Pucker up (Picture: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock)
Love them or loathe them, most people have an opinion on public displays of affection (PDAs).
Typically thought of as something teen couples indulge on the back row of the cinema, or at the bus stop after school, now celebrities are going out of their way to get a little bit frisky in public.
At the Grammys, Justin and Hailey Bieber were snapped having a slow peck on the red carpet, while Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker went for an all-out French kiss with visible tongue – making sure the cameras were all pointing in their direction.
So, is snogging in public cool and romantic again – or would we rather these celeb couples saved it for the bedroom and spared us all the discomfort?
At their best, PDAs can make people feel loved and desired.
Kate Moyle, a sex and relationships expert for sexual wellness brand LELO, says: ‘Where PDAs can be good for a relationship is in terms of those in it feeling affirmed – as it’s a public display of intimacy and connection, and that can be felt as a statement of pride in a relationship or partner.
‘Many feel that it’s a statement to the world of – “this is the person I love” – and this can also contribute to feelings of intimacy and connectedness.
‘Physical affection, touch, kissing and eye contact also gives us an oxytocin boost which can promotes feelings of closeness.’
But, on the flipside, Kate explains it can be jarring for those who have to witness it.
‘One side effect of PDA can be when there are others around who feel that it’s interrupting – perhaps during a conversation, or if you are in a group that then means one person is excluded,’ she says.
‘As is true in the rest of life, context is key. For example, if a couple are with one other person who’s not in their relationship then a PDA is less likely to be well received, as it’s isolating for the other person.
‘It can also be counter-intuitive sometimes in relationships if a couple, or one side of a couple is trying to use a PDA in order to prove a point – as we often see acted out in TV and film as a way of trying to make someone else jealous.
‘Public displays of affection are pretty context-dependent as what is deemed more appropriate in one setting may not be in another, for example based on culture.’
It can also be a statement to compensate for a lack of happiness or stability in a relationship. We all know that couple who post gushing statements of ‘love’ for each other on Instagram every other day, regardless of what’s going on behind closed doors.
Kourtney Kardashian and musician Travis Barker at last night’s Grammys (Picture: Getty)
Ultimately, deciding whether to be intimate in front of other people is a personal decision that will be different for every couple.
Andy, a writer in London, believes PDAs can be a good thing for couples.
He says: ‘I think we are increasingly isolated as a society and spend less and less time in physical contact with each other.
‘Therefore, couples showing affection is good and a positive thing. Just keep it non-handsy.
‘Any kissing where you can see tongues or anything that goes under clothes is definitely not cool in public. But most couples don’t heavy PDA throughout the whole lifespan of their relationship. It generally cools off.’
His wife is ‘broadly anti-PDA,’ however, that can come with unexpected moments of romance.
‘It makes touch more special in private,’ he says.
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Louella Alderson, a relationships expert and co-founder of So Synced, says there’s an element of compromise at play here.
She says: ‘If you and your partner can have an open conversation about how you both express your affection, this allows you to learn what your partner like and dislike.
‘This means you can both adjust your expectations and find a compromise.
‘Someone who doesn’t enjoy PDA or kissing in public will most likely be able to become comfortable with something small like holding hands if they know it means a lot to their partner.
‘This is good for a relationship as it shows that both people are adjusting their expectations and finding a happy medium.’
Natalie, a journalist from Manchester, has been in a relationship for the last decade and still enjoys subtle forms of PDA, like hand holding and quick shoulder rubs. Occasionally, there’s a ‘snog’ in public too if they’re out just the two of them.
She says: ‘However, I always try to avoid it when we’re in a group, because I really would never want to be that couple – the ones who are all over each other and make everyone else uncomfortable.
‘I think for us, touching and being physically close to each other is just how we show our affection and how we remind each other that we are thinking of the other person.
‘It’s also fun and flirty and can be a bit of a secret language between us, like a precursor to what we might do when we get home, which is always exciting.
‘I really don’t mind seeing other couples displaying PDAs – to a point.
‘I think groping crosses a line, or kissing with obvious tongues – I find it a bit OTT and it makes me feel like it’s a bit of a performance for the people around them, rather than an organic display of affection.’
In circumstances like this, PDAs can feel a little grotesque to onlookers.
Louella says couples should ‘read the room’ and avoid making others feel ‘awkward’ in the wake of their passion. Celebrities, take note.
She says: ‘Make sure you are showing public displays of affection for the right reasons and not to show off your relationship to other people.
‘This is usually obvious to those around you and your partner can probably tell too.’
These people aren’t fooling anyone.
How to get over your discomfort with PDA
If you want to get better at showing love to your partner physically and in public, this is what the experts advise.
- Communication: Couples may feel differently about levels of PDA, and importantly it needs to be communicated between them as for one partner it may feel like an important part of a relationship whereas for another it may not. We can internalise the assumption that our partner is pulling away from us rather than the act if we don’t understand each other and this can cause unnecessary communication difficulties between partners.
- Affirmations: Positively affirm to your partner what you do enjoy and feel comfortable with, use statements like, ‘It made me feel really loved when you kissed me at the bar,’ or, ‘I love it when you randomly reach out and hold my hand in public.’
- Balance: Many people feel validated and that PDA is a way of showing the world that they are coupled, and for other’s it might make them feel uncomfortable or that it brings unwanted attention. How we all feel is based on a mix of our personalities, experiences and the contexts we are in – and if you and your partner aren’t on exactly the same page then don’t jump to taking it personally. Try saying something like, ‘Kissing in public feels a bit much for me, but I love the feeling of you standing with your arms around me.’
- Small steps: Push yourself a little further out of your comfort zone each time you try PDA, and if you aren’t comfortable at that pace, you can stop and tell your partner you want to slow it down.
- Widen your perspective: It’s important to remember that most people aren’t focusing on you or your PDA. Take a look around and you will see that people won’t be looking and they won’t care.
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