An Expert Explains Why You Either Love Or Hate PDA With Your SO

by Sheena Sharma

Ariana Grande is obsessed with her new boyfriend, Mac Miller.

No, like, literally obsessed. She recently posted her first Instagram photo of them together (captioning it "babyyy!"), and it's full of PDA.

Which got me to thinking: While I personally don't like public displays of affection, they're a very peculiar phenomenon. Why is it that some couples can't help but touch each other obsessively, while others don't? And what's the motivation behind these physical urges?

I spoke with Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York, to find out.

As she explains, there are a number of reasons couples engage in PDA that can help explain why you and your guy absolutely LOVE or HATE it.

Check 'em out below:


Our parents have everything to do with the way we view and judge public affection.

"In some families, it's very normal to see. In others, it's not," explains Carmichael. "If you came from a family where your parents divorced and didn't re-partner, PDA could be foreign to you."

This logic makes sense to me: I was raised by a single mom (who's still single), so that may explain why I'm not a fan of both seeing or engaging in PDA.

On the other hand, if your parents are very affectionate and you regularly witnessed their lovey-dovey touching growing up, you'll tend to see it as a normal and acceptable behavior — and you may even follow suit.


What's perhaps more interesting, though, are the psychological reasons why couples make out vigorously in public. Twosomes who go "too far" with their out-in-the-open touching are often well aware of it, says Carmichael.

They actually enjoy turning heads.

"Some of us are more prone to thrill-seeking behaviors than others," Carmichael explains. "There can be an element of exhibitionism to it, which revs up your physiological system: Your heart races, your body gets hotter. And if your partner is also enjoying it, it can be mutually exciting."

"Even simple touch, like holding hands, has been shown to decrease our cortisol levels. We can actually get physically addicted to mild levels of PDA," explains Carmichael.

But, if one partner likes the attention and the other doesn't, PDA can turn into a power struggle, which can be another type of turn-on. The physical touching actually becomes a form of ownership or domination of your partner.

Now, not all forms of ownership are bad, according to Carmichael. In fact, there's a level of possession that's considered to be "healthy" — meaning it can translate into feeling safe and secure within your relationship.

A lot of Carmichael's female clients like it when their partners put their hands on the small of their backs or holds their hands because it can feel comforting — especially in big, bustling, overpopulated cities like New York.

"The streets can be a bit of a meat market, so feeling like you're under someone's wing can actually make a woman feel really safe," says Carmichael.


From a guy's perspective, when he kisses his girlfriend in public, he's indicating a level of social dominance and communicating to the rest of the world that he's won her over.

And usually, a man reaching out to touch his partner in public will make her feel regarded as his prized possession.

"To some women, this can feel completely thrilling," Carmichael explains. "For others, it can feel degrading. Or, it can simply feel like, 'Hey, our social roles are being fulfilled and we're being identified as a couple.'"

So, if you typically don't want to feel like an object that's being claimed, you're probably not a huge fan of engaging in PDA.

Men can also feel like it's "over-the-top, macho behavior" that they'd rather not partake in (or they have in the past and it totally backfired), which is why they may not do it as well.

Plus, there's also the issue of privacy: Couples who don't want to invite speculation about their private lives will feel more shy about being all over each other in public. People just don't need to know that they're getting it on behind closed doors.


While it's known that couples who post lovey-dovey Facebook statuses may be more insecure in their relationships than couples who don't, it's important to realize that women who obsessively touch or like being touched by their SO's in public aren't necessarily insecure.

Security can go both ways, says Carmichael: A woman who's very confident in herself and her relationship will be fine admitting that she's stimulated by her man's touch — wherever they happen to be at the time.

She's probably not thinking twice about how her and her BF's behavior is affecting you. And the same can be said for her guy.

Think of it as the "We don't give a fuck" attitude that lets a couple fly their freak flag at all times.

While I'll never be the girl who's comfortable with PDA, the next time I see a couple sucking each other's faces off, I'll keep all of this in mind.

It doesn't hurt to understand why people do what they do — even if what they're doing is majorly ticking you off.