Culture

Global Attitudes to Public Displays of Affection (PDA) around the world

Reading time: 5 minutes

From the one-night standers to long-standing marriages, couples of all kinds sharing a pash on the street isn’t an uncommon sight in Australia. Nearly two thirds (58%) of Australians think that kissing with tongues in public is totally fine, based on research we carried out that surveyed 2,000 Australians. But what about the rest of the world?

If you and your significant other smooch among strangers and you’re planning a trip soon, knowing where in the world you can show a public display of affection (PDA) – where a couple engages in an act of intimacy around others – could be the difference between an amazing holiday and a disastrous one.

By assessing the laws and attitudes around PDA from each country, we created a map to show where you can express affection and where you should avoid it.

PDA around the world - world map

It’s reassuring to see that so much of the world gives PDA the green light, but there are still large portions where it pays to be wary.

Most of the Middle East does not take acts of intimacy lightly; even the slightest touch between two unrelated people is enough to warrant serious consequences. In 2010, a British couple were arrested and sentenced to a month in prison for kissing in a restaurant.

Similarly, India has strict public indecency laws which state that if a person does something regarded as obscene to the annoyance of others it is cause for arrest and up to three months in prison. This does mean that the law is defined by the public and, due to the differing customs and traditions of the country, what is acceptable in one part of the country may not be in another. These laws hit the headlines in 2007 after Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty kissed at a function which “transgressed all limits of vulgarity” according to onlookers.

Africa is a bit of a mixed bag; most countries view PDA as a cultural taboo. At the University of Zimbabwe, the students are forbidden to kiss in public, with the threat of expulsion if caught. Some African countries, especially towards the south like Namibia and Mozambique, are slightly more relaxed about it. Strangely, although couples aren’t allowed to kiss on the street in Tunisia, the community has uniquely combatted this with kissing cafes.

For some, the urge to touch your partner comes as naturally as talking, and it can be difficult to remember and stop yourself in countries where it’s banned. If this is the case, we’d suggest heading to one of the more liberal areas of the world. In South America, passion is a way of life and it’s not unusual to see couples strewn all over the grass of parks covering each other in kisses. Rio Carnival takes things one step further as kissing competitions have broken out amongst the furore.

PDA for LGBTQ+ couples

Stigma around PDA between same-sex couples is still widespread across the world, usually due to law, religion or culture. Homosexuality is illegal in many countries, while others have laws that criminalise certain LGBTQ acts. Until the laws are lifted, it’s recommended that same-sex couples and those in the LGBTQ community travel with caution when with their partner or avoid these countries completely.

In most North African countries, the Middle East as well as a few islands in the Americas and some in Oceania tourists could be jailed with sentences from a few months up to life in prison for even the most innocuous PDA. In 2018, Russia almost banned hand-holding between same-sex couples in public spaces and, under the 2013 legislation, it’s illegal to hold pride events or speak positively about gay relationships in the presence of minors.

If you’re travelling to Bali, keep an eye on the proposed changes to Indonesia’s criminal code as extramarital sex, adultery or sex outside of marriage and ‘obscene acts’ in public could be criminalised, meaning LGBTQ+ and unmarried couples could land themselves in trouble.

Despite this, countries are continuously lifting laws to become in favour of LGBTQ+ rights.

Asking the public

The map above gives a good indication of general attitudes towards PDA, but does this change depending on age and gender? To garner a more in-depth understanding at a grassroots level, we surveyed 2,000 Australians to find out if there were any differences.

It seems our opinion changes as we get older; almost half of 18-24-year-olds admitted to either liking or loving PDA compared to just 22% of over 55s.

When asked why they didn’t like PDA, more 18-24-year-old respondents said it made them feel ‘lonely’ and ‘jealous’ over any other age group.

The number of people who felt that PDA should be done in private rose in parallel with the age of our respondents. Despite this, the group that worried least about what people think when they engage in PDA were the over 55’s. This means that while older age groups may not engage in as much PDA as younger people, they don’t care as much what onlookers think when they do show PDA.

In terms of gender, nearly twice the amount of men than women think kissing with tongues in public is acceptable, but women are more likely to engage in PDA on holiday than at home.

The psychology behind PDA

While acts of PDA are usually spontaneous, there is rhyme and reason behind why we do it. Clinical Psychologist and relationship author Dr. Carl Hindy explains that acts of intimacy are key to maintaining a strong bond between a couple.

“The unexpected touch, kiss or hug for no particular reason is important. It’s too easy for couples who’ve been together a long time to allow these affectionate behaviours to fade away. It takes some deliberate effort when the pressures of daily life overwhelm us to remember, and show, what is most important to us.”

The story, he says, is a bit different when we’re on holiday as our inhibitions and daily stresses melt away.

“On vacation, we try to push away the preoccupation of our daily lives – the thoughts and concerns about family, children, elderly parents and work demands. Vacation can feel like escape and a return to what’s most important. Sometimes people feel this ‘separateness from their daily lives’ to a greater extreme [on holiday] and also that ‘what we do here stays here,’ so to speak.”

This feeling of having much less to worry about can make couples not only feel closer, but the added factor of a different environment where they won’t be recognised is liberating, opening them up to be more impulsive and to reconnect.

But what about why we engage in PDA? The reasons for this, Dr. Hendy says, could be two-fold.

“People feel that PDA validates their relationship as it’s a public display of their love and a public validation of their status as a couple. If, however, you consider that one person is uncomfortable with PDA and their partner does it anyway, this is accomplishing the very opposite of a show of affection. That person is making it about them rather than about them as a couple. That person might be wanting others to see it because they want to mark their territory, for example, or assertion dominance, or put on a ‘show’ for some personal reasons, but that might say more about problems in the relationship.”

Tips for showing PDA on holiday

If cultures and attitudes are nuanced in the place you’re heading to and you’re unsure on where you can and can’t show PDA, there are some things you can do to help you confirm it:

  • Look at the locals: you can gauge a lot about a place by looking around at how the residents are acting. From how to eat in a restaurant to how to dress, mimicking the behaviour of the locals (as long as it’s not offensive) can be extended to how couples act around each other.
  • Ask fellow tourists: if you get chatting to some holidaymakers by the pool, you can subtly slip the PDA query into conversation. Chances are, if you’re confused, they probably were too and might be able to shed some light on your conundrum.
  • If you’re still stuck, keep it behind closed doors.

Author

TID is an Australian online travel insurance company.

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