Making out

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A silhouette of a couple making out

Making out is a term[1] of American origin, dating back to at least 1949, and is used to refer to kissing, including heavy kissing of the neck,[2] or to non-penetrative sex acts such as heavy petting.[2][3] Equivalents in other dialects include the British English term getting off and the Hiberno-English term shifting.[4]


The sexual connotations of the phrase "make out" appear to have developed in the 1930s and 1940s from the phrase's other meanings of "to succeed". Originally, it meant "to seduce" or "to have sexual intercourse with".[5] When performed in a car, it may be euphemistically referred to as parking.[6][7]

Studies indicate that at the beginning of the 20th century, premarital sex increased, and with it, petting behavior in the 1920s.[citation needed] The Continental experience at that time is amusingly illustrated by a letter that Sigmund Freud wrote to Sándor Ferenczi in 1931 playfully admonishing him to stop kissing his patients, in which Freud warned lest "a number of independent thinkers in matters of technique will say to themselves: Why stop at a kiss? Certainly one gets further when one adopts 'pawing' as well, which, after all, doesn't make a baby. And then bolder ones will come along who will go further, to peeping and showing – and soon we shall have accepted in the technique of analysis the whole repertoire of demi-viergerie and petting parties".[8]

By the postwar period, necking and petting became accepted behavior in mainstream American culture, as long as the partners were dating.[9] A 1956 study defined necking as "kissing and light caressing above the neck" and petting as "more intimate contact with the erogenous zones, short of sexual intercourse".[10] Alfred Kinsey's definition of petting was "deliberately touching body parts above or below the waist", compared to necking which only involved general body contact.[11]


Making out is usually considered an expression of romantic affection or sexual attraction. An episode of making out is frequently referred to as a "make-out session" or simply "making out," depending on the speaker's vernacular.[12] It covers a wide range of sexual behavior,[13] and means different things to different age groups in different parts of the United States.[1] It typically refers to kissing,[2] including prolonged, passionate, open-mouth kissing (also known as French kissing), and intimate skin-to-skin contact.[1][2] The term can also refer to other forms of foreplay such as heavy petting (sometimes simply called petting),[2][3] which typically involves some genital stimulation,[14] but usually not the direct act of penetrative sexual intercourse.[2][3][15]

The perceived significance of making out may be affected by the age and relative sexual experience of the participants. Teenagers sometimes play party games in which making out is the main activity as an act of exploration. Games in this category include seven minutes in heaven and spin the bottle.[16]

Teenagers may have had social gatherings in which making out was the predominant event. In the United States, these events were referred to as "make-out parties" and would sometimes be confined to a specific area, called the "make-out room".[17] These make-out parties were generally not regarded as sex parties, though heavy petting may have been involved, depending on the group.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lief, Harold I. (1975). Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality: 750 Questions Answered by 500 Authorities. Williams & Wilkins. p. 242. Among the city kids of 13 to 17 who live along the Boston, New York, Philadelphia string, "making out" is heavy petting.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bolin, Anne (1999). Perspectives on Human Sexuality. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 222. ISBN 0-7914-4133-4. Making out usually refers to kissing or passionate physical contact, but it also may escalate into petting.
  3. ^ a b c Partridge, Eric (2006). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. New York: Routledge. p. 1259. ISBN 0-415-25938-X.
  4. ^ O'Connell, Jennifer (December 15, 2014). "Don't mind us: Jennifer O'Connell on the marvels of Hiberno-English". The Irish Times. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  5. ^ Moe, Albert F. (1966) "'Make out' and Related Usages". American Speech 41(2): 96–107.
  6. ^ Lindeke, Bill (17 September 2015). "The unwritten rules of making out in parks". MinnPost. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  7. ^ Olsen, Hannah Brooks. "How to Hook Up in Public". CityLab. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  8. ^ quoted in Malcolm, Janet. Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (London 1988) p. 37-8
  9. ^ Breines, Wini (2001). Young, White, and Miserable: Growing Up Female in the Fifties. University of Chicago Press. pp. 117–118. ISBN 0-226-07261-4.
  10. ^ Breed, Warren (1956). "Sex, Class and Socialization in Dating". Marriage and Family Living. 18 (2): 137–144. doi:10.2307/348638. ISSN 0885-7059. JSTOR 348638.
  11. ^ Weigel, Moira (2016). Labor of Love. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. pp. 76–77. ISBN 9780374182533.
  12. ^ Cann, Kate. Hard Cash (London 2000) p. 262 and p. 237
  13. ^ Lafollette, Hugh (2002). Ethics in Practice. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 243. ISBN 0-631-22834-9. "making out," which can comprise a rather wide variety of activities
  14. ^ "heavy petting - definition of heavy petting in English from the Oxford dictionary".
  15. ^ Crownover, Richard (2005). Making out in English. Boston: Tuttle Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 0-8048-3681-7. "Making out," used in the title of this book is a colloquialism that can mean engaging in sexual intercourse, ...
  16. ^ “Notes From the State of Virginia,” with Wesley Hogan, in First of the Year, vol. II, edited by Benj DeMott (New York: Transaction Publishers, 2010) p.121
  17. ^ From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century by Mansour, David. (2005) ISBN 978-0740751189. p.110