Kissing is interesting. When it's a good kiss, there aren't too many other things that tops it. When it (pardon the pun) sucks, there aren't too many things that you hate more. Even as I'm running through the mental rolodex of all of the kisses I've had in my life, I'm willing to bet my next freelance check that, just like I am able to, you can immediately recall the best and worst kiss that you've ever had.
My best kisser is someone I never had sex with. Well, that's not entirely true. One time some oral went down with me being on the receiving end (was that TMI? If so, my bad). Even though his kisses up top and down below (cue in Kelly Rowland and SWV) were clearly memorable, I just wasn't into him enough to go (totally) all the way. As far as the worst kisser goes, long story short, there's a relationship I was in that, while the sex was good, the kissing was HOR-RI-BLE (is that weird?). It eventually got so intolerable that the wackness of it all ultimately became one of the deal breakers for me.
Yeah, kissing is a pretty big deal. It feels good. It's both romantic and erotic. It definitely connects you to another person in a way that no other act can. But there's more to kissing than that. As you're about to see in just a sec, every time you pucker up and get your smooch on, there is so much more going on behind the scenes than you could ever imagine!
The Origin of Kissing Is Kinda Sweet. And Pretty Gross.
Although I'm not sure how true this is, there are several theories floating around that kissing is tied to how birds feed their babies. You know, that they chew up the food and share it directly from their own mouth to the little birdies. Once upon a time, that's how a lot of mothers fed their babies and so the theory is 1) kissing mimics that and 2) whenever our partner kisses us, it taps into the warmth and security we felt when we were young.
Actually, there might be some truth to that since a lot of men who were breastfed grow up to be "breast men" (also due to the warmth and security thing) and guys who want to be literally breastfed as adults is a fetish that is quietly pretty popular.
Kissing Bonds You to Your Partner
Personally, I've never kissed someone who I didn't have some sort of emotional connection with. But even if you have, whether you realize it or not, you are bonding with that individual. That's because kissing triggers the "love hormone" known as oxytocin in your body (and your partner's). It's the hormone that automatically makes you feel closer to someone. That's why some people can experience a great kiss and suddenly think the person they got it from is "the one", even if they just met them.
Kissing Can Totally Alter Your Microbiome
A while back, I wrote an article on here about why I think the term "casual sex" is the ultimate oxymoron. Well, apparently so is casual kissing. I say that because, according to some scientific research, kissing has the ability to alter your microbiome. What's that? In a nutshell, it's your collective genetic material.
Whoa. Definitely something worth pondering before kissing someone you just met or brushing off a kiss you exchanged with some random dude while you were tipsy at a party somewhere (hey, it happens).
Kissing Relieves Menstrual Cramps and Headaches
Is there anything worse than menstrual cramps and headaches? Not much. If you're someone who experiences a lot of either one, kissing more often may be the remedy that you're looking for. Whenever you kiss someone, your body gets a surge of the feel-good hormones oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin throughout its system; that can lead to dilated blood vessels and increased blood flow which can make the pain and pressure of cramps much less. As far as headaches go, because the same feel-good hormones are able to lower stress and your blood pressure, that's why kissing can get rid of the incessant booming in your head as well.
Kissing Reduces Allergy Symptoms
Do you struggle with allergies? Guess what—kissing is a wonderful remedy for that too. No joke. Scientific research also reveals that when you kiss an individual, it is able to reduce allergy-related symptoms that are associated with pollen and dust mites. Also, since allergic reactions are worse when stress levels are high and kissing reduces stress, that's just one more reason why kissing is oh so good for you.
Men Kiss to Arouse Women. Women Kiss to Choose a Partner.
I once read an article entitled "A Man's Kiss Tells You Everything". For the most part, I'd agree with that. But no matter how good a man's kiss may be, I wonder if they know what their subconscious motive is. From what I've read, it's to get a certain amount of sex hormones and proteins into our system so that we'll be more willing to have sex with them.
As for what we hope kissing will accomplish, take a moment to think about this. Suppose you meet a guy who checks off all of your boxes. In fact, the only thing that you can even remotely say is "wrong" with him is that his kisses don't move you. Is that enough to call it quits? (Hey, you already know my vote!) Apparently, for many women, it is because, along with a man's personality and character, his kisses help to determine if he's truly suitable or not.
