Love & Sex

Are Kissing and Sex Part of the Same Package Now?

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A new poll raises the question of whether Americans' script for intimacy might be changing.

A new survey conducted by Business Insider and SurveyMonkey Audience is out, and the results are unexpected. The poll asked 1,660 American singles what they thought about sex and dating. The results were bewildering.

Almost 45% of men and women expect to wait 2-5 dates for a first kiss. Again, I don't have the survey's methods, but from the graph Business Insider released (pictured below) it's unclear whether the questionnaire asked "How many dates is appropriate to wait for a kiss?" or, "After how many dates do you usually have your first kiss?".

That so many Americans wait 2-5 dates to make their move is a surprise to me. But the story gets even more confusing, because we're also totally willing to sleep with people in the same interval:

So while about 40% of people want to wait until dates 2 through 5 for their first kiss, around 30% of women and 40% of men want to wait the same amount of time to have sex. What does this mean? Obviously, people are more willing to kiss on the first date than they are to have sex on the first date. The higher prevalence of kissing than sex on first dates shows that in general, sex and kissing are considered two different scripts. On the other hand, I wonder if there's a sizeable minority of people who wait a date to kiss, but when they do, they're willing to have sex, too. That is, after all, the ideology reflected in the evangelical prohibition on kissing out of wedlock, right? It's not just a conservative viewpoint, either. The popularity of "hooking up" as teenagers' preferred word for a wide spectrum of activities might also be chunking kissing and sex into one set of behaviors. Americans' script for intimacy might be changing.

A couple caveats. First off, the survey skewed young, with 18 to 29 year olds getting double the representation of any other group. 37% of respondents were ages 18-29, 23% were 30-44, 21% were 45-60, and 20% were over 60. I found no information about racial, religious, or class breakdowns. For the purposes of the survey, "singles" was defined as never married, widowed, divorced or  separated. I'm having trouble tracking down the survey's methodology—it seems like the data might have been the product of some non-transparent market research—but I get the sense that the descriptor "single" applies to unmarried couples, too. 

How does this data chalk up to more established findings? A study of college students conducted in 2007 found that kissing served at least three functions—"mate assessment," "promoting pair bonds," and "a means of inducing sexual arousal and receptivity." According to the researchers, "Results showed that females place more importance on kissing as a mate assessment device and as a means of initiating, maintaining, and monitoring the current status of their relationship with a long-term partner. In contrast, males place less importance on kissing, especially with short-term partners, and appear to use kissing to increase the likelihood of having sex." This doesn't answer the question of whether kissing always leads to sex, but it does show that kissing may bring varied associations and intentions for men and women.