Kissing a partner occurs relatively early during adolescence. Thus, young adults who have never kissed are off-time from their peers. Substantial exploration in the areas of identity and intimacy occur during this period, and kissing may fulfill both of these functions, addressing autonomy and relatedness motives for sexual behaviors. We examined the prevalence and personal, contextual, and adjustment/health predictors of delayed onset of kissing. An ethnically and racially diverse sample of traditionally aged first year university students (N = 738; 50.7% female) completed online surveys. Only 14.2% of young adults had never kissed a partner on the lips. Compared to their peers who had kissed partners, young adults who had never kissed were more likely to be Asian-American, less likely to be in a romantic relationship, were less extraverted, were more likely to be in the Honors College, and drank alcohol less frequently. In bivariate models but not the multivariate model, young adults who had never kissed were more neurotic, had mothers who were less facilitating of independence, and had lower self-esteem. Findings inform understanding of normative sexuality development, and inform future research on normative and off-time sexual behaviors in young adulthood.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Similar content being viewed by others
Akers, A. Y., Lynch, C. P., Gold, M. A., Chang, J. C. C., Doswell, W., Wiesenfeld, H. C., … Bost, J. (2009). Exploring the relationship among weight, race, and sexual behaviors among girls. Pediatrics, 124, e913–e920.
American College Health Association. (2013). National college health assessment: Reference group data report Fall 2013. Baltimore, MD: American College Health Association.
Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.
Boislard, M.-A., van de Bongardt, D., & Blais, M. (2016). Sexuality (and lack thereof) in adolescence and early adulthood: A review of the literature. Behavioral Sciences, 6(1), 8. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6010008.
Buhi, E. R., & Goodson, P. (2007). Predictors of adolescent sexual behavior and intention: A theory-guided systematic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40, 4–21.
Byers, E. S., O’Sullivan, L. F., & Brotto, L. A. (2016). Time out from sex or romance: Sexually experienced adolescents’ decisions to purposefully avoid sexual activity or romantic relationships. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45, 831–845.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). About BMI for adults. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html. Retrieved 1 March 2017
Cooper, M. L., Shapiro, C. M., & Powers, A. M. (1998). Motivations for sex and risky sexual behavior among adolescents and young adults: A functional perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1528–1558.
Donnelly, D., Burgess, E., Anderson, S., Davis, R., & Dillard, J. (2001). Involuntary celibacy: A life course analysis. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 159–169.
Eccles, J., Buchanan, C., Flanagan, C., Fuligni, A., Midgley, C., & Yee, D. (1991). Control versus autonomy during adolescence. Journal of Social Issues, 47, 53–68.
Eccles, J. S., Midgley, C., Wigfield, A., Buchanan, C. M., Reuman, D., Flanagan, C., & Maciver, D. (1993). The impact of stage-environment fit on young adolescents’ experiences in schools and in families. American Psychologist, 48, 90–101.
Erikson, E. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York, NY: Norton.
Eysenck, J. J. (1976). Sex and personality. London: Open Books.
Finer, L. B., & Philbin, J. M. (2013). Sexual initiation, contraceptive use, and pregnancy among young adults. Pediatrics, 131, 886–891.
Garcia, L. T., Cavalie, C., Goins, L., & King, E. (2008). Enjoyment of sexual activities and attributions of enjoyment to the other gender. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 17, 173–182.
Gillen, M. M., Lefkowitz, E. S., & Shearer, C. L. (2006). Does body image play a role in risky sexual attitudes and behaviors? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 243–255.
Goldberg, L. R. (1999). A broad-bandwidth, public domain, personality inventory measuring the lower-level facets of several five-factor models. In I. Mervielde, I. Deary, F. De Fruyt, & F. Ostendorf (Eds.), Personality psychology in Europe (Vol. 7, pp. 7–28). Tilburg, the Netherlands: Tilburg University Press.
Goodson, P., Buhi, E. R., & Dunsmore, S. C. (2006). Self-esteem and adolescent sexual behaviors, attitudes, and intentions: A systematic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38, 310–319.
