OK. On to the nitty-gritty.

I think the hardest part about first kisses is not the kissing itself, but knowing how to initiate it.

How do you know when you are about to kiss or be kissed?

Sometimes it’s obvious and the kiss happens in a really predictable setting. Your first kiss might be a dare, or part of a game. You might be going out with someone—let’s say it’s a girl—and she tells people at school that she’s going to kiss you. (This is a rare gift, because now y0u have time to properly freak out about it with your friends.) When you’re young, first kisses often happen at or after school dances, or at the end of the night when you’re going home from a place you went to together, either just the two of you or with a group.

Thankfully, if you’re both into each other, it’s usually pretty easy to tell when a kiss is about to happen.

One of you might be looking intently at the other’s face for longer than is normal. You might feel shy or nervous or like you want to laugh. But a pretty good rule of thumb is: if someone’s face is really close to your face, and they’re looking at you intensely, or you guys are laughing about something but your faces are WAY CLOSER THAN IS NORMAL FOR FRIENDS and you feel a kind of charge in the air—then it might be kissin’ time. If you feel like it, lean in a little closer, and do…

The Intro Kiss

This is the first kiss you ever have with a new person. It’s simultaneously a greeting and announcement (“Hi! I like you!”), and a way for you to get a sense of how the other person kisses, to see if it’s compatible with the way you like to kiss.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Lean in.
  2. Check to make sure that your crush is also leaning in toward you. (You don’t want to be moving your face, eyes closed and lips puckered, toward someone who is playing Bejeweled on their phone, totally unaware of the plane that’s coming in for a landing…on their face.)
  3. Optional: close your eyes. (When in doubt, I say close ’em: it’s traditional, and it solves the problem of how weird it would be to see another person that close up.)
  4. Tilt your head to the right or left—if your partner is starting to tilt in one direction, you go the opposite way. This is so your noses don’t collide before your lips do. If you can’t tell which way the other person’s gonna tilt, your best bet is to go right (meaning your right ear moves ever so slightly—like an inch or two—toward your right shoulder). I’d say most people go right like 95% of the time. (And if you make a miscalculation, just laugh it off and keep going.)
  5. Gently touch your lips to your date’s lips. No big SMACKS (you’re not kissing your grandmother or your dog); no wide-open mouth (you’re not trying to devour your partner). Just your lips, about as open as they are when you’re just breathing through your mouth.
  6. At this point, you can apply a little pressure. Your lips are doing that kissing thing you do when you kiss your pets and relatives, but like 80% softer, and your lips are lingering on theirs about 500% percent longer. Hopefully by now your date will have started kissing you back, just as gently. And hoooraaaaay, you’re kissing!

If the idea of kissing someone’s mouth is still a bit scary, and/or you’re really shy, you can always do the adorable Cheek Kiss/Smile Combo, which goes like this:

  1. You’re sitting next to your crush.
  2. You really want to kiss him/her but really don’t know how to start.
  3. Quickly, like a sparrow, you dart in, kiss the side of their cheek, and then, when they look at you, you grin adorably at them while biting your lip.

(This works really well for same-sex first kisses when you’re not sure if the other person is interested in girls, because if they react like “Um, what are you doing??” you can act like ha ha ha NOTHING, you’re just really friendly and love hanging out with them!)

Folks, an Intro Kiss is not about making out. It’s a gateway kiss–the kiss that lets you know whether someone (a) likes you the way you like them and (b) feels right to kiss.

Kissing is actually pretty hard to describe, you guys. Is this nice, soft intro kiss good? Do you like it? Is everyone happy? Great! If you want, you can stop here. Orrrrr you can advance to…

French Kissing

I know this feels like a major jump, but french kissing just means using your tongue, and you can definitely use your tongue without SERIOUSLY MAKING OUT. If your tongues touch, you’re frenching. The end.

So you’re Intro Kissing, lips only, and it’s nice, and you’re liking it, and you want to go further. Try opening your mouth juuuuust a little bit more. (Your date will probably open her or his mouth more too, either because they’ve done this before and know what’s up or because they’re following your lead and are enjoying this as much as you are.)

With your mouth open, gently (gently is the key word here, folks) touch your date’s tongue with your tongue, then tongue-retreat back to your own mouth. Don’t like STICK YOUR TONGUE IN HIS/HER MOUTH without any warning, or stick your tongue really far back in their mouth. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that per se, but for the first-time french kiss with someone? Give them a minute before you go licking their molars. Your partner will probably understand quickly what’s happening, and will hopefully touch your tongue with their tongue. Soft. Gentle.

Your tongue is pretty relaxed during all this, but never totally idle—keep it moving in a calm, languid way, like licking an ice cream cone. Don’t give your partner a totally flaccid, listless tongue, but don’t stiffen up either, for either of these two extremes is equally gross to receive.

Once you’ve started frenching, you can always go back to kissing sans tongue. Retract your tongue and do some more Intro-style kissing. Vary open-mouthed tongue kissing with closed-mouth kissing. (If you keep your mouths open the entire time, things can get pretty sloppy fast.) Keep kissing with your lips, and add just a touch of tongue here and there. It’s much better that way, and you can move into MAKING OUT later.

Making Out

Making out is when you’ve been kissing for a while and there are open mouths and frenching and the tongues are…not being quite so polite. Making out is when your arms are around each other and the tongues are really going at it and you’re kissing for longer than say, 30 seconds. A makeout session is basically you and your partner trying to get as close as possible without actually consuming one another. Hands roam all over the place; you will probably get turned on. This is the most intense form of kissing, and it can last for a very, very long time.

But no discussion of kissing would be complete without mentioning the basic anti-kiss: a kiss that’s the opposite of all the ones we’ve talked about so far. And that is:

The Non-Sexual Peck

The peck is what your mom gives you on the top of your head, or the way you kiss your dad, grandpa, grandma, or other relation on the cheek. The peck is affectionate but completely nonsexual, and that is why in movies, when the hero wants to kiss a girl goodnight and she very obviously turns her face so he can kiss her cheek, we all know NOTHING is going to happen between them. If someone is aiming for your mouth and you turn your cheek dramatically and on purpose, that is, in our society, a clear-cut “You’re nice but no thanks, I’m not romantically interested” signal. A peck can hurt someone’s feelings, but sometimes you don’t feel romantic about someone, and it can’t be helped.