My first French kiss was my very second kiss—which was intentional, because I was dying to rid my kissing-with-tongue virginity before high school. Here's what I remember about it: We were in the back of a movie theater (I *think* one of the Ocean Eleven's movies was playing), and his tongue tasted like milk, probably from the buttery popcorn we ate. But that's about it.
I share this to reassure you that basically no one remembers the optics of their first solid makeout session, because everyone is equally terrified going into it. That doesn't mean you can't prepare! And those who've kissed with tongue many a time can always stand to learn more ~techniques~.
Here's a step-by-step guide to polite and good French kissing, with advice straight off the tongues of French women themselves (even if none of them really know why this kiss is labeled as French to begin with).
Defining the French kiss
The origins of why this kissing style is "French" are murky. Some say it hints at the stereotype that French people are generally known to be promiscuous. Anne, a 31-year-old French woman, thinks it has more to do with the French word for "tongue."
"The French word for tongue, langue, is the same word we use for language," Anne says. "I definitely think kissing is a love language—if you can't kiss me properly, then you are clearly communicating you're probably (definitely) terrible in bed."
Whatever its origins, when someone says "French kiss," they generally mean any kiss where tongue is involved. But Iris, a 23-year-old French woman, further defines the French kiss as "prolonged kissing with tongue—i.e. making out."
Sometimes, it's also called "frenching," "swapping spit," or (my personal favorite) "tonsil hockey."
The basic steps
Step 1: Establish a kissing partner
You could kiss the hole your hand makes when you form it into a fist, but your hand doesn't have a tongue and can't kiss back. So it's generally best to kiss a consenting and willing human partner on their mouth.
Maybe it's someone you have a crush on? Or someone you're dating? Or a cute boy you agree to meet with in a movie theater? It doesn't matter! They should just be someone who's tongue you wanna feel in your mouth.
Step 2: Decide upon a kissing location
From my own experience, I can say the back row of a movie theater is perfectly fine. But you could try anywhere: A field with a nice breeze, a sports field under the buzzing lights, your porch after a date, a park bench, etc.
Some places you might not want to kiss? Anywhere that's stinky, because that's gross. And maybe save it for later if you're in front of your parents or in the middle of a crowded restaurant and people are waiting for your table. In other words, just make sure you both feel comfortable and have adequate privacy.
Step 3: Locate your partner's mouth
This is crucial, as you don't want to miss their mouth and wind up thrusting your tongue in their nostril or eyeball. You laugh, but it has definitely happened.
Step 4: Warm up with light touches and pecks
You have to walk before you can run, and you have to regular kiss before you can French kiss. It is very unpleasant and uncool for someone to jam their tongue directly into another person's mouth! You can prepare for this however you want, but general best practice is to start with something nice, like a gentle shoulder touch and some light pecks.
Step 5: Make extra sure they're DTMO
There are very few hard and fast rules when it comes to French kissing, but one is to always ensure your partner is DTMO, or down to make out. If they're not, return to light touches and pecking.
Step 6: Lean into the kiss
This is best done slowly, so you don't knock foreheads or noses, and cause an injury. Before you slip your tongue into your partner's mouth, you should slowly, gently part your lips so they know what to expect. No one likes a tongue ambush.
Step 7: Place the tip of your tongue into their mouth
Thus begins the French portion of this kiss. Your tongue is bigger than you think, and it could be that your partner's mouth is smaller than it looks, so you should start this off by putting just a teensy bit of your tongue beyond their lips.
Step 8: Alternate speed and tongue pressure
Switch up your movements: Slip just a little bit of tongue in their mouth, then try a lot-a-bit. But don't keep your mouth gaping open the whole time (it's rude, and you'll drool). Instead, think of your two tongues as engaged in a dance—don't domineer their mouth, but let your two tongues work together.
If and when you need to come up for some air (although, you should be breathing through your nose when making out), retract your tongue and bite on your partner' lip. It's a hot move that will leave them begging for more.
Step 9: Kiss for as long as you both want
There are no rules for how long a French kiss should last. Maybe you are sick of this after only 10 seconds. That's fine! Maybe you kiss for so long your jaw hurts. Ouch! But that's also fine.
Step 10: Pull away and smile
It's nice to be smiled at. This reassures your partner you had a nice time... and hell yeah, you'd be down to kiss again.
French kissing dos and don'ts
Here's what the French deem as the basic etiquette rules of making out like a pro:
"Move with the other person, respond to cues, switch it up, just generally be in tune with each other and don't overthink it." —Iris, 23
"I believe is all in the connection you’ve got with the other person. Even if you are a good kisser, if you don’t put some emotions in it, that isn’t gonna be sensational." —Gaëlle, 18
"A good French kiss is a passionate one. If you’re just moving your lips and tongue around aimlessly, let’s just not and say we did..." —Constance, 24
"Actually liking the person makes a French kiss great. I always like it when a guy kisses me open mouth and lets ME set the pace—an exploratory French kiss. It's small at first and then you can go at it. And when they pull you in super close. I'm a fan of a butt grab or a hand on my neck." —Anne, 31
"Churning their tongue around washing machine-style is pretty bad form, as is any kind of slobbering. I think a lot of these things come from overthinking kissing technique, or when the two people just aren't compatible. You can tell a lot about a relationship from how the (French) kissing feels." —Iris, 23
"The ONE thing that should never happen during a French kiss is putting your tongue down the throat of the other person. I’ve been there, it is really not sensual." —Gaelle, 18
"Get that slobber under control. And definitely read the vibe of how much the other person wants your tongue to move around. I’ve had both extremes of a tongue being a dead weight blob resting in their mouth, or a really aggressive tongue that seems to just wants to do some sparring with my tongue." —Constance, 24
"Never just immediately shove your entire tongue into my mouth, ESPECIALLY if you have a big tongue. I get it, it's great for going down on me, my mouth is not my vagina. Know you audience and organs. Also don't middle-school-dance me and try to french kiss me when our bodies aren't touching. I once had a guy go in for what I thought was a peck (our bodies were two feet apart) and it was tongue first. My ovaries instantly retracted into my sternum." —Anne, 31
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.