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Public Display of Affection: How to Do It, PDA Etiquette & 26 Must-Knows

You may know what is PDA in a relationship, but do you know why people love it or hate it? Or the laws you need to follow? Here’s your full PDA guide! 

what is pda in a relationship public display of affection

We love to throw around the term ‘PDA,’ but do you know exactly what is PDA in a relationship? Don’t be fooled; this acronym is packed with layers in our society.

How do you feel about PDA? Are you someone who loves being hugged and kissed by their partner in public? Or are you the person who would rather have their partner keep their hands to themselves until you get home? Usually, people fall somewhere in the middle. But there’s a lot of debate on why people love or hate PDA. Well, we’re going to break down what is PDA in a relationship, and what it reveals about your relationship.

What is public display of affection?

Public display of affection or also known as ‘PDA’ is a term used to describe any form of physical contact between a couple in public. It’s an umbrella term that includes literally every form of physical contact, from hand-holding to kissing to cuddling. 

[Read: The forehead kiss – What it means and why it’s so special to everyone]

The psychology of public display of affection

The psychology of public display of affection in relationships is deeper than you may think. Sure, on the surface, it just looks like a horny couple that can’t get their hands off each other, but it’s more than that. There are four main reasons why people engage in PDA.

1. Enhancing their image

Well, you probably weren’t expecting this to be a reason. A study from the University of Kansas published in The Journal of Sex Research found this to be one of the main reasons people engage in PDA. Many people engage in PDA to enhance their image or social status. 

2. Signal your relationship status

When you’re out in public, and you kiss your partner, you’re signaling to other people that you’re in a relationship and taken.

Though this doesn’t mean if someone doesn’t like PDA, it’s because they don’t want people to know they’re taken. [Read: How to make your partner feel special with the smallest gestures]

3. Cause they can

Why not? You and your partner aren’t breaking any laws. Okay, sure, there are unspoken public display of affection laws, but overall, if couples can kiss each other in public, they’ll do it because they can. 

4. Make other people jealous

Oooh, isn’t this interesting! In a study, it was found that women kissed other women to provoke jealousy in other people. Who would have thought? [Read: Why do guys drool when two girls kiss each other?]

If these are the psychological reasons behind PDA, then what’s the reason behind why people love or hate PDA?

Why people love or hate PDA

Good question! There are a couple of reasons why people love or hate PDA. Not everyone likes making out with their partner in public and that’s completely understandable. But what’s the reasoning behind it?

1. Cultural

If you’ve grown up in a conservative culture, the odds are you weren’t highly exposed to PDA. While some cultures view PDA as something very normal, other cultures do not.

In addition, if someone grew up in a household where their parents didn’t show affection to one another, then PDA is something foreign to you. If you grew up in a home where your parents were affectionate, then this behavior will feel normal. [Read: How to show affection in a relationship if it doesn’t come naturally to you]

2. Psychological

Why people love or hate PDA can also be psychological. There are people who simply enjoy the attention. They like to exhibit their affection towards their partner and get the adrenaline from pushing the boundaries. It can be an exciting experience for some people. 

3. Social

When a man is kissing his partner in public, it can show a level of social dominance and subconsciously communicate to other men that she’s with him.

Now, depending on the partner, some will like it and others will find it degrading. It’s safe to say many people don’t want to feel like they’re an object that’s been won. [Read: How to show off your girlfriend on social media in a way she’ll love]

4. Relational

The last reason why people love or hate PDA is due to confidence and insecurities. Some people need PDA to give them the reassurance that they’re desired and needed. This comes from a place of deep insecurity. [Read: 20 signs of insecurity people can’t hide when they feel insecure]

But aside from hating or loving PDA in a relationship, there are people who fear PDA. Why do some people fear PDA?

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Why do some people fear PDA

Now, there are many reasons why someone may fear PDA. We need to remind ourselves that we all have our own life experiences and that affects our relationships with others. Here are the three main reasons why some people fear PDA in a relationship.

1. Confidence level

Some people are simply uncomfortable and lack the confidence to publicly display their affection towards their partner. They want to hold their partner’s hand or give them a kiss, but they fear making that move. [Read: Is he shy or just not interested? 15 signs to decode his behavior]

2. Past relationship trauma

Though someone is in a new relationship, they may take their previous relationship trauma with them into their current relationship.

