Making out is a slang term for extended bouts of amorous kissing, which may include other forms of petting and sexual foreplay. The term exists as both a verb, to make out, and an adjective that describes various people known to make out or places in which making out occurs. As with its synonym, necking, making out describes both a courtship activity and a practice that only became publicly acceptable in the second half of the twentieth century. Whereas in the early twentieth century a couple's public and even private courtship activity rarely advanced beyond holding hands and the polite kiss, the introduction of the automobile and the gradual invention of a separate teenage culture in high schools, drive-in restaurants, and movie theaters enabled more adventurous sexual activity. Making out, like necking, refers primarily to kissing, though the adjective make-out may suggest more advanced and involved sexual activities by implying the measure of success and achievement that the phrase to make out connotes in other contexts.
The term making out enters a public vocabulary around the middle of the twentieth century, first as an adjective describing a man who tries to make sexual advances on women. In 1949, The New York Times printed the following sentence: "They use washed-up expressions like 'wolf' when the correct description for such a fellow is 'make-out artist.'" In the 1950s the expression making out begins to replace the expression necking. The 1959 film Gidget has the following line: "Gidget: 'no sweaty hands, no making out in drive-in movies.' Larry: 'Making out?' Gidget: 'My God, Larry, where've you been living? I guess you still call it necking."' In the 1960s the adjective make-out, referring to sexually adventurous men, appears in the film The Graduate when Ben is trying to find out where his ex-girlfriend is getting married: "You don't happen to know exactly where the Make Out King is getting married, do you? I'm supposed to be there."
Although when applied to males the adjective make-out implied an aggressive Romeo, when referring to women, the term had a less flattering connotation. A make out is a girl who is a little too loose or willing to give sexual favors.
Make-out also refers to various sites where making out could occur. Vans and other vehicles with provisions for horizontal activities were sometimes called make-out vans. Spots where couples parked to make out had such nicknames as lovers' lane or make-out central. There were make-out parties, and places such as drive-in theaters and parks where there was make-out action.
In an era during which a significant transition was occurring in sexual mores and possibilities, making out provided a euphemism or catch phrase for a range of sexual activities that had previously been illicit and forbidden. During the mid-twentieth century, these activities were still illicit—that was part of their attraction—but they were tolerated. Such phrases as making out that referred to such activities were vague and suggestive instead of explicit. Not only did the phrase suggest kissing and petting, it also implied success, as another meaning of the phrase to make out is the successful completion of a task.
Michael, Robert T., John H. Gagnon, et al. 1994. Sex in America: A Definitive Survey. New York: Warner Books.