As for a guy who wants to get some who can't kiss? He can pretty much forget about it. A bad kisser is a total turn-off in every way.
Kissing Can Give You an STD
Not to be a downer or anything, but there is another side to kissing that shouldn't be ignored. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a whopping two-thirds of people have herpes (whether they realize it or not) and a lot of it isn't being contracted by sexual activity; nope, it's due to kissing. Both herpes simplex virus (HSV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) are easily spread via swapping spit.
For the record, if your partner has syphilis or HSV-2 and you have some sort of cut or sore in your mouth while you're kissing them, you can get that from them as well. Be careful out there.
Kissing Is Good for Your Self-Esteem
On the surface, it probably makes sense that kissing is a self-esteem booster because if you're kissing someone, it makes you feel desirable. But there's another reason why kissing makes us feel good about ourselves. Research reveals that people with low self-esteem tend to have higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol in their body. What kissing does is lower cortisol; that, as a direct result, makes you feel better about yourself.
PDA Is More About Ego than Affection
Some people love public displays of affection while others can't stand it. It doesn't really matter, though, because one study says that PDA isn't about love or being obnoxious. Kissing in public is actually more about feeding one's ego; it's about showing other people that you've got a good thing.
To get more specific, men do it to show off while women do it in order to make an ex jealous. Hmph.
The More You Kiss, the Better the Relationship
We've already explored some of the things that oxytocin does. Well, if you want to increase the chances of your man staying faithful, kiss him as often as you possibly can. What's the connection? Something else that research reveals is when a man kisses a woman that he cares about, his oxytocin levels go up, it enhances the brain reward system in his head and makes him want to stay with his partner. How sweet is that?
Kissing Is an Anti-Aging Activity
We all know that Black don't crack. But if you want to be a little more proactive in slowing down the aging process, this is another way that kissing can help you out. Since the act results in us using anywhere between 2-34 facial muscles, kissing is literally like an aerobics exercise for your face (and neck). Also, since exercise is what naturally produces collagen in our bodies and collagen is what keeps our faces looking full and youthful, you can see why kissing is one of the best kept beauty secrets.
Kissing Has TONS of Bacteria in It
If you're a self-professed germaphobe, you're definitely not gonna want to hear this. If you kiss someone (on the mouth and even more if it's in the mouth) for 10 seconds, you'll already be getting 80 billion bacteria from them. Not that all bacteria is bad (I'll break that down in a minute) and, I've kissed my fair share and I'm still alive, so that doesn't mean that kissing is the death of you. But still, billions and billions of bacteria coming into your system gives you one more reason to be careful about who you let kiss you.
Kissing Is Good for Your Teeth
One of the ways that having someone else's bacteria (and spit) in your mouth is a good thing is it could prevent you from getting cavities. The logic is the combo of the two helps to wash away the decay-causing germs and bacteria that's probably already chillin' in on your teeth and gums.
Kissing Is Tied to Men’s Longevity
Women typically live longer than men do. That's no shocker. However, what just may surprise you is one study revealed that when husbands kiss their wives every morning, they end up living five years longer than the ones who don't; especially if it's a long and passionate French kiss.
Kissing Is a Bit of a Contract
One more. Have you ever wondered why couples kiss at the end of their wedding ceremony? While on the surface, it might simply seem like a sweet and romantic thing to do, it actually dates back to an ancient Roman tradition that signified the signing of a contract.
So, there's a business side to kissing, huh? Wow. Who knew?
Featured image by Getty Images
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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xoNecole's New Visual Hair Story "The Root Of It" Is Here
For Black women, hair isn't just hair. It's our mouthpiece and our magic.
xoNecole is proud to introduce "The Root Of It," a visual hair story in partnership with SheaMoisture. For this cozy and no-frills experience, we tasked world-renowned hairstylist Ursula Stephen with creating hair transformations on three of our favorite influencers: Jasmine Moses (@slimreshae), Mel Mitchell (@itsmelmitch) and Tiffany Renee (@iam.tiffany.renee). Hosted by former beauty editor turned content creator Blake Newby, "The Root Of It" takes us on a journey of hair as the ultimate expression. We pay homage to the innovators in Black hair that have birthed a generation of styles. Most importantly, we get a little scalp education, learning the basics of how to care for our crowns by focusing first on the scalp.
Watch episode one of "The Root Of It" now, and stay tuned for episodes two and three!