This trauma can affect the way they interact with their current partner. Depending on their previous experiences, PDA may have been a trigger to something harmful. 

3. Stigma

While some countries accept PDA in a relationship, other countries do not. This can place a stigma on people who want to show PDA.

For example, a woman may be considered a slut if she holds hands with her boyfriend. Though she knows she’s not that, she may struggle to overcome that stigma. [Read: Easy lay? 18 things a girl does that makes guys think she’s easy]

What is acceptable PDA in a relationship

This is a question that’s been around for ages. What is acceptable PDA in a relationship? Well, it’s completely individual. What is acceptable PDA depends on what each person in the relationship prefers. 

Some people don’t appreciate PDA, while others can’t get enough of it. However, what’s important is to reflect on your feelings on PDA and see where they’re coming from.

Are they coming from a place of security? Are they coming from a place of fear? If so, why? Get to the root of your reasoning to make sure you’re making healthy decisions. That said, there is an unspoken line with PDA and it’s important to know when you’re crossing it. [Read: 15 ways public display of affection can save your relationship]

When does PDA cross the line?

This isn’t exactly the easiest question to answer because it depends on a variety of things. In some cultures, crossing the line is when you hold hands. In other cultures, there’s not really a defined limit to PDA.

However, to determine when does PDA cross the line, you need to look at the situation and see whether or not PDA is appropriate.

For example, if you’re at a funeral, making out is not going to fly. If you’re at the mall, holding hands is perfectly fine. If you’re making the people around you uncomfortable, then you know you’ve crossed the line. [Read: Prude and proud of it! 20 signs you’re very prudish and awkward about sex]

In general, most people follow the unspoken public display of affection laws when it comes to staying appropriate. What are they? Let’s find out. 

Public display of affection laws

If you’re trying to figure out how much PDA is too much, you can use this guide to give you a general estimation. However, please remember, your country may have its own societal norms regarding PDA. So, take that into consideration as well. 

1. Kissing

Kissing your partner is fine; however, you don’t need to have a steamy make-out session while in public. There are movie ratings for this type of stuff. So, keep your kissing PG-13.

2. Touching

Touching your partner, if they approve, is fine. Holding hands, having your arm around each other—it’s all okay. However, you don’t need to touch your partner’s genital area and vice versa in public. [Read: 18 bad habits that’ll make your partner want to leave you]

3. Groping

In some countries, groping in public is even illegal *double check your country’s laws*. However, in general, you can save the groping for when you’re at home. There are children outside!

4. Nibbles

Kissing is one thing, but if you’re sucking and nibbling on their lips in public, maybe you should save that for the bedroom. It’s a highly sexual move to make in public. [Read: How to be the power couple all your friends are jealous of]

5. Electronic affection

You and your partner need to decide what your comfort level is. You two don’t need to post photos of you two making out and licking each other’s faces. Kissing? That’s okay. Hugging? No problem.

But when it makes others uncomfortable, take a step back. Sometimes it’s hard to know when the line is crossed with PDA in a relationship, especially on social media. 

PDA and social media

There’s nothing wrong with PDA in a relationship. There’s nothing wrong with social media. There’s nothing wrong with PDA and social media. But, like everything, there are limits. Because you don’t really know your audience on social media, it’s easy to get carried away with what you post. However, oversharing on social media can be harmful to your relationship. [Read: Couples and social media – What you should share and what you should avoid sharing]

Sharing PDA photos on social media shouldn’t compensate for your relationship. Though you’re showing everyone else you’re happy, don’t make the mistake of replacing your actual relationship with social media posts. Focus more on the time spent offline rather than online. 

[Read: 20 things happy couples don’t do in a happy relationship]

public display of affection on social media

Public display of affection etiquette

Public display of affection can be tricky business. If you know how to do it well, it can seem cute and affectionate, but if you cross that thin red line, you can border into repulsive and disgusting. Learn the public display of affection laws and rules to make sure you’re on the pretty side of love etiquette.

