What is a PDA Relationship?

What is acceptable PDA?
on May 07, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

We’ve all rolled our eyes at that lovey-dovey couple who just can’t keep their hands off one another, even in a public place! 

While you might not be bunny bumping against the club door, you might be *that* PDA couple without even realizing it. Technically, PDA means any form of physical affection in a public space — so you might be more guilty than you think. 

It’s not a crime to want to express your love for your romantic partner when you’re out and about, but how do you know when to draw the line? Or perhaps more importantly, how do you handle different forms of PDA when you’re not entirely comfortable with it? 

Key Takeaways
  • PDA (Public Display of Affection) refers to any form of physical affection between couples in public spaces. While it's normal and often celebrated in many cultures as an expression of love, certain cultures or societies may view PDA as inappropriate or even outlaw it.
  • For couples with differing comfort levels regarding PDA, communication is crucial. Setting clear boundaries and understanding each other's preferences can help maintain harmony and avoid potential conflicts.
  • Engaging in PDA can enhance the emotional connection between partners, provide reassurance, and increase overall relationship satisfaction. However, it's essential that both partners are comfortable and consenting to the displays of affection.
  • Not everyone is comfortable with PDA, and that's perfectly fine! Expressing boundaries and preferences to one's partner is important for a healthy relationship. Couples should work together to find a balance that respects both partners' comfort levels.
  • While some forms of PDA, like holding hands, are widely accepted, the perception of what is acceptable varies. Communication and mutual respect are key in navigating the balance between public affection and privacy.

What is a PDA couple? 

PDA refers to any display of affection toward your romantic partner that is not within a private setting, so whether you’re on the club dancefloor or walking hand-in-hand through your neighborhood, that can all count as PDA. 

According to traditional social norms, certain moments of affection should be kept behind closed doors. Some cultures view different levels of PDA as taboo, due to beliefs that you should not bring these intimate moments or gestures into public settings. This is particularly prevalent in certain countries or cultures, whereby public displays of affection are outlawed, rather than just frowned upon. 

However, more generally speaking, public displays of affection are often viewed as a normal part of any romantic relationship — especially actions such as hugs or holding hands. When you’re in a new relationship, you may be swept up by the thrill of physical intimacy. You may sneak in a few extra moments of public affection, with new couples usually getting a free pass for a passionate kiss or two! 

PDA couples are usually the couples who get a few eye rolls, as it feels like they can’t keep their hands off each other long enough to get home! 

Examples of PDA in relationships 

  • Hand-holding 

  • Cuddling 

  • Hugging 

  • Kissing or making out (or even a quick peck!) 

  • General physical contact or touch in a romantic way (such as massages etc) 

What are the rules for PDA in relationships? 

Beyond societal or cultural norms, there aren’t specific rules about PDAs for relationships. Like so many things, it’s about what the couple is comfortable within a public setting!

While some couples are very comfortable sharing their intimate moments with a lot of people, others might refrain from any extensive physical touch when they’re in a public place. Even though a quick kiss here or there might be okay (away from prying eyes), that’s enough for them!

If your comfort levels (or love languages) differ, then it can be helpful to set rules or guidelines about how you want to express your affection for one another in a public setting. To avoid any misunderstandings about why your partner drops your hand in public or shies away from a kiss, it can be helpful to discuss your feelings about PDA from the outset. 

From hand-holding to hugging, try to chat through what forms of PDA you’re comfortable with, and if your significant other is happy to reciprocate these moments. This can also extend to how you portray your love on social media — as they may want to keep all of your more romantic moments away from prying eyes! 

Are there any benefits of PDA in relationships? 

While some people might shy away from PDA in their relationships, it can actually have a lot of benefits for a couple, as it can subtly strengthen their bond. 

Any mode of affection helps to strengthen your intimate bond in your relationship, as it signals to your partner that you’re interested and engaged. Not only that, but it’s a simple yet effective way to show them how valuable they are to you and how you’re proud to show them off! 

These moments of public affection can also reduce stress, as it can provide your partner with the reassurance they need in crucial moments. 

