A few weeks ago, I was enjoying a 4-pm chat over hot cups of tea and Toblerone chocolate bars with four of my loveliest, most brilliant, wonderful English girlfriends when we started talking about the difference between f*cking and kissing.
It was a gorgeously lazy Sunday afternoon, and I felt cozy tucked into my friend Sara's Brooklyn Heights apartment. There was a light drizzle outside, so we allowed the day to melt away on the couch without the productive pressure of sunshine -- and had a very, very important conversation.
Sophie, a striking girl with shiny black hair, blue eyes the exact color of worn denim and dramatic alabaster skin, was lamenting to us that she can't seem to go out for a night on the town without salaciously locking lips on the dance floor with at least three different men.
"I don't know what's wrong with me, but I think I'm a bit of a kissing tart (a Brit way of saying “slut”)," she exclaimed, adding a liberal dollop of sugar to her tea.
"Oh god, I can f*ck any Tom, Dick or Harry any day of the week, but I won't kiss just anyone," replied Sara, a lithe blonde who looked like a chic, 1996-era Kate Moss, sprawled on the couch with her legs wide open in torn jeans and bedroom hair.
"I don't know. It's hard for me to snog (kiss) someone I don't like, but it's easy for me to shag (f*ck) him, I guess. I will kiss him, but I will wretch. When I'm shagging, I can just shut my eyes and get on with it," confessed posh little Amanda, a petite, proper, private-school-educated 30-year-old trust-fund child.
"What about you, Zara? What's more intimate, shagging or kissing?" Sophie earnestly inquired, pulling out a Marlboro Light.
I was the lone American girl in this sea of English girls, but I've called London home in my early to mid 20s and was raised by a bonafide English mother.
I've cultivated an English group of girlfriends in my hometown of New York, and I unabashedly adore English girls. They tend to lack the inherent cattiness of American girls, attain the ability to make me laugh so hard that tea flies out of my nostrils and have far less hang-ups and issues than us anxious, complicated American girls (myself included).
English girls are just more real, you know? So I was hardly surprised when I was pressed with this bitingly real, blazingly honest, no-holds-barred question:
Is kissing more intimate than sex?
It's always the seemingly simple question that's the most wildly complex and loaded with deeper hidden implications. Within seconds, I found myself deeply reflecting back on my own sexual encounters.
I recalled all the times I've had inebriated, empty, hazy, vodka-tonic-fueled sex with faceless human beings when I was a single wild card floating around single, wild bars in my single, wild early 20s.
They're not moments I can remember that clearly, though. They were so vapid and so empty and so brutally insignificant that they neglected to make a real dent in my memory.
Suddenly, I had a rapid-fire flash of all the passionate kisses I've shared with people I've loved, and those memories are the crystal clearest.
I've loved nothing more than lying with my partners like a pair of parentheses, immersed in a cozy, full-sized bed, exchanging kisses. It's as if they've been their own secret language, and through them I've been able to adequately express all the emotions that were sorely impossible to describe using something as limiting as words.
Kisses are far more intimate than sex.
Sex doesn't always need feelings. The hard truth is, you can have sex without even looking your sexual partner in the eye.
You can bask in the erotic pleasure of an orgasm; you can close your eyes and imagine you're f*cking someone else, and you can indulge in the animalistic pleasures that are nothing but sexual excitement.
But kisses are built on nothing but feelings.
I went into a quiet state of acute pondering right there on the couch. I started to realize when you're kissing, you have nothing in the world to hide behind. You're at your most vulnerable.
When else is your face so direly close to another's? When else in your life are you in a situation when you have the opportunity to look at another person so closely?
When else do you literally find yourself sharing the same breath (after all, breaths are the force of life!) with somebody else?
The greater, deeper, looming question is: What exactly is intimacy? Is it strictly sexual? Or is it something more than just f*cking?
True intimacy is revealing the rawest, real, most stripped-down version of yourself to your partner. It's allowing your formerly protective self to get close to another person, both physically and mentally. It's taking in a person's scent, to bask in a person's taste and crawl into a person's f*cking heart.
Kissing encompasses all of that. Kissing is the great metaphor for intimacy. We allow the essence of a person to land on our tongues, and as we kiss, we breathe each other in -- the good and the bad.
There are so many different styles of kissing: soft, sweet kisses that express affection and adoration; passionate, press-you-up-against-the-wall, I-want-to-crawl-inside-of-your-skin-and-devour-your-soul kisses; slow, emotional kisses that attain apologies and fuel you with irrepressible sweeps of impassioned love that cut you to the core; explorative kisses, where your tongue navigates the insides of another person and attempts to figure out the roadmap of who he or she is.
Any one of these kisses is rich with healing powers. Any one of them allows me to work through my deep-rooted issues with vulnerability and my fear of exposing the softer sides of myself by letting someone into the most vulnerable part of my body: my mouth.
While kissing can be madly sexual and most definitely segue into the most mind-blowing sex in the stratosphere, kissing, by itself, is loaded with far more depth and meaning than sex.
You can't lock lips with another human for endless hours unless you have feelings for him or her beyond the realm of sexual attraction. Kissing is where the love, the passion, the FEELINGS are wildly expressed.
And that, my sweet kittens, is a triumph far more intimate than simple, nameless, removed sex could ever be.
"So, Zara, you didn't answer the bloody question," Sophie said, tucking her hair behind her ears. "How do you feel about it?"