Gute, G., & Eshbaugh, E. M. (2008). Personality as a predictor of hooking up among college students. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 25, 26–43.
Halpern, C. T., Joyner, K., Udry, J. R., & Suchindran, C. (2000). Smart teens don’t have sex (or kiss much either). Journal of Adolescent Health, 26, 213–225.
Harvey, S. M., & Spigner, C. (1995). Factors associated with sexual behavior among adolescents: A multivariate analysis. Adolescence, 30, 253–264.
Haydon, A. A., Cheng, M. M., Herring, A. H., McRee, A.-L., & Halpern, C. T. (2014). Prevalence and predictors of sexual inexperience in adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 221–230.
Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14–94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 255–265.
Hingson, R. W., Zha, W., & Weitzman, E. R. (2009). Magnitude of and trends in alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18–24, 1998–2005. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 16(Suppl.), 12–20.
Holmbeck, G. N., & O’Donnell, K. (1991). Discrepancies between perceptions of decision-making and behavioral autonomy. In R. L. Paikoff (Ed.), Shared views in the family during adolescence: New directions for child development, 51 (pp. 51–69). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hoyle, R. H., Fejfar, M. C., & Miller, J. D. (2000). Personality and sexual risk taking: A quantitative review. Journal of Personality, 68, 1203–1231.
Hughes, S. M., Harrison, M. A., & Gallup, G. G., Jr. (2007). Sex differences in romantic kissing among college students: An evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary Psychology, 5, 612–631.
Kenny, M. (1985). Parental attachment questionnaire. Unpublished measure, Boston College, MA.
Kuperberg, A., & Padgett, J. E. (2015). Dating and hooking up in college: Meeting contexts, sex, and variation by gender, partner’s gender, and class standing. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 517–531.
Kurpisz, J., Mak, M., Lew-Starowicz, M., Nowosielski, K., Bieńkowski, P., Kowalczyk, R., & Samochowiec, J. (2016). Personality traits, gender roles, and sexual behaviors of young adult males. Annals of General Psychiatry, 15, 28. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12991-016-0114-2.
Lahey, B. B. (2009). Public health significance of neuroticism. American Psychologist, 64, 241–256.
Lanza, H. I., Huang, D. Y. C., Murphy, D. A., & Hser, Y.-I. (2012). A latent class analysis of maternal responsiveness and autonomy-granting in early adolescence: Prediction to later adolescent sexual risk-taking. Journal of Early Adolescence, 33, 404–428.
Lemer, J. L., Blodgett Salafia, E. H., & Benson, K. E. (2013). The relationship between college women’s sexual attitudes and sexual activity: The mediating role of body image. International Journal of Sexual Health, 25, 104–114.
Markey, C., & Markey, P. (2011). Romantic partners, weight status, and weight concerns: The Actor–Partner Interdependence Model. Journal of Health Psychology, 16, 217–225.
McMillen, E. K., Helm, H. W., Jr., & McBride, D. C. (2011). Religious orientation and sexual attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Research on Christian Education, 20, 195–206.
Miller, J. D., Lynam, D., Zimmerman, R. S., Logan, T. K., Leukefeld, C., & Clayton, R. (2004). The utility of the Five Factor Model in understanding risky sexual behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 1611–1626.
Morgan, E. M. (2014). Outcomes of sexual behaviors among sexual minority youth. In E. S. Lefkowitz & S. A. Vasilenko (Eds.), New directions for child and adolescent development: Positive and negative outcomes of sexual behavior (pp. 21–36). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Muise, A., Giang, E., & Impett, E. A. (2014). Post sex affectionate exchanges promote sexual and relationship satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1391–1402.
O’Sullivan, L. F., Cheng, M. M., Harris, K. M., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2007). I wanna hold your hand: The progression of social, romantic and sexual events in adolescent relationships. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 39, 100–107.
Patrick, M. E., Maggs, J. L., Cooper, M. L., & Lee, C. M. (2011). Measurement of motivations for and against sexual behavior. Assessment, 18, 502–516.
