Say what you will about Davidson, but he’s a man of his word: Just days later there he was on Miami Beach, his tongue exposed to the air and slapping up against Kaia Gerber’s tongue, like a car zooming on to an off-ramp.
Davidson and Gerber are neither the only nor the first celebrities to demonstrate their oral habits to the public. Gone are the days of using subtle tongue exposure to prove you’re hot—applying a tongue to a bomb pop or making pointed eye contact while dragging your tongue across your upper teeth. Wiping your tongue fervently up and down another person’s face, the way a runner might wipe away sweat with a cloth, has taken off as a behavior that’s somewhere between sex act and duck face. Name an A-list celebrity under the age of 30 with an edgy streak, and I will produce a picture of them licking someone’s face. It’s the age of face licking, and we’re just living in it. Let’s look at the evidence.
Let’s start with Pete, whose face licking has been perhaps the one true constant across his career. During his relationship with Ariana Grande, distinguished for being one of the most iconic episodes of PDA in modern history, the couple licked faces and tongues on Instagram. His subsequent and even more furiously public relationship with actor Kate Beckinsale gave way to action shots that showed their tongues at the exact moment of mouth entry. Is it a coincidence that it was during that time that she joked about licking Freddie Mercury’s eyeball? Reader, don’t be naive.
Davidson went on to date Margaret Qualley, who is distinguished on this list for actually being paid to lick a face—in a fragrance commercial directed by Spike Jonze in 2016, she ran her tongue energetically down the front of a metal bust. After Qualley made that commercial, but before she started dating Davidson, Tiffany Haddish licked Davidson’s shoulder at the 2019 Golden Globes. And don’t forget that Davidson’s relationship history links him to one of the most famous episodes of public licking in our times: that of Ariana Grande and a doughnut.
The human tongue is a great crossroads of the world, the beloved meeting place of sex and bacteria (the number of bacteria in the average mouth was only recently outpaced by the population of earth). Tongues—already the real MVPs when it comes to eating and talking—have a long, deep, moist career as objects of sensuality. Historians think oral sex dates back to ancient Egyptian times, if not before. Yves Coppens, a French paleontologist, believes that Lucy, the Australopithecus, was into oral. (Hope you got as much as you gave, girl!) But tongues have never been quite so exposed as they are now. Sure, Marilyn Monroe knew a thing or two about driving people wild by extending her tongue a centimeter over her teeth. The Rolling Stones' icon, a juicy, cherry red tongue and lips, symbolized subversion when it was designed in 1969 (naturally) by John Pasche. The 1972 cover of the Blondie single "Picture This" from the album Parallel Lines shows Debbie Harry licking a vinyl record. Sensual licking in pop culture continued apace from there—Lindsay Lohan, dressed in a nun’s habit, licked a gun in promotional images for the 2010 movie Machete.
Licking inanimate objects has always been an efficient way of reminding onlookers that you know how to do oral sex or, at least, a way of making others imagine that you do. Who among us can say that she didn’t once sensually eat a popsicle at a high school function, daring others not to be attracted to her? Or made others watch her try and fail to tie a cherry stem in a knot like Audrey in Twin Peaks? But the proliferation of licking as a public, two-person act is new, a way to be explicit, intimate, and endearing in front of others without getting arrested. Angelina Jolie may have been considered wild in her day, but in public she never went beyond licking her own lips. Britney Spears was synonymous with fantasy, but when she licked SnoopDog’s open mouth, it was strictly for a music video. In more innocent times, a protruding tongue meant that an ice cream cone was nearby, or that a photographer had just shouted, “Now do a silly one!” Now licking has gone public.
Public licking can be broken into two major categories. There’s jokey, affectionate face licking, and then there’s sensual, exhibitionist face licking. There are also smaller subcategories: licking a stranger’s face in a fit of excitement, nose licking, hand licking, and the comedic, over-the-top make-out.
Take Cardi B and Offset, who actually have a song together called “Lick.” Their frequent public licking on red carpets and social media feels like it serves double duty as foreplay and personal branding. In the absence of the actual Cardi, Offset has gone so far as to lick pictures of his wife.
In her Voque "73 Questions" video, Cardi says of Offset, “I want to lick him up and down all day!” And in a rare turn of events, you might need to get your mind out of the gutter to understand that she means, at least in part, his face.
Public licking pushes social boundaries. When Bella Thorne and model Tana Mongeau documented themselves giving each other what looks like full on annual dental cleanings in October 2017, they were essentially challenging onlookers. “Go ahead, find us gross,” they seemed to say. “You’re a part of this now.”
Bella Hadid and The Weeknd have also documented their licking sessions on Instagram, and as much as that sentence may make you want to plunge your head into an industrial blender, the pics are closer to adorable than pornographic. Same with Tristan Thompson and Khloé Kardashian, a couple famous for many things, not including cuteness. But a September 2018 Instagram video, in which he serenades her, then gently licks her mouth and nose, is oddly tender.
