety, man. Kissing can do that to you. “We didn’t have sex, we only kissed”, is a common refrain I hear. Put another way, you could say:
We were so close to each other we had to take our glasses off so we wouldn’t get hurt. And in the full embrace of our body’s we used our lips to convey our intention to each other while searching for mutual consent. We softly touched until arousal and anticipation heightened our senses as we searched each other’s souls through our mouths. We began to quiver with excitement. Our anticipation was measured by our rapid breathing. Like a metronome marking time we paced each other with rhythmic perfection awaiting the next movement. We were consumed with the very beingness of each other, yet we were only kissing.
When we view kissing from the above perspective you can see how foolish it sounds when we say, we didn’t have sex, we only kissed. With 80% of our senses located in our head, the closer we get to each other’s lips the greater the arousal becomes.
Takeaway: We live in an oversexualized world so it would be wise to know the difference between a sexual advance and an innocent kiss. Innocence lies with our affection towards our children. Kissing your child on the lips is cool and uncomplicated. Kissing your spouse on the lips can be even nicer. Kissing another adult on the lips, as mentioned, is like a gateway drug, so you’d better buckle up for the ride. In the meantime, let’s try to consciously kiss so we don’t end up with sexual confusion, misplaced outrage, or unconsidered consequences.
About the AuthorLarry Laveman, LCSW, BCD, is a Psychotherapist and Author in Solana Beach, California. His publications include topics on marriage counseling, supervision, mental health and spirituality. He is the former Chief Clinical Director for Harmonium, Inc., a community based nonprofit organization specializing in children, adolescents and families. You can find contact him via Google +, LinkedIn, or this website's contact page.