Public Displays Of Affection: Everything You Need To Know

Great Sex | | , Author
Updated On: July 14, 2023
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Public display of affection is a hotly debated topic. On one hand, it is just an act of showing affection and should not make people uncomfortable. Kissing in the park, holding hands while walking down the street, or giving your partner a side hug on the escalator in a mall, why are these things considered so unnerving by people sometimes? As long someone doesn’t have a hand up their partner’s shirt or down their pants, it should be okay, right?

But the thing with such a concept is that everyone has different personal, social, and cultural ideas of what constitutes public displays of affection and how much of it is okay. Societies have various ideas and notions about what is acceptable to do in public and how much. And since not everyone has the same idea or preferences about public displays of affection, it can be a tricky territory for couples to navigate.

What Is PDA?

PDA is short for public displays of affection. It usually refers to the acts of affection exchanged between two people, indicating some sort of a romantic or exclusive relationship. Now expressing affection for a romantic partner is considered harmless, and in fact, obvious, in the bedroom, but not everyone is on board with the idea of public displays of affection yet.

In certain conservative cultures, an exchange of gestures like holding hands, kissing or hugging is considered taboo and frowned upon to the extent that such acts are considered forbidden. Then there are cultures where these thoughtful expressions of love and affection are considered absolutely normal.

In an increasingly globalized world where a confluence of cultures is not unheard of, it can be tricky to determine how far is too far when it comes to being affectionate toward a significant other in a public setting. To understand better how these public shows of affection can grow to become annoying for some people, read this true account below.

I Was Very Uncomfortable With People Kissing In Public

There was a point in time when watching people getting intimate in a public place made me feel uncomfortable. Call it my ‘small-town upbringing’ or ‘middle-class values’, it did attract my attention tremendously. As someone who had recently landed in a metropolitan city, I was awestruck by how people were always holding hands or kissing in public.

Was it like this in the metros? Is this what my parents told me to keep away from when they asked me to maintain a distance from ‘bad things’? I didn’t know. The most I did about it was probably look away, being opinionated about them inside my head. But then, this is only expected. If you are any other way (read supportive), people give you a look that they probably reserve for extraterrestrials.

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Intimacy in public

I warmed up to Public Display of Affection (PDA) and harmless necking once I had lived in New Delhi, the capital city of India, for a while. Thankfully, a Bachelor’s degree in English helped me a lot in coming to terms with the fact that it was, indeed, all right. An arts degree opens up your mind in ways you didn’t think were possible. That being said, it never hurts to be a little accommodating and accepting toward your fellow humans. It is as much their space as it is yours. Is it not?

Our society doesn’t raise an eyebrow when watching actors cosying up onscreen, but if they see it around themselves, hackles are immediately raised. This hypocrisy has come to almost define our society and it is heart-breaking. Perhaps the root of it lies in what we like to pass off as ‘traditional’ thinking.

I was raised with this mindset

I’ve had my parents commenting on women dressing a certain way, or the fact that someone got married outside their religion. Given the kind of setup I come from, I was more than happy that they were even accepting of a love marriage (I did have one). But my upbringing was still very traditional and simple. When something objectionable (read steamy) came on TV, my parents changed the channel. They also talked about how people who were tattooed or wore revealing clothes were considered ‘not good’.

What I once shrugged off as ‘it’s their opinion’, now receives a more balanced argument from me. I’ve learned that turning a blind eye does not change opinion. Opinions change through debate and debate is good. Debate puts things on the table that you were probably too awkward to discuss in the first place and that is why it is important to talk about public displays of affection as well.

But then even with all the so-called ‘progressive’ mentality that I consider myself equipped with, there are times when I do a double-take. Let me give you a personal example.

My first proper encounter with such a thing

Once, my wife and I went to a friend’s birthday bash. Like us, there were other married couples and some unmarried people too. Everything was going fine, most of us were slightly inebriated, the way people usually are at parties. I was trying my best to enjoy the party even though my partner is not a big party person.

Once the clock struck midnight, the cake was cut and people cheered, and a nice mood set in. Everyone was at the stage of a ‘happy high’. While we were all talking to each other and being typically boisterous, someone nudged me. I turned and expected said couple to be maybe in the middle of some harmless necking. But boy, was I wrong.

