Justice

There Are a Lot of Misconceptions About The 'Surprise Kiss'

September 2nd 2016

By:
Kyle Jaeger

At this point, there should be no question about the role of consent in sex. It's required — explicitly, unambiguously, end of story.

But the rules aren't that simple when it comes to more innocent displays of affection. For example, was Mike in the wrong when he planted a surprise kiss on Eleven in Stranger Things? The "surprise kiss" is such a common trope in film and television that there are entire Youtube videos devoted to it, but are they still permissible in this new era of affirmative consent?

While conversation around nonconsensual kissing has flared up in recent years, there still seems to be a gap in our conventional wisdom surrounding the subject. In some cases, surprise kissing has been glamorized: Case in point, the famous photo of a sailor planting a kiss on an unsuspecting nurse (who later said it "wasn't my choice to be kissed.")

sailor

But more and more, the notion that the surprise kiss is a harmless expression of love or admiration is being challenged. By definition, an unwanted kiss is a form of sexual assault, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That leaves little room for interpretation, and yet the public response to high-profile instances of nonconsensual kissing has been mixed.

Slate's Christina Cauterucci wrote about the issue earlier this year, when Italian entrepreneur Lapo Elkann planted an unwanted kiss on actress and model Uma Thurman.

"Elkann’s behavior springs from the prevalent belief that while an unwanted kiss might be uncomfortable, it's ultimately benign; that since it doesn’t involve sex organs or any body part usually covered by clothing, it’s not a form of sexual assault; that it’s OK to take the kiss first and ask permission later."

The kiss lacked both context and consent. But the remaining question appears to be whether it is ever okay to "steal" a kiss from someone without affirmative consent.

Some feel that asking for permission to kiss someone kills the mood. "Your first kiss should arise out of the situation because you both want it," one interview subject for a BBC report on the topic said. "It's something you feel, not something you sign a contract on." But isn't that the same logic used by critics of affirmative consent policies, who feel explicit permission is redundant as long as it feels right?

And here have the consent gap: that awkward space between where a kiss feels right and where your partner lets you know it is.

Mike Dormitz, the founder of the Date Safe Project, has been tackling that dilemma head-on. According to the Chicago Tribune, Dormitz runs college students through an exercise in which one person asks they other if it's okay to kiss them. Turns out, it's not as much of a mood killer as you might think.

From the Tribune

"I take two people from the audience and I tell them what to say. 'I had a great time tonight. Is it OK if I give you a kiss?'" he says. "The audience is going, "Ohh! I'd love to be the person being asked! I wish my partner would ask! It makes it fun!' All they need is to visually see it in front of them."

That's where we stand today. The law is clear: nonconsensual kissing is a form of sexual assault. But the rules of attraction are still being debated.

RELATED: Project Consent Videos Send Strong Message About Affirmative Consent