PDA: is it okay?

Laura Unicomb takes a closer look at the who’s, the what’s and the why’s behind the popular taboo.


The Who

Chances are if you’ve ever been to a movie theatre, night club or public bus, you’ve witnessed more 
than one person’s share of public displays of affection (PDAs). Chances are, as a result, you’ve probably got a fairly good idea of what you find acceptable and what you find, well… gross. Well, I surveyed  some of Yak’s dedicated readers for their thoughts (38 in total), asking what’s appropriate, where it’s appropriate and their overall opinions on the topic. I also asked about varying factors regarding PDAs, as well as the individuals’ stance in engaging in the act themselves. A slightly more comprehensive study conducted by Jay Hill in 2008 saw him surveying university students. His results indicated that men were more likely to have engaged in prolonged kissing than females, with 42 per cent saying yes, compared to 28.5 per cent of females.

The What

First things first, what do you define as a PDA? The official definition in this case is a “Public Display of Affection” (Oxford Dictionary 2015). Can that be considered as something as simple as hand-holding? Or does it need to be a purely romantic act for you to consider it a PDA? One survey respondent defined it as “two people engaging in affection in public – can be anything from holding hands to full on making out, and more”.

The responses were varied during the questionnaire and interviews, but most of the respondents understand it 
to be any display of public affection, and consider the boundary crossing line to be anything more than a quick kiss on the lips.

The Why

So why are people doing it in the first place? Over
 85 per cent of you thought it was considered an act of love. You romantic buggers! Other not-so-loved-up answers include to show off, to be possessive, and to simply show off their partner. M. Slade states, “Couples may engage 
in PDA because they want to flaunt the strength of their relationship or because they are just affectionate people, who are very much in love.”

Of course, it’s also possible that intoxication plays a large part, especially if you’ve ever visited King St Maccas on a Wednesday night. Jay Hill wrote that “alcohol consumption affects the probability of a participants’ willingness to engage in PDAs,” and that this excessive alcohol consumption “promotes explicit public behaviour more generally”. He found participants who responded ‘yes’ to consuming more than four drinks per outing, were more likely to respond ‘yes’ to having engaged in PDAs which included prolonged kissing, or more intimate acts.

Location, location, location

If you haven’t already guessed, location is key! Most of you seemed to agree the appropriateness of a PDA depends heavily on the chosen place to do so. In other words, if you’re planning on committing a PDA, focus less on the ‘public’ and more on the ‘affection’. Do it discretely; pick a bar over a park, a movie theatre
 over a shopping centre and this will keep everyone happy.

Of course, different scenarios can also play a large part in the appropriateness of PDAs. For instance, places of leave-taking such as airports are deemed to be more appropriate. Group scenarios are also another important element to be considered; nearly 50 per cent of respondents believe PDAs are acceptable when in a group, compared to 30 per cent who believe it to be inconsiderate. If you want to be a nice friend, and not one who likes to terrify those around, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry, and abstain.


Are there any exceptions? Is there a difference depending on your age or sexual preference? Some of you agree there is, others are set in their ways. Moreover, 88 per cent of respondents see no difference if the PDA is between a same sex couple, but only half feel the same when it’s between a couple of varying ages; older man vs. younger woman for instance.

Funnily enough, people are a lot more sure of what they find acceptable when they put themselves in that position. For instance, only 14 per cent have a problem seeing PDAs, whereas 23 per cent have a problem engaging in PDAs themselves. One respondent actually said, “I judge them heavily, but then often find myself doing it”.

In conclusion…

Everyone has a strong opinion of what’s acceptable and what’s not, but most respondents generally agree PDAs have a time and a place, as well as a degree of appropriateness. To play it safe, keep it to a simple kiss and stay off the lawns of parks if you want to avoid an eyeful. The nice thing to remember though, is that maybe it’s not just ‘drunk’ affection, but love… and that’s nice.

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Designed by Laura Unicomb

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