Sex & Relationships

Public displays of affection

Sometimes my partner wants to be affectionate with me in public. I feel embarrassed, but he says it's a totally normal part of being a couple

Only you know what you’re comfortable with when it comes to Public Displays of Affection (PDAs). PDAs are an unspoken physical statement of the closeness of a relationship–having permission to touch someone publicly speaks volumes to those around us. Whether it’s a wife gently adjusting her husband’s collar as they arrive at a dinner party or a man taking his partner’s hand, a PDA implies comfort and intimacy.

Know his motives
Let’s jump right into the “P” part of PDA because that’s what’s troubling you. Our comfort level with giving or receiving affection in public, along with witnessing other couples sharing intimate moments, is wrapped up in three things: how comfortable we are with intimacy, how we feel toward our partner and how respected we feel by that person.

So, it’s important that you understand what’s behind your partner’s motivation. Perhaps the two of you have not seen one another for an extended period of time. Or maybe he’s so mad about you that he can’t keep his hands off you. If that’s the case, I think you’ll agree with me that your dilemma is a rather delightful one.

If you’re still disturbed by his actions, dig deeper. In some people, a PDA could signal a big ego. It could be a need to make a possessive statement, to show people, “Look who I’m with!” We’ve all seen couples who act this way. The participants may think they’re projecting a message of “How hot are we?” when the rest of us see an excessively clingy couple.

When we’re near lovers who are very overt–and oblivious to all but themselves–it leaves the rest of us feeling voyeuristic, even though we may be simply walking down the street, minding our own business.

But I have a feeling you’re not talking about the “Get thee to a motel room” type of PDA. Just know that your PDA boundaries are self-imposed yet flexible. As my brother-in-law says, “It depends on where you are–if it’s in the middle of a dinner party, that is completely different from the middle of a dance floor.”

Small steps
Some people are naturally more demonstrative. Often this is a result of their culture and family upbringing. That’s why what is normal for your beau may not be normal for you. There are two things to ask yourself:

1. How do you become more comfortable with your own desires?

2. How can you communicate your comfort level to your partner? If you are interested in exploring the PDA side of your personality, try small steps. Brush your hand across his shoulder during a movie or link your arm through his during an evening walk. Do to him whatever you would feel comfortable having him do to you, and I think he will get the message. If you still want to slow things down, here’s a no-fail strategy. Try whispering, “Later, darling, this could get out of control.” As with anything in relationships, just be sure you mean what you say.

So whether you’re holding hands or smooching in a corner, the most important thing to remember is that it’s all about a level of comfort that works for both of you. Besides, chances are your partner will agree that the private displays of affection are more important than the public ones.

Lou Paget is a sex educator and the best-selling author of The Big O (Broadway).

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