A public display of affection (PDA) is any gesture, which culture suggests is sexual or romantic in nature, taking place in arenas open to other members of the public. Some PDA gestures include handholding, touching, kissing, or hugging, and public venues can be schools, public streets, restaurants or bars, or community parks. Exactly what determines such a display has to do with personal taste, cultural and religious beliefs, and any laws applying to a specific region. There is wide variance in what gestures are considered PDAs, and whether they are acceptable, tasteful or legal.
In much of the Western world, there is daily evidence of the public display of affection in a variety of permutations. People kiss, hug, hold hands or perhaps are even more overt to signify sexual or romantic liking. There are etiquette experts that recommend individuals, who are not perhaps parting for many years, keep their PDAs tasteful or “PG rated.” This doesn’t necessarily mean taste or discretion always dominates.
More extensive expression of PDAs sometimes leads to city ordinances, and especially to laws in junior highs and high schools about what behavior is welcome or not. A pronounced display of affection like kissing or fondling could be discouraged, and some schools enact particularly rigid laws that forbid students to hug, hold hands, or in other ways show affection. Removed from the schoolyard, the Western world has a tendency to view affectionate gestures as quite common. Again, it’s argued that even legal gestures that are extremely obvious, such as prolonged open-mouth kissing, are sometimes not viewed as tasteful.
In other parts of the world, there can be much less permissiveness for a public display of affection. For instance, in some countries in South Asia and Africa, even married people may be fined for kissing on their wedding day or could be arrested for holding hands. Some of the individuals who face these fines argue forcefully for changing the laws.
When stories like these come to the attention of the Western world they’re likely to be read with some shock. It’s hard to remember that laws or traditions regarding PDAs come from deep-seated religious or cultural beliefs that may have lasted for centuries or even millennia. This makes it difficult not to judge these reactions by Western standards, though a little historical research often shows less cultural permissiveness in the American and European past, too. For example, when the waltz was introduced in the 1700s, the closed hold or the embrace of dancing couples was thought shocking.
What constitutes good taste, cultural practice, and legality constantly evolve in any culture because of the dynamic nature of human relationships and interactions. This means it’s difficult to define every public display of affection and how humans might respond to it. It’s easier to observe that the most rigidly constructed definitions are unlikely to invite much touching or interaction between men and women, or perhaps between same gender participants, even if there is no romantic intent. Some members of the culture are likely to feel oppressed by rigid standards.
In contrast, looser and more encompassing definitions of the public display of affection are likely to be present in more permissive cultures. Fewer laws may regulate these gestures. On the other hand, the taste of some members of the public may be offended by particularly overt displays, which may sometimes lead to calls to more closely regulate how humans romantically or affectionately behave.