How Much PDA Is Too Much PDA?

Photographed by Refinery29.
Many of us have seen the couple who make out on a street corner, on the bus, in the airport, at the movie theater, and anywhere else they can get their hands on each other. Hell, many of us have been a part of that couple. But, as sex positive as the world has become, there will always be some lovey-dovey moments you should keep to yourselves.
PDA is totally fine if you're holding hands, putting your arm around your bae, or giving someone a quick kiss, says dating coach Diana Mandell, but anything more than that crosses a line.
Advertisement
"If it isn't something you'd do in front of your grandma, don't do it," she says. Mandell is not saying that you can't show affection in public places, but that anything that lingers for too long or is too risque (like below-the-neck touching) could make the people around you uncomfortable. And she knows from experience. Mandell was recently confronted with over-the-line PDA while on her honeymoon. "There was a couple in the pool and they were making out for an hour as if they were teenagers, and they were in their 30s," she says. The couple made a lot of people uncomfortable, and that discomfort is why PDA can sometimes be inappropriate.
"You're free to do whatever you want to do with your partner as long as it's consensual," says sexologist Megan Stubbs, Ed.D. "But if you're in a public setting, you can't know if the people around you consent to witness what you're doing." It might seem strange to use words like "consent" when talking about people you aren't directly kissing or touching, but the people around you do have a right to consent (or not consent) to what you do in their presence. And if someone tells you to stop, you should stop.
Still, that doesn't totally rule out public make outs or even sexy touching. Location matters, Dr. Stubbs says. "If you're in Chuck E. Cheese, I don't recommend making out, grinding, and dry humping because there are lights and games and music and kids," she says. "No one is expecting to see a soft core porn happening in the corner." But, if you're at an adults-only resort or a sex party, then the rules are different. There are no PDA rules in those spaces because people go there to watch other people have sex or to have other people watch them (consent rules always exist, of course). "Anything goes there because that's the environment. It's free for you to do whatever you'd like to do," Dr. Stubbs says. "The grocery line is different."
If you happen to have an urge to make out or grab your partner's butt (or any other body part) in the grocery line, Stubbs suggests holding onto that feeling until you're in the relative privacy of your car or until you can get home. Anywhere else, you'll have to use your discretion to feel out what's okay.
Unlike Mandell, Stubbs isn't quite so worried about the grandma rule (because some grandmas are probably totally cool with PDA). Instead, she says to feel the situation out. If you're somewhere that people might expect to see light-to-moderate PDA, like a dark movie theater or a bar at midnight, then a short make out might be okay. Elsewhere, you'll be able to tell when what you're doing crosses a line. "I don't think people are going to be like, 'Oh no, they're just rubbing her clit underneath her skirt at the park, that's fine,'" she says. Most people should realize that anyone who stumbles upon that situation wouldn't be thrilled.
Advertisement

More from Sex & Relationships

Watch

R29 Original Series