Patrick, M. E., Maggs, J. L., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2015). Daily associations between drinking and sex among college students: A longitudinal measurement burst design. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 25, 377–386.
Paul, E. L., McManus, B., & Hayes, A. (2000). “Hookups”: Characteristics and correlates of college students’ spontaneous and anonymous sexual experiences. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 76–88.
Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2009). The stigma of obesity: A review and update. Obesity, 17, 941–964.
Regan, P. C., Durvasula, R., Howell, L., Ureño, O., & Rea, M. (2004). Gender, ethnicity, and the developmental timing of first sexual and romantic experiences. Social Behavior and Personality, 32, 667–676.
Rohrbaugh, J., & Jessor, R. (1975). Religiosity in youth: A personal control against deviant behavior. Journal of Personality, 43, 136–155.
Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rostosky, S. S., Wilcox, B. L., Comer Wright, M. L., & Randall, B. A. (2004). The impact of religiosity on adolescent sexual behavior: A review of the evidence. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 677–697.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67.
Sandfort, T. G. M., Orr, M., Hirsch, J. S., & Santelli, J. (2008). Long-term health correlates of timing of sexual debut: Results from a national US study. American Journal of Public Health, 98, 155–161.
Schenk, J., & Pfrang, H. (1986). Extraversion, neuroticism, and sexual behavior: Interrelationships in a sample of young men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 15, 449–455.
Schulenberg, J. E., & Maggs, J. L. (2002). A developmental perspective on alcohol use and heavy drinking during adolescence and the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 14, 54–70.
Smiler, A. P., Frankel, L. B. W., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2011). From kissing to coitus? Sex-of-partner differences in the sexual milestone achievements of young men. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 727–735.
Spencer, M. M., Zimet, G. D., Aalsma, M. C., & Orr, D. P. (2002). Self-esteem as a predictor of initiation of coitus in early adolescents. Pediatrics, 109, 581–584.
Vasilenko, S. A. (2017). Age-varying associations between nonmarital sexual behavior and depressive symptoms across adolescence and young adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 53, 366–378.
Vasilenko, S. A., Duntzee, C. I., Zheng, Y., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2013). Testing two process models of religiosity and sexual behavior. Journal of Adolescence, 36, 667–673.
Vasilenko, S. A., Maas, M. K., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2015). “It felt good but weird at the same time”: Emerging adults’ first experiences of six different sexual behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Research, 30, 586–606.
Welsh, D. P., Haugen, P. T., Widman, L., Darling, N., & Grello, C. M. (2005). Kissing is Good: A developmental investigation of sexuality in adolescent romantic couples. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 2, 32–41.
Wiederman, M. W., & Hurst, S. R. (1998). Body size, physical attractiveness, and body image among young adult women: Relationships to sexual experience and sexual esteem. Journal of Sex Research, 35, 272–281.
Williams, T., Connolly, J., & Cribbie, R. (2008). Light and heavy heterosexual activities of young Canadian adolescents: Normative patterns and differential predictors. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 18, 145–172.
Winter, V. R., & Satinsky, S. (2016). Sexual behavior in a diverse heterosexual sample: The influence of BMI. International Journal of Sexual Health, 28, 129–140.
Wlodarski, R., & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2013). Examining the possible functions of kissing in romantic relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1415–1423.
Woertman, L., & van den Brink, F. (2012). Body image and female sexual functioning and behavior: A review. Journal of Sex Research, 49, 184–211.
Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., & Helfand, M. (2008). Ten years of longitudinal research on U.S. adolescent sexual behavior: Developmental correlates of sexual intercourse, and the importance of age, gender and ethnic background. Developmental Review, 28, 153–224.
This study was funded by National Institutes of Health (grant number R01AA016016) to Jennifer Maggs.
About this article
Cite this article
Lefkowitz, E.S., Wesche, R. & Leavitt, C.E. Never Been Kissed: Correlates of Lifetime Kissing Status in U.S. University Students. Arch Sex Behav 47, 1283–1293 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1166-y