Public display of affection etiquette and rules you need to follow

Okay, so we’ve read about the laws of public display of affection already. But if that’s not stopping you from indulging in a bit of PDA, here are 10 public display of affection rules and etiquette for everyone who indulges in public display of affection. Follow these public display of affection tips and you’ll be a happy couple who love each other. Break these and you’ll have your indecent makeout video on social media with the video titled “the horniest goats in the world!”

PDA Etiquette #1 Make it look clean and good

This is a basic step you have to understand. Always remember to make it look cute. Soft kisses are sweet. Gentle clasps and touches are romantic and loving.

Chewing each other’s faces off in public is disgusting. And grabbing body parts like you’re trying to make pizza dough is gross.

PDA Etiquette #2 Stop when it’s uncomfortable

No, not for you. For the people around you! You may enjoy a bout of wetting each other in public, but does the public want to see your public display of affection? Most displaying couples don’t care a hoot about what people around think, and that’s just so wrong.

You don’t let someone else indulge in disgusting activities in your bedroom, so why should people be tolerant of you in public? To be on the nice side, if you see others squirming around you, perhaps it’s time to find a room.

PDA Etiquette #3 Kissing tops the list

If you’re indulging in a bit of heavy petting in public, always remember that kissing tops the list. You can hover your hands around each other, but be nice. Don’t try to reach out for your partner’s tonsils though, and it will be acceptable.

public display of affection laws

PDA Etiquette #4 Don’t bite. Don’t lick.

Now, we’ve talk about this earlier, but this is a reminder again. Just because public display of affection etiquette allows you to kiss doesn’t mean you’re allowed to bite and lick. Nibbling each other’s ears and rolling your eyes back in ecstasy like your suffering from epilepsy is a complete no-no.

PDA Etiquette #5 Don’t flash skin

We’ve watched many movies to see that a little bit of midriff or a splash of cleavage when the guy and the girl kiss in the final scene makes it look sexy. But that’s why they call it the movies. It really doesn’t look pretty in real life. It looks like you’re making a porno movie! Not cool!

PDA Etiquette #6 Don’t use PDA to seduce someone else

Many women *and men* love doing this, and it’s just wrong. They make out with some guy at a party hoping to get another guy’s attention. Girls, sleeping with one guy only to want to sleep with another guy the next night doesn’t make you more desirable *dramatic ooooh!*.

PDA Etiquette #7 Watch who’s around

This is a big one and you may get arrested if you don’t follow this. Always take a good look around and see if you’re in the midst of people who accept public display of affection, no kids or old folk. Kids will find it repulsive and old folk will want to beat you with their stick. But in either case, learn to respect people around you and their feelings, and your public display of affection will be accepted.

PDA Etiquette #8 Don’t touch someone else

Now this is a big one in those parties and concerts. Or in a cramped car. Okay, you’re horny, we get it. But if you’re in a cramped space, stop running your arms around everyone else! It’s not sexy, and the person you’re sitting next to may find it repulsive.

PDA Etiquette #9 Stay away from the sweaty places

Don’t go too far and start slipping your hands into each other’s sweaty places in public. I know the urge to get hot and start petting little Chihuahuas and pussies are irresistible, but for the sake of public display of affection etiquette, go find a damn room!

PDA Etiquette #10 Try not to get labeled

Public display of affection is exciting, but it can also project your image in wrong light. You may get a bad reputation or worse, be stereotyped as one of those “easy” people *gasp* because you just don’t know where to draw the line or when to stop. You don’t want that, do you?

If you’re inside a room, you can go from a simple kiss on the lips to groping each other like high-speed security, all the way to coiling and uncoiling and exchanging body fluids of all sorts. But if you’re out in public, just hold on for a few more minutes, calm your racing mind and find a room. It’s right around the corner, we promise!

Follow these simple rules of public display of affection etiquette, and you can heave a sigh of affection when there’s no one around, and everyone else around you can heave a sigh of relief!

It’s safe to say that you’re now an expert on everything PDA-related. It’s time to turn to you and ask, what do you think about PDA? Do you like showing PDA? Do you like seeing couples show PDA?

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The editorial team of LovePanky comprises relationship experts and real-life experts that share their experiences and life lessons. If you want the best love ad...