I don’t want to spend words and sentences recreating the scene but that’s the first time I saw someone making out in public like that. There was quite a bit of ‘action’, so to say. For the first few moments, all of us at the party exchanged looks, quietly smiling and nodding our heads to each other, showing that we understood, that we were ‘cool’ with whatever was happening. When things seemed to stretch into infinity, there was nothing to do except look away.

The conversation soon turned from semi-loud to awkward to mumbling and finally, dead silence. It was as if time had come to a standstill. I am glad none of us called out and said the usual, “Guys, get a room.” But yeah, things did get a little weird. Once they separated, things sort of went back on the original track. Although there was a shade of awkwardness, an unintended pause in the conversation never really disappeared after that.

And so, the question arises

So here’s my conundrum. How does one change an entire society, which has been brought up on absolutely zero public displays of affection? What is the appropriate way to react when an elder within your own family terms someone ‘characterless’ because they were probably harmlessly hugging or indulging in a few types of kisses in public? While I see this as an expression of love, it does get a little awkward for me if it gets too much. But then, how much is too much?

The Dos And Don’ts Of Being A PDA Couple

Whatever forms of affection you are interested in showing to your partner, it is best to practice a little caution. Of course, you have the right to show love to your partner in a public place, but a lot of times, it depends on where you’re at and what kind of affection you are indulging in. It is very easy to cross the line and completely anger someone by just making out in public, which you might consider a small thing. That’s why we bring to you some necessary dos and don’ts of being a PDA couple.

1. Be aware of how people are looking at you: Small acts of showing affection are fine. A small peck, holding of hands, or just hugging should all be all right. But if you are indulging in a full-blown make-out session, consider how people around you might be looking and feeling1. Make people around you feel like a third wheel: Thirdwheeling is no fun. As a couple, it is your responsibility to ensure that when everyone goes out, nobody is left out and people, in general, have a good time together. Don’t pick a corner of the club and forget about the other people that you have come with.
2. Be mindful of the location: ‘Where to show affection’ is just as important as knowing ‘how to show affection.’ A gathering or party with close friends might be okay, but right in the middle of the mall or in a sit-down restaurant? Consider how much is considered all right2. Groping each other: Hugging is one thing, and groping is another. A soft public show of affection is okay, but to go hard-core into it is not okay. Also, definitely do NOT have intercourse in public.
3. Have a great time anyway: Don’t think that we are advising you against public displays of affection. Complimenting your partner and giving them a kiss are all things that increase validation and can even nurture a relationship and improve it overall. So despite how PDA may come off at times, be careful but don’t refrain from it completely. 3. Interrupt conversations: If a group of friends is talking or spending time together, do not create a distraction and interrupt conversations with your PDA. Try to be mindful and respectful of other people.

How to be affectionate in public? Give soft kisses, and nice, warm hugs and there is nothing wrong with holding hands when you go out. PDA is actually not a very bad thing and can actually go a long way in strengthening a relationship, one must keep in mind where to draw the line. As long as you know your boundaries and are aware of how you should be conducting yourself, you will be good to go!


1. What are some examples of PDA?

Kissing a partner, hugging them, holding their hand, making out with them, and in extreme cases, even outdoor sex is considered an example of PDA.

2. Is it okay to make out in public?

Making out is a little extreme when it comes to public displays of affection. It is beginning to get normalized in clubs and so, but it is still not good dating etiquette.

3. Is PDA illegal in the US?

Fines and arrests might be conducted in the US for extreme PDA. This is mostly if private parts are out and visible in public or there is a lot of indecent exposure.

4. Why do people make out in public?

Out of extreme affection but it also gives them a kick to do it in public and in a place where it feels exciting.

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Readers Comments On “Public Displays Of Affection: Everything You Need To Know”

  1. Light to moderate is fine by me in appropriate locations but I do not want to see anyone’s tongue or any sort of groping, it’s just something that I don’t like. A peck, a hug, holding hands is all good. Other stuff is just not for public consumption.

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