Public displays of affection are acts of physical intimacy in the view of others. What is an acceptable display of affection varies with respect to culture and context. Displays of affection in a public place, such as the street, are more likely to be objected to, than similar practices in a private place with only people from a similar cultural background present. Some organizations have rules limiting or prohibiting public displays of affection.
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Europe and North America
In most of the Western world, such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the United States, it is very common to see people holding hands, hugging and sometimes kissing in public. It is not socially acceptable to be overly explicit, such as engaging in sexual activities. Kissing is more commonly seen in adult night-life, such as nightclubs.
In India, public display of affection is a growing phenomenon, although stray incidents of police harassment of couples were reported in the past. However, relaxation of previous generations’ social norms has made public displays of affection more common among India’s younger demographic.
The display of physical attraction, once seen as uncommon, has become increasingly noticeable in East Asian countries. Confucianism is deeply rooted in the culture of many East Asian countries, predominantly in China, Korea, and Taiwan and for many members of the older generation, displaying one’s emotions publicly is going against such values. Over the years however, the boundaries have been pushed and older generations are taking notice of how younger generations deviate, even slightly, from traditions.
Holding hands, hugging, and even kissing in public has become a common sight, but it is still highly regarded as “ unsightly.” Some places such as the Nanjing University of Forestry have created student patrol officers that monitor the behavior of students and prevent young couples from holding hands, hugging and getting too intimate publicly. The progressive integration of public displays of affection into Asian society is still very rough around the edges.
In China, a country tightly bound by Confucian laws, the process of greater interaction between the sexes only began during the Cultural Revolution. In fact, the display of affection publicly between a married couple is uncommon though quickly changing. An example of this change can be seen in wedding photographs of Taiwanese couples where “ In contrast to old-fashioned wedding photos, modern bridal photographs portray the brides and grooms as emotionally and physically intimate.”
Instead of kissing, Manchu mothers used to show affection for their children by performing fellatio on their male babies, placing its penis in their mouths and stimulating it, while the Manchu regarded public kissing with revulsion.
Same-sex public display of affection
Newly wed gay couple in Reykjavik, Iceland
See also: Societal attitudes toward homosexuality
Public display of affection between people of the same sex or gender can be viewed as suggestive of homosexuality or not, depending on culture. In many African cultures it is considered normal and not offensive while in the Western world it is considered suggestive of homosexuality. For example, in Los Angeles, in 1980 it was found that most public display of affection between individuals of the same-sex would still fall under police officers’ conception of criminality. A spokesman for the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project declared in 2007 that “ people are still verbally harassed and physically attacked daily for engaging in simple displays of affection in public. Everything changes the minute we kiss.”
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