By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
Let’s define “PDA.” Public Displays of Affection. Typically, this term—or acronym—is not used in reference to a sweet goodbye kiss or embrace. Instead, it suggests the type of behavior that may inspire someone to yell: “Get a room!” When we enter the world of culture, what is eye-scarring to one individual may be affection and sentimental to another. In a world of gray areas, what is the standard for PDA? Is there a standard for PDA? Does God even discuss such a modern-day term in Scripture, and if so, can we find some sort of agreement on its meaning?
First, we need to back the train up to the station. Before we tackle the hard question of God’s thoughts on public displays of affection, we should identify the difference in the types of physical touch that exist. Healthline.com talks about “Touch Starvation” (What Is Touch Starvation? 20 Things to Watch for, What to Do, and More (healthline.com). Right off the bat, we need to establish that physical touch, in its purest form, is not only pleasant and comforting but also a physical need. However, within that spectrum, there are several definitions of different forms of touch.
For the sake of this article, let’s define them as:
- Interpersonal – interaction via touch to express a thought, feeling, or conviction
- Affectionate – with the intent to show a platonic or basic sense of non-sexual fondness
- Devoted – an in-between type of touch that establishes a loyalty between the giver and receiver, without intent to turn into a sexual dalliance
- Intimate – a type of touch reserved for a significant person with whom few physical boundaries exist
- Abusive – touch with the intent to inflict harm, manipulate, and/or control another
Keeping these categories in mind, we can, more likely than not, easily identify one that would be a highly inappropriate and God-dishonoring form of physical touch. We can quickly eliminate “Abusive” touch as something that needs to be discussed in terms of its place as public (or private) displays of affection. While we won’t spend much time here, keep in mind that Abusive touch can indeed be a perceived form of affection. Often, the abuser’s intent is to gain control over the other, based on a once affectionate relationship—or at least, what was believed to be that. Therefore, that base of affection somehow grants the right to the abuser to interact with their victim in a way that holds hands with the twisted sense of loyalty.
But let’s move on, as that is not the type of PDA we intend to discuss today. Based on the connotations of the acronym “PDA,” you could also eliminate the “Interpersonal” touch. That touch arises from a platonic base and often is not even recognized when it happens. For example, we shake hands in American culture out of habit and societal norms. It doesn’t communicate any form of potential relationship outside of acquaintance. The same goes for a high-five, fist bump, and so on. So, we’re left with the middle three: Affectionate, Devoted, and Intimate. At this juncture, we enter an arena where individual conviction can sway what physical expression is considered affection versus what forms indicate a loyalty unique to the two people involved in the exchange and what forms send the message that sex is the ultimate end toyed with or pursued.
My husband and I like to show PDA around the house in front of our children. When my in-laws happen to walk in and find us giving each other an embrace in the kitchen, their reaction is typically a sentimental “aww.” But to the same embrace, my daughter will enter the room and proceed to gag, shouting, “Ew! Ew! Ew!” So, you can see, PDA can definitely have different definitions for different people groups. Does this mean we should refrain from PDA in order to “avoid all appearance of evil,” as stated in I Thessalonians?
Let’s dive in and see what examples we might find in Scripture to identify God’s perspective on PDA.
- God does not use the words “physical displays of affection” in Scripture. Sorry. I wish it were that simple. A quick term search, and bam! Answer given. If you look up the word “affection” in the ESV version, you find it mentioned seven times, primarily in the concept of brotherly love, which would fall under the loose definition provided above as “Affectionate.” We can also conclude that “affection” does not always imply “physical touch,” so much as emotion. But when a physical expression is introduced, it seems to align with the concept of greeting one another with a “holy kiss.” This implied a kiss based on purity—not necessarily on the lips—and one of loyalty and devotion. It could potentially move into the “Devoted” category of physical touch, but any implication of sexual desire is far, far removed.
