January 14, 2010

Kids aren't inventing new kissing games -- or practicing old ones either?

One day in pre-school the teacher turned off the lights for nap-time, and a fellow toddler chick invited me under one of the tables. I snuck under the floor-length tablecloth that hid us from the teacher's eyes, and found her there facing me. I don't remember exactly how she phrased it, but she proposed i'll show you mine if you show me yours. After duly whipping it out, I sat there for a little bit while she fumbled around with her clothes. Even after exposing herself, she kept struggling to find out where her penis was. Frustrated and embarrassed, she apologized: ...i think it's stuck...

We take these kinds of games for granted, but I wonder how uncommon they've become since the early 1990s, when young people started becoming less promiscuous across a broad range of behaviors. Would a middle schooler today even know what Spin the Bottle is? I searched the NYT's recent archives and all journals in JSTOR, but I couldn't find any references to new kissing games, or folkgames in general, after the late 1980s. Before then, there was a healthy tradition in folklore studies to document not just children's games but specifically kissing games -- and how they'd changed over the decades. I conclude that this era's sexually lazy adolescents have been shirking the task of making up new make-out games, at least since the beginning of the 1990s.

For some historical background, I used the NYT's full archives, JSTOR, and Lexis-Nexis to find the earliest references I could to make-out games familiar to me. I remember first playing Truth or Dare? during Ms. Sundberg's art class in 4th grade, but it goes back much further. There was a teen girl book by that name written in 1973 by Jacqueline Wilson, and a 1979 article in the Journal of American Folklore refers to it as a common boy-girl game. However, a 1959 article in Midwest Folklore describes the very same game, only with the name Truth or Consequences?, after a radio quiz show of the 1940s. You have to admit that the teenagers of the early 1970s had more of a knack for naming their games.

Strip poker goes even farther back: there's a 1919 article about it in the NYT. And so does Spin the Bottle. There are articles in the NYT in 1935 about a musical revue by that name, but I'm not sure that it refers to the kissing game. However, a 1949 article in Jewish Social Studies mentions it as one of the games that Israeli kids play, and articles from 1959 in Child Development and Midwest Folklore both document it among American children as well. What about Seven Minutes in Heaven? There's a 1953 article in Jet about the spread of this kissing game among blacks at least, and by 1977 the NYT talks about it in the context of what goes on at "boy-girl parties."

I imagine that when pubescent kids today hear the words "seven minutes in heaven," they don't get a rush of adrenaline as they wonder when they'll finally get to play it. Rather, they'd laugh sarcastically and dismiss it with i'm not gonna lie, that sounds pretty gay.

Once the level of wildness in the culture began plummeting in the early '90s and we began retiring from public social life, all sorts of fun stuff began to disappear: good pop music, outdoor entertainment -- and evidently adolescent make-out games. And I doubt that paranoid helicopter parents let their kids throw sleepover parties as often as we used to before the early-'90s pacification. Well, except for these girls' parents (NSFW).

I'm going to time having children of my own so that they'll come of age when wildness has already surged again in the culture. The '20s and '30s seem pretty sure bets. The violent and property crime rates may have swung back up by then, but those are too rare to figure directly in the lives of young people, except for "at-risk" populations. And on the plus side, they won't be deprived of fun pop music, hanging out unsupervised, and sexual initiation games. Make them grown-ups sooner rather than later, and get them the hell out of the house and into the real world.


  1. Robert Heinlein put 'Seven Hours of Extasy' in an early 70s- late 60s book.


  2. At EconLog you said that Randall Collins predicted the collapse of the USSR. I'm a fan of his book on violence, do you remember what work he made that prediction in?

    No idea what seven minutes/hours is.

    It would be hard to time the conception of your children so that the age of their adolescence coincides with certain social trends.

  3. I don't recall the original article name, but he followed up on it in more detail in *Macrohistory*.

    You never heard of Seven Minutes in Heaven? Can I ask your age, for research purposes?

    I think it's pretty easy to time having children according to really slow changes like the violent or property crime rate -- it's about 25 to 35 years on the way up or down. And while particular social trends you couldn't time things to, broad ones like whether the culture is wild and exciting or withdrawn and sober, you could, since the crime rate is a rough indicator of that.

  4. I had never heard of seven minutes of heaven until I googled it. Turns out I have heard of it but never by any particular name. For your research purposes I am 24.

    A game I remember from primary school (though never played because I was rather introverted) was catch and kiss.

    I think that game died out when I was halfway through primary.

    I have recently changed universities and have noticed how kids these days (or maybe in the better neighbourhoods?) are so sexually shy. They walk around like HS couples and do annoying pecks on each others lips like they've only just learned how to kiss.

    And mates of mine who are older have pointed out how frigid the girls are. Nobody goes in for ONS like they used to.

    I wonder, by the way, if there is a relationship between the decline in sexual maturity and the rise of game?

    Another thing of interest is the city/country difference. The country seems to be behind. People are more sexually mature, they are more hook ups, etc.
    Interestingly, guys are also much wilder and spend a lot of time doing stupid things, mostly outdoors, and drinking.

    City life is bland, nightlife has gone down hill since I turned 18, and there has been a rise in American style gangs. Whilst fights were always to be expected, never before did you have to worry about a gang jumping you.
    I can't help but wonder how much of this wannabe thuggery is over compensation? Or else due to a rise in matriarchy and single parent households (which, when I was a kid were unheard of)?

    - Breeze

  5. I'm 23.

    Breeze, you say "American style gangs". Are you British/Irish/Australian/Canadian?

  6. @ TGGP: I'm Australian.

    - Breeze

  7. Nice post. Really I liked it.


  8. I've never heard of Seven Minutes in Heaven either, but I googled it and lo and behold, it supposedly started here in Cincinnati. Maybe that's why you heard it, having grown up fairly close? Although it's strange I never heard it in my earlier stint here as a child. I'll ask my older sister if she's heard of it.



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