Are Public Displays Of Affection Ever Acceptable?

06/10/2011 12:45 | Updated 22 May 2015

Last week, The L Word actress Leisha Hailey kicked off a media frenzy when she was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for kissing her girlfriend. Hailey has interpreted the airline's behaviour as an act of homophobia, but Southwest claims the PDA between the two women was "excessive" (there were also reports that unwarranted cursing caused her to be escorted off the flight).

Southwest Airlines has thrown passengers off of flights in the past for a multitude of bizarre issues, from wearing jeans that were too-slung to being deemed too heavy to fly, so they obviously have a rather strange and stringent passenger policy (What would they do if Gerard Depardieu came on board, I wonder?).

This incident, however, raises pertinent questions about the etiquette issue of pawing your partner in front of an audience. Are PDAs ever acceptable?

After the incident, Hailey tweeted: "Since when is showing affection towards someone you love illegal?" claiming that she and her girlfriend, Camilla Grey, engaged in "a small peck on the lips," and just "one, modest kiss."

Personally, I don't think a peck in public is cause for complaint, nor is it more of a nuisance on flights than the person whose seat is reclined directly on top of you or the child throwing a tantrum on the floor. Then again, public displays of affection usually involve more than just a discreet kiss. The whole point of them is to attract attention or create some sort of spectacle.

Maybe it's what people need to do to express their intensity in that first stage of can't-keep-your-hands-off-one-another-or-you'll-die love, but truth be told, even when I was in that phase I felt uncomfortable lunging at my boyfriend in full view of other watching eyes (unless alcohol was involved, in which case, a PDA was probably the least embarrassing thing I could get up to in public, the alternatives being vomiting or passing out). It should feel awkward to showcase your intimacy with someone before a group of strangers, shouldn't it?

Some argue that PDAs are romantic since they're uncontrollable displays of passion, while others get turned on from doing something borderline indecent in public. To me, PDAs are unappealing and distasteful. Seeing a couple intensely exploring one another's tonsils isn't titillating, it's terrifying.

brad-pitt-angelina-jolieBrad Pitt and Angelina Jolie embrace on the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Photo: Getty Images

Celebrities in particular are frequent guilty culprits who are constantly groping one another on the red carpet or playing tonsil hockey in front of the paparazzi flashes. Just like showing skin and revealing weight loss secrets keeps their celebrity flame burning, so does exhibiting their unending sex appeal, which apparently is best captured mid-public snog.

It's not even the trashy, reality types who do it: Ange and Brad are known for their public grope-fests at events from the Cannes red carpet to the Super Bowl, and earlier this week, shots of Pippa Middleton in an early morning kerbside snog fest with boyfriend Alex Louden were all over the internet. We thought more of you, Pippa.

I accept that the distinction between public and private has blurred so much that a public make-out session doesn't have the shock value that it once did, especially considering we're openly discussing our most intimate details on social media sites and posting comments about how sexy our partners are on Facebook. Surely, these affectionate raves are also PDAs (equally gross ones, if you ask me). And while it's undeniably a huge positive that we live in a society where we are free to express ourselves, and don't get thrown in jail for having our arm around a lover's neck, that doesn't mean that there's no longer any value placed on discretion and subtlety (I hope).

But whether you're grabbing a bit of arse or manically sending love tweets, the end result is the same. You're ultimately pissing on your territory ("Hands off! This boy/girl is mine!" you'd shriek if you could dislodge your tongue from your partner's mouth) and you're also trying to assert your superiority over the rest of us, who would love to be getting some but are too unfortunate to get lucky.

Personally, I think PDAs are the province of the insecure. If you're happy and fulfilled in your relationship, you don't need to talk about it and you certainly don't need to glue your tongue to someone else's to let the world know. It's when you're feeling uneasy that you need to perform before an audience to make yourself feel better.

That doesn't mean you can't show any affection in public, but it needs to be respectful - a peck, hand-holding, an arm around a shoulder, a hug. Anything more becomes inappropriate (the Obamas seem to be a good reference for how to do PDAs the classy way, but it's because their PDAs look natural and affectionate, not staged and desperate).

In many ways, a plane is the worst site for PDAs - no escape route, trapped audience and lots of other inconveniences make it a highly unpleasant scene for those in the line of PDA fire. Then again, with that build-up of stress and tension associated with the flight, the need to express intensity of emotion (especially for those terrified to fly), probably makes it a more forgivable place to have a make-out session (no wonder the Mile High Club is so popular).

But if even one of the most inappropriate (yet lovable) characters of all time, US Office boss, Michael Scott, can designate the office closet as a hook-up zone and stop groping his girlfriend in front of others, then surely the rest of us can, too.


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