Back when you first started getting ~in touch~ with your sexuality as a teen, you might have played the blueberry-hued marks that randomly popped up on your neck off as burns from your curling iron or bruises from missed catches at softball practice. Heck, you might still use those alibis with your friends and family today after a Bumble date or a particularly hot-and-heavy night with your S.O.
But as Pete Davison inadvertently pointed out last November, when he was spotted rocking a massive love bite on his upper neck while on a date with Kim Kardashian, hickeys are totally normal. In fact, they feel so damn good, they could be worn like a badge of honor — not a humiliating blemish.
Not to mention, the act of giving or receiving a hickey can be seriously sexy. Here, experts break down the allure of love bites, how to give a hickey that's actually enjoyable for your partner, and how to get rid of a hickey if, say, you're meeting the parents for the first time.
What Is a Hickey?
Essentially, a hickey is a bruise that develops after a partner sucks on your skin for an extended period of time, bites it, or kisses it with a high amount of pressure, says Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., a professional sex therapist, psychologist, and LELO sexpert. This causes the tiny blood vessels under your skin to burst, and since the blood that leaks out is trapped underneath the surface, a bruise then forms, she explains. Generally, you can expect your love bite to change color over time, going from purple to pink, then green to yellow, before finally disappearing completely, says Mintz. And how long do hickeys last? The entire healing process typically takes about two weeks, as your body will need to break down and reabsorb the blood that had seeped out of the vessels, says Mintz.
These spots can pop up anywhere on the body after an intense makeout sesh, but you'll generally get a hickey on the neck, says Mintz. For one, the skin on your neck is thinner than it is on most other body parts, which makes it more susceptible to bruising, she explains. Plus, "the neck also has a lot of nerve endings, so people like to kiss there, they like to suck there, and they like to receive kisses there," she says. It goes without saying, but the more passionate neck smooches received, the more opportunities for a hickey to develop.
And while the marks may be an ever-lasting symbol of teenage lust, hickeys can be just as much of a turn-on for folks well into adulthood. "Obviously, suction can be hot — it can be primal," says Jess O'Reilly, Ph.D., a Toronto-based sexologist with ASTROGLIDE and host of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. "And when you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your efforts (visually), it can be highly appealing. Some people like the exhibitionist element of letting other people know that you've been enjoying pleasure."
Of course, there's no right or wrong way to experience pleasure — it's just as acceptable to dislike giving or receiving hickeys as it is to love them, says Mintz. But the only way to know is to give it a shot — even if you haven't even thought about how to give a hickey since middle school. "Some people enjoy rough sex, and some people like gentle sex," she says. "Some people like something in between, and some people like both, depending on the mood. But as I often say, like anything else sexual, give it a try and communicate."
How to Give a Hickey
Just like all frisky activities, receiving consent before you start necking is key. To ensure both parties are level-headed and able to make the best decision for them, bring up the topic outside of the bedroom — not in the heat of the moment, says Mintz. Then, use "I" statements to communicate your thoughts and desires. For example, you might say "I'm really into intense kissing and giving hickeys. How would you feel if I gave you one?" or "I've never gotten a hickey before and I'm curious about it. Would you be interested in trying that with me?" suggests Mintz. If you're on the giving end, ask your partner if they're comfortable with a hickey on their neck, where it will likely be visible at work and in public spaces, or if they'd prefer a location that can be kept covered, says O'Reilly. (Related: How to Set Boundaries In the Bedroom That'll Vastly Improve Your Sex Life)
You may also want to consider why, exactly, you want to give or receive a hickey, adds O'Reilly. "Is it simply a reminder of an exciting shared experience? Or are you using a hickey to mark your territory or denote possession?" she says. While asking yourself or your partner the latter question, consider the context. If you like to signify possession because it's part of a consensual dynamic between you and your partner, make an effort to continually check in with one another and discuss how hickeys fit into the relationship as your desires and feelings evolve, says O'Reilly. On the flip side, if "you want to denote possession because you want to signal to others that your partner is 'taken,' this might be a red flag," she explains. "Or it might simply be the start of a conversation — perhaps you're unsure about the relationship status and want to further explore where you both stand." TL;DR: Take the time to have a genuine convo about your relationship and your stance on hickeys before you start branding one another.
Even if you do chat beforehand, feelings may change in the heat of the moment, which is why it's so important to continue to check in with your partner throughout the pleasure session, says Mintz. If you're receiving some seriously blissful neck action but suddenly remember you have a company-wide presentation the next day, feel free to take a beat and let your partner know where you stand. "You can say, 'Hey, I am so enjoying this, but I'm fearful of getting a hickey from it, so I ask you to stop,'" she suggests. Or if you're enjoying all the sucking or nibbling, you might say, "Hey, that feels really good. Keep going. I don't care if I get a hickey," says Mintz.
Once both parties have given the all-clear, it's time to get down to biz — which, BTW, isn't that complicated. "Open your mouth and suck!" says O'Reilly. "You can play with your tongue, and some people enjoy if you add a little teeth into the mix, but the only way to know what your partner enjoys is to ask them." And Mintz agrees: "Some people might like it on their earlobe or on their thigh. Everybody is different, so some people are going to really like the sucking, some the biting. I know it sounds a little boring, but communicate…Just like any other communication, sexual communication is so important." (These flirty Qs will help you get to know your bae better.)
How to Get Rid of a Hickey
When a passionate sexcapade leaves you with an unintentional, unwanted hickey — or a purposeful, consensual mark you're now needing to cover — know you won't be able to get rid of a hickey overnight, says Mintz. "Time is the only way to get rid of a hickey, but there are certainly ways to decrease that healing time," she says. The first step when it comes to how to get rid of a hickey: Apply some ice (wrapped in a towel, not directly on the skin) for 10 to 20 minutes a few times a day — just as you would do with a standard bruise, says Mintz. Along with reducing inflammation and swelling, using a cold compress helps slow down the blood flowing to the affected area, which reduces the amount of blood leaking out of the broken vessels, according to Nemours Children's Health.
Rubbing a vitamin K or arnica cream onto your love bite may also help speed up the healing process, says Mintz. A 2010 study found that both a 5-percent vitamin K cream and a 20-percent arnica cream helped reduce bruising more effectively than the placebo when applied twice daily for two weeks. Try Dermal-K Vitamin K Cream\ (Buy It, $29, amazon.com) or Dulàc Natural Arnica Gel Cream Extra Strength (Buy It, $10, was $17, amazon.com). Since these tactics aren't fast-acting or answers to how to get rid of a hickey overnight, consider covering it up with makeup or clothing in the meantime, suggests Mintz.
But as Davidson himself has demonstrated, you don't need to cover up your love bite, religiously slather on creams, and cross your fingers that it's magically gone by morning. In fact, "there is no reason to feel ashamed of a hickey if you enjoy receiving them," says O'Reilly. "You likely get bruises all the time — from sports, exercise, dance, or simply bumping your leg on the side of furniture. Unfortunately, gender roles can affect how signs of pleasure [and] sex are viewed in a sociocultural context (e.g. the myth that hickeys are 'unprofessional'), but you don't need to apologize for anything that feels good for you."