Ask Cynthia: I have a confession. I can't French kiss.

I have a confession: I can't French kiss. Whenever someone kisses me with tongue I will gag. I also have a hard time reciprocating because my tongue isn't as flexible as most people's. I've always had a bad gag reflex so I thought that was the issue, but I learned through my dentist that I am partially tongue-tied as well. I don't feel like I am "missing out" on experiencing a good French kiss because I've never experienced a good one, and I am satisfied by kissing in other ways. What if I'm dating someone for the first time and we're about to have our first kiss? Do I bring it up? I want to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. 

We’ve all had one of those kisses where it feels like an octopus is trying to reach down your throat to find out what you ate for lunch. Everyone wants to gag over those.  

But a good kiss is soulful, rhythmic, and harmonious—like a Boys 2 Men song. I don’t want you to be denied that experience so before deciding when and how to bring this up, let’s try to see if we can fix this problem first, shall we?

A little primer on the gag reflex: it’s a normal body reaction designed to prevent dangerous crap from getting into our lungs. A hypersensitive gag reflex happens when this normal function has become heightened for some reason (maybe you choked on a piece of cauliflower once and you’ve been traumatized from it, maybe you’re pregnant and have supersonic smelling powers, maybe you’re dating an octopus, etc.)

Also gagging sometimes just becomes a habitual reaction. For example, I have a friend who gags whenever she picks up her dog’s poo. And then I gag when I hear her gag. Luckily it’s never turned into that scene from Stand By Me. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google: “The Pie Eating Contest”…or don’t.)

Point being, the vast majority of cases are psychological otherwise you wouldn’t be able to eat without gagging, right? With that in mind, have you considered seeking out a therapist who specializes in anxieties? Melissa Grelo got over her fear of flying using one of those and I used a hypnotherapist to help me quit smoking. So I’m sure if you find the right person and put in the time, you can learn to get over this. 

I was also recently speaking with dentist Dr. Shannon Hobbs about how she deals with patients who have an oversensitive gag reflex. She suggests that these patients practice exploring their mouths in front of the mirror. So why not give that a go? Take a small toothbrush and gently massage just behind your upper front teeth for a few minutes and then try on the lower teeth, moving back a tiny bit more each time, this way you begin to train your mouth to get used to being touched.  

You also mentioned being partially tongue-tied. Dr. Hobbs also mentioned there is an option of cutting the frenulum with a laser, which is apparently quite simple and effective. There is also a throat-numbing spray (rumour has it some escorts use it on dates) but I would definitely consult your doctor/dentist before going that route.  

Now if you don’t want to do any of those things and have decided to gag your way through life…how do you handle this on a date? The way I see it: you have two choices. 

One: Bring it up in conversation before the kiss comes. You could say something like: “You know what I love? French Fries. And French Toast. And French Bulldogs. You know what I hate? French kissing.” See how that lands. Maybe you’ll luck out and meet a person who says: “OMG me too!!” Even if that doesn’t happen, at least you’ve opened up a dialogue so the chances of you figuring out a kissing compromise (maybe you kiss with no tongue, maybe it’s only a teeny tiny amount of tongue) are much better.

Two: You lead by example by taking the reigns and setting the pace and tone. A good kisser will pick up on your cues and dance along with your style. So if this person is perceptive, they will pick up on your lack of tongue and start to pull back too. But if they continue to tentacle their way into your throat, a final option is to gag all over them. Yes they will be freaked out and maybe even offended. But I promise you some future partner of theirs will thank you for that lesson.

Cynthia Loyst is our resident relationship expert and a passionate advocate for healthy sexual information. As a sought-after relationship coach and columnist, she’s known for giving advice and opinions on the joys and complications of love. She has received awards from SSSS (Society For The Scientific Study of Sexuality) and Planned Parenthood in Toronto. She is also SAR (Sexual Attitude Reassessment) certified, a member of SIECCAN (Sex Information and Education Council of Canada) and continues to take ongoing courses in human sexuality. For legal disclaimer, click here.
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