Kim Kardashian West, too, has habitually shared images of herself lightly touching her tongue to Kanye West’s face. In 2016 she went so far as to lick him on the red carpet at the Met Gala.
Aggressively cutesy face licking runs in other celebrity families too. On a December 2018 ski trip, Joe Jonas posted a pic in which Sophie Turner licked his cheek. On the same trip Priyanka Chopra shared a pic of herself squirming away from Nick Jonas’s tongue. Sometimes we don’t want to put “family” and “licking” in the same sentence, but celebrities don’t always give us that freedom!
Hollywood’s most prolific celebrity licker is no doubt Miley Cyrus, whose career is littered with instances of her licking people, objects, and the air. After spending the greater part of her career with her tongue outside her mouth, she licked her then husband Liam Hemsworth at the 2019 Met Gala. Weeks later, they separated.
To be fair, her behavior wasn't random—she also tried to lick Hemsworth on the Avengers: Endgame red carpet, and once tweeted that she was asked to leave the set of the movie Hotel Transylvania after “buying Liam a penis cake for his birthday and licking it.” Cyrus transcends other celebrities, entering her own category of people who have lost jobs over licking incidents.
Other couples who differ on public licking politics have remained in wedlock—Elizabeth Chambers lurched away from her husband Armie Hammer’s tongue on the red carpet at the AFI fest in October 2017. He may have been inspired by his own work, having licked Julia Roberts’s face in a scene in Mirror, Mirror in 2012. Hammer is a stalwart licker—just one month after his AFI lick attempt, he didn’t appear to flinch when Robert Pattinson’s tongue approached his face.
And Pattinson is something of a licking pioneer, bringing the practice mainstream while most still licked in secret—in 2012, Kristen Stewart rhapsodized about how Pattinson liked to lick her armpits. Public licking also owes a debt to Paris Hilton’s folks, who licked each other on the red carpet as early as 2006. Decades earlier, on I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball wasn’t allowed to refer to or say the word pregnant, but she was permitted to lick her onscreen and real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, as long as his face was covered in food, making it comic, not sexual.
Plenty of contemporary entertainment has made use of the comedic value of face licking. Think Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield sloppy kissing on Saturday Night Live, or Jennifer Aniston licking Charlie Day’s neck in Horrible Bosses. But recently erotic licking has found a place in mainstream media. A wildly steamy scene in Scandal features a sudden face lick. The 2018 drama Disobedience gave the world a sex scene in which Rachel McAdams licked Rachel Weisz.
But back to micro-categories of face licking! Emma Watson, also ahead of her time, licked her boyfriend’s face in a 2010 music video. Then Lena Dunham helmed the music video for the Bleachers song “I Wanna Get Better” in 2014, in which she directed an actor to lick her then boyfriend Jack Antonoff. The next year Nicki Minaj licked Meek Mill’s closed mouth in the music video for “All Eyes on You.” That same year, 2015, Emma Stone licked a face in a music video for Arcade Fire. Champion licker Cyrus licked Ariana Grande’s face in the “Don’t Call Me Angel” music video in September. If you were a celebrity who didn’t lick a face in a 2010s music video, your agent wasn’t working hard enough.
Kate Beckinsale, not content to make jokes about licking, told Larry King in 2016 that she so lost control when meeting Hamilton actor Daveed Diggs that “before I knew what I’d done I’d sort of rushed in and basically sort of licked him on the face.” In February 2019 on the red carpet at the Brit Awards, Lizzo, apparently overcome with attraction to interviewer Marvin Humes, leaned over and abruptly touched her tongue to his face. Actor Susan Blackwell is friends with Darren Criss, but it was still surprising when, during an interview in 2012, she leaned over and licked the Glee actor’s face, from chin to cheekbone. He licked her right back.
In September 2019, Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes responded to critics by releasing a mocking video of themselves kissing and licking each other’s faces. They followed in the footsteps (and mouth grooves) of Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, who executed their own comedy make-out session almost exactly one year before, at the US Open. And in a category all his own is Ryan Gosling, who said in 2016 that he licked his masseuse’s stomach once, by accident.
Celebrities—frequently photographed and in the business of surprising and titillating—are leading the charge on licking. But regular people are doing it too—#facelicking has over 2,000 posts and climbing.
When we lick each other’s faces we accomplish many things—we shock onlookers, mark our territory, establish intimacy, and release excess saliva. Sometimes we taste something mildly citrusy. Like babies snacking on dirt in the park, putting dirty things in our mouths helps our immune systems (maybe). Get consent, and try it. I bet you have great taste.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer at Glamour.
Originally Appeared on Glamour