Exactly what do you mean by that?
In trying to understand people, psychiatrists are in a privileged position. Patients speak to us in a setting of confidentiality. They know their secrets are safe with us. And they expect us to be sympathetic. They have no reason to lie. Or, so it would seem. It turns out, of course, that people speaking in a therapist’s office lie to themselves and to others just as they might anywhere else. In addition, it turns out that their memories and perceptions are naturally distorted. No one can speak of his/her life objectively. Still, I think patients usually make an effort to be truthful. That means a psychiatrist—and psychotherapists, in general– can reasonably expect to have some insight into the way that other people think. But, some things are harder to understand than others.
Freud thought all scientific enquiry was a sublimation of a sexual interest. Scientists become scientists because they always wanted to know what was going on at night behind their parents’ door. Most scientists would probably think there is more to it than that. But plainly sex is a particularly interesting subject to scientists and to everyone else. When I post a funny blog about politics, I’m lucky if I get 600 or 700 page views; when I post about sexual matters, I routinely have 5000 to 6000 readers and sometimes many more. Sex is more interesting than politics.
Partly for that reason, sex is frequently a matter of discussion in psychotherapy, despite the fact that patients may still feel somewhat embarrassed and shy. They want someone to tell them if what they see as their particular sexual proclivities are normal—or, if they are not, just how abnormal they may be. Sexual problems may not be, as Freud thought, the basis for all neurosis, but they often are a matter of special concern. It would be nice, therefore, if there were some authority to whom a therapist can refer that would say just what behavior is normal—or, if “normal” is too subtle to determine—at least what is usual and meaningful.
Kinsey and then Masters and Johnson gave some statistical analyses of human sexual behavior. They gave estimates of how many people were heterosexual and homosexual, how many had sexual relations five or six times a day for years (there are some) and how many individuals and couples were abstinent. Actually, they measured and reported on everything they could think to measure. They hinted about more important issues such as what makes someone a good lover. (Mostly, it boils down to being enthusiastic and interested in pleasing his/her partner.) But, as far as I can remember, they did not speak specifically about kissing.
I usually speak to patients about what they find attractive in somebody they have begun to care for. The usual answers I get are similar for both sexes. “He/she is good-looking, a nice person, fun to be with, serious, successful, friendly…” etc. Women are more likely to say, “he makes me laugh.” I think men are more likely to comment on the woman being kind. But every once in a great while I hear: “he’s a really good kisser.”.
The first time I heard that remark, I did not make much of it, although being a good kisser struck me a little like being good at holding hands. ( Probably more a personal rather than a professional judgment.)
The second time, probably years later:
“He’s a really good kisser.”
“Really? That’s it? Not he’s smart, or a sharp dresser, or he runs a hedge fund?”
“Those things too. But he’s really a good kisser.”
In all the succeeding years I have been in practice, no man has ever told me his girl-friend was a really good kisser. Do men not notice? Or do they think that being a good kisser goes without saying?
The third time:
“He’s a really good kisser.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, waving my arms around. “What goes into his being a good kisser?”
I understood from what some patients had told me that there were all sorts of bad kissers: sloppy, too much tongue, buck teeth, bad breath etc., but not one had told me how a good kisser kisses.
“Oh, I don’t know,” my patient said dreamily,” but he’s really good.”
In preparation for this blog post, I asked my wife how she thought a really good kisser would kiss.
“He kisses like he means it,” she said, scowling at me.
I’m sure my wife, Susan, is right. Obviously, some special feeling has to be communicated in a special kiss. But still, a kiss is a mechanical act that exists in time and space like all other human behavior. Would someone looking on from across the room notice that this really good kiss was prolonged and really hard so that their lips blanched? Was it at an angle? Did kissing have to go on for a period of time before the act seemed special? Was a really good kiss prodrome to a really good act of sexual intercourse, so that it took on a glow in retrospect? Or was it the other way around? Did kisses that led to intercourse fade from special attention?
Just as a matter of curiosity, I would like before I die (retirement is not an option) to discover just what makes a great kiss great. I would like to tell my male patients if the subject comes up (so far it has not) just what they can do to offer up a first class kiss. Also, I hope it is not too late for me, personally, to deliver someday, before the lights go out forever, one really great kiss.
If any reader has some thoughts on this subject, I would appreciate hearing them. (c) Fredric Neuman Author of “Maneuvers.”