Why Some People Enjoy Public Displays Of Affection

Every generation rewrites the dating rulebook. But there is one chapter that seems up for debate the most: public displays of affection. Some people absolutely cannot stand them and for well-documented reasons. Some schools — even colleges like Dordt College which banned all PDA in 2013 — feel that public displays distract students. Some, again like Dordt college, cite religion as a reason because they feel even holding hands is unchaste.

But what about the other side of things? A quick glance around in public will turn up couples holding hands and hugging. Quick kisses and even snuggling aren't unheard of across all age groups, and younger couples may even make out regardless of who is around. Until recently, however, nobody really looked into why PDA happens. They assumed couples were just overcome with affection.

Turns out, that is only one reason for PDA. And it's not even the most common.

A study on PDA in America consists of a survey that was carried out by the University of Kansas in 2016. Of 349 students surveyed, only 37 percent of men and 32 percent of women admitted to PDA, including full-on makeout sessions. And love had little to do with the shows the participants admitted to. The most common reason given? A desire to "enhance their image." Among men, this meant smooching a hot girl in front of their friends. Women, however, wanted to be seen as sexier by other men. So they show off with a hot guy — or, surprisingly often, a hot girl.

LGBTQIA+ PDA compared to heterosexual PDA

And this is where the University of Kansas study admits it has its limits — almost all of the participants were straight. It turns out the motivation of same-sex couples is a little different. In an interview with The Whig Standard, Karen Blair laid out the reasons why same-sex couples engage in PDA. Or, more specifically, why they don't.

Karen Blair is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Utah. Relationship health, particularly that of relationships outside the heterosexual experience, is her specialty. In her work, she has found that many LGBTQIA+ people avoid PDA for the very reason heterosexual people engage in it: attention. Her work is still ongoing but already she has found an increased focus on the negative fallout of attention from PDA among LGBTQIA+ people.

Affection is at the root of PDA, of course. The affection might be short-lived attraction or based on a long-term relationship. But those engaging in PDA are not oblivious to what others are seeing. Far from it, in fact. In both heterosexual and LGBTQIA+ circles their choices largely come down to the attention they get from other people. Some people want the attention. It makes them feel sexy or powerful. For others, that same attention can be uncomfortable or even dangerous. More studies are needed to truly understand PDA. But already we're learning that there is so much more going on than we thought.