Like Apple vs Android, Coldplay’s music, and coriander as a garnish, public displays of affection are a polarising issue. For some, PDA is a grotesque exhibition of codependency and horniness. For others, there’s nothing hotter than a little tonsil hockey in front of a live audience.
A study published in The Journal of Sex Research set out to discover why locking lips in public is such a divisive subject. Researchers recruited 155 female and 194 male college students to fill out an online questionnaire about what they called “performative making out” – the act of smooching and wanting someone else to see.
They found that, while most most people said they weren’t into it, 32% of the women and 37% of the men reported having engaged in PDA, often before entering college. They also found that significantly more women than men reported same-sex performative experiences.
In searching for themes in the data, the researchers uncovered some fascinating reasons for snogging in the open. Among female participants, 55% wanted to be seen with a partner to make other people jealous, 34% wanted to signify a relationship, and 30% wanted to enhance their image.
Male participants were especially interested in the image-boosting properties of PDA. Fifty-nine percent said it was the primary reason they’d pash in public. Another 38% said they’d do it simply to prove they could, while only 20% cared about showing off a relationship.
After identifying common motivations, the researchers also looked at how public displays of affection can affect a person’s reputation. Men said that their reps were enhanced (57%) more often than they were hurt (14%) by a public makeout sesh. Women, on the other hand, tended to report the opposite pattern, likely due to problematic cultural belief systems that lead to slut-shaming and sexual double standards.