Public Displays of Affection

Angela J. Krum

They're everywhere: the couples out in public with their tongues down each other's throats and a serious case of wandering hands. It's enough to make you shout, "Get a room!"

"America has become a nation of sexual exhibitionism," says Carole Altman, Ph.D., author of 101 Ways to Make Love Happen (Casper Publishing, 1999). "People feel the need to demonstrate their sexuality to others, and public displays of affection (PDA) are the perfect way to prove that our private lives are truly sexual," she says.

All couples have to find their own comfort level when it comes to public displays of affection. Many couples find themselves in a situation in which one partner is totally into PDA, while the other prefers a more "hands off" approach. Take Tom and Anna, both 21, seniors at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, who started dating during their freshmen year.

They weren't always in sync in terms of PDA. "I saw it as showing off and didn't feel the need to play tonsil hockey with my girlfriend when our friends were two feet away," says Tom.

Anna, on the other hand, thought Tom's reluctance to touch in public meant that he was ashamed to be with her. "He wouldn't even hold my hand at a party or give me a quick kiss goodbye when we were walking to class," she remembers.

If You're Dating a Cuddler
Here are some explanations for your partner's grabby behavior:

  • He/She simply loves to cuddle.
  • He's/She's marking his or her turf. "Men like to practice PDA because it stokes their egos," says Altman. Women also practice PDA as a way of sending a signal to other women that her partner is "taken."
  • He/She's starved for affection. Your significant other may be insecure and need PDA as a proof of connection with you.
  • You're dating a jerk. "Some people think it's funny to squeeze a breast or butt and say, 'Check it out, this is mine,'" says Altman, "The friends laugh and it's all fun, but your partner is mortified."

If Your Partner Says, "Hands Off"
Here are some possible explanations for his or her behavior:

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