PDA can be a controversial subject. While some people support it and think it’s romantic, others disapprove of it and find it inappropriate and unnecessary.
A public display of affection (PDA) is any act of intimacy between a couple that is in view of others. Hugging, kissing, or holding your partner’s hand in public are some examples of PDA. Sharing a private intimate moment in a public forum such as social media can also be a form of PDA.
Examples of PDA
- Holding hands with your partner
- Kissing their lips, cheek, forehead, neck, or hand
- Hugging, holding, or cuddling them
- Touching or stroking them
- Playing with their fingers or hair
- Massaging their shoulders, back, hands, or feet
- Putting your arms around their waist or shoulder
- Feeding them a bite of food
- Holding them close while dancing
- Sitting on their lap
- Whispering in their ear
- Gazing into their eyes
- Winking at them
- Blowing them a kiss
- Telling them you love them
- Complimenting them
The Psychology of Couples Who Show Affection in Public
There is no single profile of couples who engage in PDA; rather there are several explanations for why couples may choose to show their affection publicly, says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships.
These are some of the profiles of couples who may engage in PDA, according to Dr. Romanoff:
- Early stage relationship: PDA is often a sign that a couple is in the early phase of their relationship and they are excited and eager to be together.
- Secure relationship: PDA can also be a reflection of a couple that is secure and confident in their relationship. It is a tangible representation of the connection partners feel for each other and provides a powerful and public sense of validation.
- Insecure relationship: For some, the opposite could be true, as PDA could be a way to overcompensate for feelings of insecurity in the relationship or a way to signal to other people that they are more connected than they might actually be.
- Intense relationship: People who engage in PDA might also be in intense relationships. They tend to describe the time spent with their partner like they are living in a bubble. This effect often occurs early in love relationships, where people develop tunnel vision for their partner and have an intense physical pull towards them.
Benefits of PDA in a Relationship
- Builds intimacy: Emphasizing your bond in public settings signals that you actively want your partner and that they are important and valuable to you. It helps build affection, intimacy, and closeness in the relationship.
- Improves bonding: Human touch is a powerful medium that helps you bond with your partner. Being affectionate with your partner can cause you both to experience a spike of oxytocin, the bonding hormone.
- Reduces stress: Touch can also improve stress levels. It can reassure your partner of your connection and even reduce their levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Breaks taboos: Choosing to publicly display affection towards your partner can send a powerful message about how you are uninhibited by conventional social norms. PDA is still taboo in many cultures, which further exacerbates the excitement of these moments.
PDA Might Negatively Impact Your Relationship
These are some ways that PDA could negatively impact your relationship, according to Dr. Romanoff.
Highlights Differences in Values
Some partners do not have compatible preferences when it comes to PDA. For example, while some people are comfortable being openly affectionate with their partners, many people are more private with their relationships and prefer to not be affectionate in front of others, due to their upbringing, family culture, faith or social norms.
Creates Reputational Hazards
Many people fear the consequences of damaging their reputation both socially or professionally, especially when PDA could be easily photographed and shared.
This can affect the relationship because some people conflate their partner’s fears with the erroneous belief that their partner doesn’t want them or is not proud of their relationship.
What Level of PDA Is Acceptable?
The level of PDA that is considered acceptable can vary depending on various factors, such as:
- Cultural factors: Some cultures tend to be conservative and discourage or even prohibit public displays of affection; whereas, others may encourage affectionate behaviors.
- Social context: PDA may be more acceptable in some spaces and social situations than others. For instance, it may be socially acceptable to kiss your partner in a bar, but not in your workplace.
- Minority stress: Certain minority groups, such as LQBTQ people for example, may not feel safe and comfortable showing their affection for their partners publicly due to perceived or internalized stigma. Even though they may want to be affectionate, they may feel like they have to be more vigilant in public.
- Family upbringing: Your parents’ values can also influence your views on PDA. For instance, having parents who are affectionate with each other can teach you to be more affectionate toward your partner.
- Personal preferences: Your personal preferences can also play a role in determining whether or not you’re comfortable with PDA and what you find acceptable.
Misconceptions of Exercising PDA in Relationships
- Is inappropriate: While it’s true that some cultures, societies, or individuals frown upon certain types of PDA, there is no universal rule that dictates what is acceptable or inappropriate. What is considered acceptable in one context may not be in another, and vice versa.
- A sign of insecurity: Some people assume that couples who engage in PDA are trying to prove something to others or show off their relationship. While this may be true in some cases, it’s not always the case. For some couples, PDA is simply a way to express their love and affection for each other, and it has nothing to do with other people’s opinions.
- Only for new relationships: It’s common to see couples engaging in PDA during the early stages of their relationship, but this doesn’t mean that it has to stop once the relationship becomes more established. Many people are affectionate toward their partners even in long-term relationships.
- PDA is always sexual: While some forms of PDA, such as kissing or touching, may be sexual in nature, not all PDA is sexual. Holding hands, hugging, or simply standing close to each other is affectionate but not necessarily sexual.
- Lack of PDA means something’s wrong: Some people are more private and prefer not to show affection publicly. They may still have a healthy and strong relationship but may choose to be intimate only when they’re alone.
Talk to Your Partner About PDA
If you and your partner are not on the same page about PDA, you may wonder how to talk to them about it. Dr. Romanoff shares some strategies that can come in handy while you have this conversation:
- Discuss what it means to each of you: Find a neutral time to discuss what PDA means to each of you. People typically assign different meanings to these behaviors and it’s important to understand what they represent to your partner and how to get those underlying needs met in a way that feels comfortable to both of you.
- Work on finding a middle ground: Productive conversations involve identifying a comfort zone for behaviors and situations that you both agree are acceptable. Remember that the goal of the conversation is not to assign a winner and loser, but instead to reach a compromise where both people feel they are being heard and are getting their needs met.
- Be patient with your partner: It’s important to understand and accept where your partner is at with PDA and give them space to or evolve and get more comfortable with it over time. Often, our feelings toward PDA are formed over our lifetime, and it could take some time for them to slowly change.