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The Real Reason People Enjoy Kissing In Public

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Illustration by Isabel Castillo Guijarro
When we're out and about with our significant other, it's nice to show them a little love when the mood strikes. A hug here, a peck on the lips there. Not to mention it's flattering to be on the receiving end of a spontaneous public display of affection.

But maybe we shouldn't be so happy about it, as our motivations for engaging in PDAs aren't always as loving as we might think.

According to a recent study on "performative making out", most young people do it to show off and boost their image.

And we thought we were all so in love that we just couldn't keep our hands off each other.

Researchers from the University of Kansas questioned 155 female and 194 male college students (between the ages of 17-35, average age 18) to find out why people engage in sexual behaviour that involves an audience.

The study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, classified public making out as “kissing on the mouth, with or without the use of tongues, and fondling breasts and buttocks”.

As you might expect, a significant proportion of the young people said they'd engaged in PDAs – 37% of men and 32% of women – often while they were still at school.

Most participants reported doing it "to enhance their image or status by proving they were capable of making out with a particular person".

Other common motivations were to cause jealousy or envy, demonstrate a relationship, sexually arousing men, and participating in fun and games.

However, all is not equal between the sexes when it comes to making PDAs (surprise surprise). One of women's biggest concerns was "looking like a slut", while men didn't care about this at all – rather, some said it helped them "look like a player" or "get more credit". Typical.

Unexpectedly, it's not just young women who feel pressured by this double-standard. “Females of all ages who are affectionate in public, or who are the initiator, are viewed differently than if a male did the same thing,” relationship expert Dr. Nicole Martinez told Broadly.

"These results... highlight gender differences consistent with problematic cultural belief systems such as 'slut shaming', victim blaming, and sexual double standards," the researchers said.

Many women said they made out in public to make other girls jealous and one girl said she hoped kissing another boy in front of her ex-boyfriend would make him want her more. (Does this actually work? Notes on a postcard please.)

While 96% of the participants were straight, the researchers also investigated the differences between straight and gay couples.

For women engaging in same-sex PDAs, a prominent motivation was wanting to "arouse or please men", while this wasn't a factor for the men questioned about showing love to other men.
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