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PDA: the politics of public displays of affection

PDA Public Display of Affection

Are you comfortable with PDA? We investigate the do’s and don’ts of PDAs and find out what they really say about your relationship

First things first, let’s address the definition of a PDA. A PDA, or public display of affection, is the term used to describe any form of physical contact between couples in a public setting. It includes everything from kissing and cuddling to holding hands or exchanging light touches.

The etiquette of public displays of affection

Everyone has a different definition of what’s acceptable when it comes to public displays of affection. Some couples would never dream of going beyond holding hands or linking arms outside of the house, while others are comfortable being all over each other wherever they are.

Even so, it’s the reaction of onlookers that really matters. While you’re wrapped up in the romance of it all, witnesses to your public displays of affection could feel anything from horror and disgust to delight!

It’s all about context. Consider where you are and who’s around. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d be happy with your grandparents seeing whatever you’re doing. Hand holding may be fine, but you probably wouldn’t indulge in heavy petting!

Take the setting into account. Are you taking a romantic stroll on the banks of a river with almost no-one around? Or are you crammed into a corner on a packed rush-hour tube? Only one of these is PDA appropriate.

PDA for the right reasons

People who object to PDAs often wonder why couples do it. Why do they feel the need to involve everyone in their relationship rather than be affectionate behind closed doors? It’s more understandable in those passionate early days when you can’t keep your hands off each other, but in an established relationship overt displays of affection seem more about performance than genuine feeling.

If you feel you need to show off your relationship status in public, it could signal that you’re insecure about it and overcompensating. Over-the-top PDAs are all about appearances. Whether you’re consciously doing it or not, you’re projecting an idealised image of your relationship. Unfortunately, the more intimate the public display of affection, the more intimacy may be lacking behind closed doors.

And don’t forget; the rules surrounding PDA also extend onto online. A degree of etiquette should be obeyed here too. Sharing a partner’s post, uploading an intimate photo and commenting publicly on their walls all count as public displays of affection. Practice moderation. Sharing news of a partner’s new job or the occasional couple selfie is acceptable – and will likely generate plenty of likes from your friends – but daily, gushing, expressions of love will sour public opinion quickly.

What do different public displays of affection mean?

Did you know that your PDA of choice could have a hidden meaning? We’ve analysed a few of the most common public displays of affection to reveal what they say about your relationship:

Hand holding
Holding hands in one of the simplest ways to display affection in public. However, it can have good and bad connotations. A passive, detached hold implies a polite closeness with little passion while interlocked fingers symbolise true intimacy.

Arm linking
Linking arms is a go-to-move for many established couples. It’s comfortable and socially-acceptable – even families and friends can adopt this pose without raising eyebrows. It’s a casual gesture but also a display of unity, showing your strength as a couple.

Hands in pockets
Walking with your hand in your partner’s pocket can make movement a little challenging but it’s a playful gesture that indicates an easy-going relationship dynamic. It’s also very physically intimate and often popular with new couples.

Subtle touching
Couples exchange subtle touches to signify a range of things, from flirtation to comfort. It’s a more constrained display of affection that shoes you’re comfortable with one another but don’t have anything to prove.

A quick kiss to say hello or goodbye will rarely raise eyebrows. Anything more is likely to make onlookers uncomfortable. Even so, if you do feel comfortable enough to kiss your partner in public, it means your relationship is open and mutually loving, thriving on closeness and physical intimacy.

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