- That being said, PDA is often affiliated with kissing. There are forty-six uses of the word “kiss” in the Bible in the ESV, NIV, and KJV. In almost all of these cases, the kisses given are those of the Affectionate or Devoted category. The kisses intend to show greeting and express loyalty and are often between parent and child or prophet and student; there is no indication it means anything beyond greeting or utter devotion. The other uses are, primarily, found in Song of Solomon/Songs and, as you can imagine, are distinctly sexual in nature. There are discussions as to the intent of the book itself; however, few will argue the intimate nature of the verbiage used within its content. This is the book that often surprises newcomers to Scripture. The explicit elements of some of the verses imply that this type of physical affection is, most definitely, of the “Intimate” category.
- The word “sex,” on average, is used the same amount of times as the word “kiss.” Interestingly enough, the use of this word is to primarily identify the elements of impurity and immorality associated with the act. Thus, one could argue that outside of the clear Biblical principles of marriage, the engagement of sex is indeed not cool on God’s list of PDA.
So, considering all the above definitions and uses, one must begin to draw conclusions with the evidence provided.
Conclusion #1: Affection and Devotion are acceptable as they are identified as such through Scripture.
Conclusion #2: Kissing can be either affection or passion – one with the intent to show loyalty and the other to show intimacy.
Conclusion #3: Intimacy is not disregarded, nor is it condemned, as shown in the positive emphasis read in the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon. As expressed in this same text, it is defined as between a man and a woman and an extension of the presupposed devotion and loyalty on which the relationship was first established. Meaning, it does not include other individuals into the intimate sexual circle but is retained for the two together and specifically.
Conclusion #4: If then, forms of PDA that are not sexual in intent are allowable, and affection and devotion are encouraged, we can then argue that Affectionate and Devoted forms of physical expression are permitted in the eyes of God, as well as not limited to one specific person.
Conclusion #5: If forms of affections are sexual in nature—in other words, driven by sexual desire for intimacy—we can also conclude, based on the above, that this is reserved for the specific relationship. In which case, public displays of affection with sexual intent are arguably not encouraged by God as meant for public consumption.
Now, these conclusions may still be debated. What about kisses in movies? Or romances? What about showing your children the example of pure intimacy as hinted at in a public kiss of love/romance? This is when, I believe, we also need to extend our authority on the subject to the other Scriptures that surround this topic. Namely, the Godly lifestyle as exampled by living a life that is pure and lovely, as seen in Philippians 4:8. Can a kiss between a man and a woman who clearly believe the other is sexually as well as emotionally and intellectually attractive be holy and lovely? I would argue, yes. Exampling self-control—a fruit of the spirit—is a prime reason why I think this type of PDA should be shown to your children, perhaps your family, and even the public around you. A testimony of a pure love relationship is not a cringeworthy situation.
However, as Believers, we should be cautious that our PDA does not lack self-control. This means that crossing the boundaries and becoming overtly sexual in public can leave others with the opposite testimony than you would want to portray. Extensive kissing, petting, frankly, lovemaking, in the public eye, does not insinuate any type of self-control, nor does it indicate that there is a sacred intimacy and safeguarding of the privacy of the love-relationship between the two individuals. For many of us, PDA is a non-issue. Some of us may have a bit of the “ew” factor that our kids have. For others of us, PDA is such a part of our lives that the idea of it being potentially dishonoring to God affects us deeply. This is why it is critical to “examine” ourselves, not unlike 2 Corinthians 13:5—being subject to the accountability of Scripture and the Lord to make sure that our outward testimony is an example of our inward state of the soul. Meaning, are we practicing a devoted, God-honoring lifestyle with the intent to serve our Savior and show His gift to others? Or are we living without careful consideration of our actions and potentially and maybe even innocently misleading others?
These are questions we must ask ourselves, and before God, answer them individually. What does God think about PDA? Taking it all into consideration, I believe we could summarize it to almost oversimplified terms: if you are honoring the Lord with your actions, then you have nothing to worry about.
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Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!