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My girlfriend has sex — but she won’t kiss

No-smooches gal pal has partner confused. It may be an odor problem, says Dr. Gail Saltz, or she may have intimacy issues.

Q: I’m confused. My girlfriend has sex with me but does not like to kiss. What do you make of this?

A: There are two likely possibilities here. One is physical and one is psychological.

First, it’s possible she is turned off by your breath.

I am not referring just to horrid, putrid, dragon breath or never brushing your teeth, but also about an odor detectable only up close.

Olfaction — basically, the sense of smell — is a major component of sex and attraction. The way someone smells can be a huge turn-on or turn-off. In fact, people who have lost their sense of smell often lose sexual desire. That smell chemistry is very important.

It’s also possible that kissing you could put your girlfriend in physical discomfort. She might be prone to chapped lips, or you might have stubble that chafes.

Or maybe she just doesn’t like the way you kiss — excessive spit and slobber, or too much of a tight-lipped, dry technique.

People can be embarrassed to talk about these things, so you will have to broach the topic if your girlfriend doesn’t. You can say you have noticed that kissing is not her favorite thing, and ask straight out if it’s bad breath, kissing technique or some other reason.

There are ways to overcome such problems, like floss and mouthwash or lip balm. Or experiment with kissing techniques until you find one more to her liking.

(A possible bonus: Uncomfortable as it may sound, this is a great opportunity to begin a conversation about sex. True communication about this subject is necessary for a good sex life.)

And then there are the possible psychological reasons why your girlfriend avoids kissing.

Mouth-to-mouth contact is extremely intimate. Some people also feel it is invasive — more invasive, believe it or not, than intercourse. They feel “taken over” by deep kissing and need to maintain a kind of distance.

If your girlfriend has this kind of problem, it’s not something you are going to be able to change on your own — she will likely need therapy. Your role in this would be to offer encouragement and support while she works through these intimacy issues.

Then there is the more distinct possibility that she really doesn’t like you all that much. Kissing is affectionate as well as intimate, and it could be that she could just be using you for sex and/or companionship. A variation of this phenomenon is when prostitutes refuse to kiss while at the same time performing all sorts of sexual acts.

There are ways to judge if this may be the case. Look at the rest of the relationship. Is your girlfriend interested in who you are? Do you have joint interests besides jumping into bed? Do you have a good time together when sex is not involved?

This must be quite disconcerting. Men are not used to women who want sex without a relationship. (Some men, of course, would find this terrific.)

So if, like most people, you want sex that does include a relationship — and you feel this girlfriend does not — you should probably end things with her and look for someone who craves your kisses, whether you’re having sex or not.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If your girlfriend hardly kisses you, you need to ask her and yourself what the problem is. It might be fixable, but it might be a sign that she lacks real feelings for you.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.