If you’re both comfortable with a PDA, it can also provide a little thrill or rush of excitement, especially in the early stages of dating! Overall, research shows that being in an affectionate relationship is associated with greater relationship satisfaction — with these public and private moments strengthening your connection.

Is it normal that I am uncomfortable with public displays of affection?

Not everyone is comfortable with PDA and that is totally okay! 

"For Queer couples, mixed race couples, or couples that do not align with the dominant culture around them, showing affection can even be dangerous,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

“So, even when you move to a safe environment, you could still have underlying discomfort from experiencing life in unsafe environments." 

If you’re not into public displays of affection or cringe at the thought of kissing in public, it doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve a perfectly healthy relationship without all of that. 

The key thing is expressing these feelings to your partner, so they can be aware of your boundaries around PDA and what lines not to cross. They may not understand why you feel uncomfortable with affection (as they might not view it in the same way), it’s important that they try and respect these boundaries as much as possible. 

How can a couple handle differing comfort levels with PDA in their relationship?

While it’s one thing to communicate your feelings around PDA to your partner, it doesn’t always mean that all is resolved. 

Depending on your love language, you may need a partner who is comfortable holding your hand or expressing affection in a public place — as this makes you feel accepted or reassured. 

For example, if your partner dodges your attempts at affection in public, it can leave you both feeling confused and upset. 

A total lack of PDA can make you feel unwanted, or that your partner may not want to be seen with you romantically in public. Without open communication, this can serve a dramatic blow to your confidence and self-esteem, especially if you’re dancing around the ‘official’ stage of your relationship status. 

"Start the conversation with your partner by asking, 'What level of public affection feels comfortable for you?' If you're not finding a compromise, try saying, 'When you push me away in public, I feel less connected; how does that make you feel?'", shares Seeger DeGeare. 

"You might want to gradually increase affection by sitting closer to each other on dates or leaning on each other more. Some people grew up in low affection homes and adjusting can be a slow process." 

As you battle with feelings of rejection, it can help to try and compromise when it comes to PDA. While your partner may never feel comfortable getting hot and heavy at your next picnic (which is very valid!), they could work towards moments of affection that help you to feel supported, safe, and secure — even if it’s just a little hand squeeze! 

How to set healthy PDA boundaries in a relationship 

As you battle with feelings of rejection, it can help to try and compromise when it comes to PDA. Setting healthy boundaries around public affection can help diminish these negative feelings, as you work towards finding moments of affection that work for you both.

"It’s vital to remember boundaries are about how you act and feel, not about controlling a partner." Therefore, when having these conversations, Seeger DeGeare recommends, "stick with what you will or won’t do versus telling your partner what they should do."

While your partner may never feel comfortable getting hot and heavy at your next picnic (which is very valid!), they could work towards moments of affection that help you to feel supported, safe, and secure — even if it’s just a little hand squeeze! 

Examples of healthy boundaries could include rules around affection in certain spaces, such as around family members or friends, or even in certain public scenarios. They might feel most comfortable only holding hands in these moments, while they could be happy to cuddle you on your next picnic date!

Putting these guidelines in place can help you sidestep any awkward moments or feelings of rejection — with both of you on the same page when it comes to PDA! 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is holding hands considered PDA?

    Any affection or intimate moment carried out in a public space is considered PDA, with holding hands naturally falling under this category! This kind of PDA is often the most socially acceptable and that most couples feel comfortable with, as it’s a subtle way to show your affection for your loved one in a public area. "Giving your partner a little squeeze for reassurance, or even tickling their palm to hint at an inside joke, can be deeply connecting,” says Seeger DeGeare. “A little can go a long way when it comes to PDA.”
  • How can a couple maintain a balance between PDA and privacy in their relationship?

    Finding a balance between your public and private lives can be difficult terrain to navigate for any couple — especially if one partner favors public affection more than the other. It’s important to communicate your own comfort levels around these issues to your partner, and discuss what elements of your relationship you want to keep private and what things you’re happy for everyone else to see! For example, you might be happy to make appearances on their social media, but you may want certain aspects of the relationship to be kept for just the two of you.
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