Public displays of affection, better known as PDA, causes all kinds of feelings from the disgusted to the turned on.
That being said, we shouldn’t demonize PDA. The reason many people are so thoroughly against it is because we live in a sex-negative society. Sex is supposed to be this secret thing we only do behind closed doors. That’s some brainwashed nonsense. If you want to kiss your partner, hold hands, or put a hand in their back-pocket, you do your thing.
Of course, there are limits to everything. Sexual openness is rad and there should definitely be more of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people need to see you and your partner bumping and grinding against a lamp post on a Thursday afternoon. There is a time and a place for everything—remember, we all have to coexist in the world, so there need to be some boundaries.
So, when does PDA cross the line? How much PDA is too much PDA?
What do both you and your partner feel comfortable with?
The first thing to consider is that you’re in a partnership. It takes two people to make PDA go down, and it often happens that one partner is comfortable with a higher level of PDA than the other.
Perhaps you’re all for kissing your partner’s neck and nibbling their ear in a Panera Bread, but they feel weird about pecking you on the lips in front of people. These are differences that should be addressed. The only way to bridge the PDA gap is with open and honest communication.
Many of us need a little PDA to feel connected to and appreciated by our partner. It’s a reminder that they are proud to be with you and want people to know you’re together. Figure out what works for you. Every couple is different. If your partner is a little skittish with public affection, stick to holding hands.
When in doubt: Stay within hand-holding and kissing (sans tongue). No grabbing your partner’s boobs or crotch in public. This is just common sense (we hope).
Making out is the social limit
For those of you who love PDA, remember that there are social parameters whether or not you wish to abide by them.
If you want to make out in public, that’s OK. Sometimes you just can’t keep your hands off of each other. If you’re going to do an intense make out, tone it down in other ways. Perhaps this display of love doesn’t need to include grabbing your partner’s butt? A make out can be passionate and public-appropriate at the same time.
Tongue kissing in public, and its perceived level of appropriateness, will vary from person to person. Some will say this is totally fine and others will be scandalized. You can’t please everyone.
But, as far as PDA goes, making out is the general limit. There is no reason you should be in your partner’s lap, grinding up on their junk on the subway. Society just isn’t going to stand for that.
We’re all here for you being in love, but that doesn’t mean we need to physically see you inches away from having intercourse while we’re ordering our morning coffee, you know? We all have to live and function in this world so, let’s keep it casual.
Pay attention to where you are
Public spaces don’t exist just for you. You need to be aware of where and when you’re engaging in PDA. If you’re at your niece's third birthday party, watching the kids jump on the giant bouncy house, don’t climb into your partner’s lap for a hot and heavy trip to second (almost third, to be honest) base.
Look around you. Are there a bunch of children where you’re having brunch right now? Is there a couple in their 80s sitting behind you in the movie theatre? Read the room and behave accordingly. No fondling in the toy section at Target, having intercourse on a public beach at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, or blowing your partner on an airplane with a baby in the adjacent seat.
You can be cute and loving without being gross. Sex isn’t gross, but watching you strip your partner on a park bench while we’re just trying to have a picnic certainly is. You can always whisper something dirty nasty in your partner’s ear to get them turned on for when you get home.
And if you're trying to be an exhibitionist? We have a guide for that, too! Check it out here.