PDA: How Much Is Too Much And When To Draw The Line

Celebrity couples like Kravis (Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker) and Bennifer (Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck) have made power PDA the norm on red carpets and in paparazzi photos. Suddenly, tonsil hockey and butt-grabs (consensual, of course) seem just as cool as when we were in high school. And you don't have to be famous to engage in a little PDA — in fact, it's pretty normal to want to smooch your S.O. in front of an audience of passersby. "We like showing off when we are happy and we also like showing off something we are crazy about, in this case, our partners!" relationship coach Megan Luscombe told Refinery29.


Showing off with PDA can also be physically gratifying. Beingwell life coach Grace McMahon explained to Stylist that getting slightly frisky in public "can actually make our hearts race and our bodies feel hotter, creating an enjoyable rush of excitement. In fact, just the simplest touch, like holding hands (which can lower cortisol levels) can see us get physically addicted to mild levels of PDA; they get the oxytocin flowing which helps us feel more secure in our relationships, so it's not all bad ... even if it is soppy."

Even if heavy petting and long make out sessions feel good, not everyone enjoys the show. Here's how to decide if PDA with your lover is cute and innocent or crossing the line.


Social norms play a major role

Kissing and touching your partner may come naturally, but these acts may be considered taboo — or even illegal — when done in public. Even if your love language is physical touch, it's crucial to respect social norms to avoid getting in trouble. In the U.S., for example, public indecency laws prohibit some forms of PDA. According to Law Insider, this includes exposing private body parts (like the breasts or genitals), intimate fondling, and other acts deemed sexual. In short, you won't get arrested for tongue-touching, though below-the-neck action is typically considered off-limits.


Keep in mind, however, that social norms vary depending on the place, so scaling back on PDA when traveling might be a good idea. In countries like the United Arab Emirates and China, simple pecking should be kept behind closed doors, for instance.

Even if PDA isn't prohibited, social influences (like racism or homophobia) may make you or your partner feel uncomfortable partaking in it. Though holding hands or kissing in public can be empowering, it can also feel dangerous for some, especially those who belong to a marginalized group. Talk to your partner about their personal boundaries and preferences before engaging in PDA.

Context also matters when it comes to PDA

Assuming you're not getting into sticky legal territory and both you and your partner are into PDA, a smooch or flirty touch may be okay, depending on the environment. Bars, nightclubs, and adults-only parties are often hotbeds for steamy PDA. Another place that might be okay: airports. "There is never a shortage of PDA at airports, and indeed, often it is more gratuitous than what you might see in any other place, and people don't seem to react negatively," social psychology expert Karen Blair shared with Vice. "In those situations, people empathize with the process of saying goodbye or hello to an important loved one and therefore give more space [and] acceptance to expressions of affection."


Meanwhile, your workplace is generally a no-PDA zone, especially if you want to maintain a professional image. On that note, always be mindful of who's watching. When you kiss or touch in public, people sharing the space become witnesses, whether they want to or not. If you're in a family-friendly setting (like the supermarket or your grandma's house for Thanksgiving dinner), keep the PDA to a minimum — if it's not okay in a PG movie, save it for when the two of you are alone.

When in doubt, look around. If you and your boo are the only ones locking lips or getting handsy, you might attract more attention than you expected — unless that was your intention all along.