Making out

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A couple making out

Making out is a term of American origin dating back to at least 1949,[1] and is used to refer to kissing, including extended French kissing or heavy kissing of the neck (called necking "above the neck"[2]),[3] or to acts of non-penetrative sex such as heavy petting ("intimate contact, just short of sexual intercourse"[2]).[3][4] Equivalent terms in other dialects include the British English getting off and the Hiberno-English shifting.[5] When performed in a stationary vehicle, it has been euphemistically referred to as parking,[6][7] coinciding with American car culture.


The sexual connotations of the phrase "make out" appear to have developed in the 1930s and '40s from the phrase's other meaning: "to succeed". Originally, it meant "to seduce" or "to have sexual intercourse".[8]

"Petting" ("making out" or foreplay) was popularized in the 1920s, as youth culture challenged earlier Victorian era strictures on sexuality[9] with the rise in popularity of "petting parties".[10] At these parties, promiscuity became more commonplace, breaking from the traditions of monogamy or courtship with their expectations of eventual marriage.[11] This was typical on college campuses, where young people "spent a great deal of unsupervised time in mixed company",[12][13][14] and theaters.[15]

In the 1950s, Life magazine depicted petting parties as "that famed and shocking institution of the '20s", and commenting on the Kinsey Report, said that they have been "very much with us ever since".[16] In the Kinsey Report of 1950, there was an indicated increase in premarital intercourse for the generation of the 1920s. Kinsey found that of women born before 1900, 14 percent acknowledged premarital sex before the age of 25, while those born after 1900 were two and a half times more likely (36 percent) to have premarital intercourse and experience an orgasm.[17] The Continental[citation needed] zeitgeist is illustrated by a letter that Sigmund Freud wrote to Sándor Ferenczi in 1931, playfully admonishing him to stop kissing his patients; Freud warned him 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".[18]

In the years following World War I,[19] necking and petting became accepted behavior in mainstream American culture as long as the partners were dating.[20] 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".[2] 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.[21]


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.[22] It covers a wide range of sexual behavior,[23] and means different things to different age groups in different parts of the United States.[1] It typically refers to kissing,[3] including prolonged, passionate, open-mouth kissing (also known as French kissing), and intimate skin-to-skin contact.[1][3] The term can also refer to other forms of foreplay such as heavy petting (sometimes simply called petting),[3][4] which typically involves some genital stimulation,[24] but usually not the direct act of penetrative sexual intercourse.[3][4][25]

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.[26]

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 may have been confined to a specific area, called the "make-out room".[27] 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 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Lindeke, Bill (September 17, 2015). "The unwritten rules of making out in parks". MinnPost. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  7. ^ Olsen, Hannah Brooks (September 28, 2015). "How to Hook Up in Public". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on January 27, 2022. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  8. ^ Moe, Albert F. (1966) "'Make out' and Related Usages". American Speech 41(2): 96–107.
  9. ^ Weeks, Linton (June 26, 2015). "When 'Petting Parties' Scandalized The Nation". NPR. Retrieved December 18, 2020.
  10. ^
  11. ^ McArthur, Judith N; Smith, Harold L (2010). Texas Through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth-Century Experience. pp. 104–05. ISBN 9780292778351. The spirit of the petting party is light and frivolous. Its object is not marriage – only a momentary thrill. It completely gives the lie to those sweet, old phrases, "the only man" and "the only girl". For where there used to be only one girl there may be a score of them now.
  12. ^ Drowne, Kathleen Morgan; Huber, Patrick (2004). The 1920s. p. 45. ISBN 9780313320132.
  13. ^ Nelson, Lawrence J (2003). Rumors of Indiscretion. p. 39. ISBN 9780826262905..
  14. ^ Bragdon, Claude (2007). Delphic Woman. pp. 45–46. ISBN 9781596054301..
  15. ^ "Petting Parties at Theatres Blushingful Aweful - She Says". Variety. 88 (7). New York City: Variety, Inc.: 1, 31 August 31, 1927. Retrieved June 12, 2023.
  16. ^ Havemann, Ernest. "The Kinsey Report on Women" Life magazine (August 24, 1953)
  17. ^ Duenil, Lynn (1995). The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s. New York, NY: Hill and Wang. p. 136.
  18. ^ Quoted in Malcolm, Janet. Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (London 1988) pp. 37-8
  19. ^ Weeks, Linton (May 26, 2015). "When 'Petting Parties' Scandalized The Nation". National Public Radio. National Public Radio, Inc. Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Weigel, Moira (2016). Labor of Love. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 76–77. ISBN 9780374182533.
  22. ^ Cann, Kate. Hard Cash (London 2000) pp. 262 and 237
  23. ^ 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
  24. ^ "Heavy petting - definition of heavy petting in English from the Oxford dictionary". Archived from the original on December 19, 2012.
  25. ^ 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, ...
  26. ^ "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
  27. ^ From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century by Mansour, David. (2005) ISBN 978-0740751189. p.110