Kiss & Tell: A Couple’s Guide to PDA Around the World
Traveling as a couple can be an amazing experience—the opportunity to create memorable experiences with your significant other is never a waste. If you open Instagram, odds are you’ll come across photos of couples kissing against stunning backdrops. But before you start traveling and taking your own pictures, remember that there are some countries around the world that don’t allow public displays of affection (PDA)—especially for LGBTQIA+ couples.
If you and your partner are planning a vacation, it’s good to know where in the world it’s socially appropriate—or even legal—to engage in acts of intimacy around others. After all, the last thing your vacation needs is unexpected trouble because of a kiss you and your partner share.
Heterosexual and queer couples are treated differently around the world. Places where PDA is acceptable for heterosexual couples might not be the same for queer couples. Before you and your partner travel, ensure that you are aware of the differences in the acceptance of queer and heteronormative couples.
Many places in the Western world—including Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and South America—allow PDA. The accepted forms of PDA for heterosexual couples include holding hands, hugging, and kissing. In these regions, there are no explicit legal or cultural limitations. However, it is still important to not be too affectionate in public—simply for the comfort of those around you!
Acceptable within Limitations
In some more conservative countries, such as islands in the Caribbean and some countries in Southeast Asia (such as Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand), PDA is frowned upon and will attract negative attention. However, many of these countries have large tourist attractions and resorts; in these resort areas, light PDA is acceptable, but it should be avoided outside of tourist confines.
In regions and countries like Eastern Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Russia, heterosexual PDA can be met with public disapproval and aggression. In some of these regions, their conservatism is cultural. For instance, in Russia, older demographics look down on PDA as it is not part of culture while younger demographics are more accepting of PDA. In places where PDA taboos are religious rather than cultural, travelers should be respectful of a country’s standards towards PDA. Avoiding these taboos will show your respect towards the visiting country.
In some countries, PDA is not permissible and can even land you and your partner in jail. In places like South Asia and the Middle East, holding hands with a member of the opposite gender is illegal. These laws can extend to other forms of PDA as well. In India and Middle Eastern countries, tourists need to be cautious of some of the strictest PDA laws—couples have been incarcerated for up to three months for kissing in public.
In some of these stricter countries, heterosexual communities have resisted the cultural and legal taboos by creating “kissing cafés” where kissing is allowed; however, even in these cafés, excessive kissing can still land a couple in hot water.
Before traveling to any of these countries with stricter PDA laws or cultural taboos, check to see what their policies are surrounding public displays of affection. On any romantic trip, it is important to not let any unexpected laws derail a trip.
Acceptable: Use Caution
Countries where it is socially acceptable for heterosexual couples to show affection are also generally accepting of queer couples demonstrating similar romantic affection. But even in the countries where PDA is acceptable, there might be some queer couples that are afraid to kiss in unfamiliar places.
Cultural Taboo: Use Caution
In countries where queer couples aren’t legally discriminated against, there are still regional attitudes to keep in mind. Bustling cities and booming metropolises are generally safer than quiet countrysides, but this generalization is not always true around the world. Even in places where queerness is legal, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies on homosexuality allow for microaggressions against openly queer couples. These types of policies create situations where queerness is technically legal, but no protections will be offered to citizens or travelers who engage in PDA. These aggressions can be micro, such as being denied from a restaurant or macro, such as being physically attacked for something as innocent as gay men holding hands.
Illegal: Use Caution
For countries with stringent social rules regarding heterosexual PDA, the limitations or consequences are even worse for queer couples. Queer couples often choose to remain closeted while abroad rather than risk their emotional or physical safety. There are 73 countries around the world that still prosecute against queer PDA. Ten of these countries have the death penalty for queer travelers and citizens.
Queer couples hold valid concerns for their physical and emotional safety. That’s why many companies have devoted time and resources to ensure that queer couples travel safely. There are websites, such as gaycities.com and iglta.com, designed to help queer couples travel safely.
As you plan your next couples’ retreat, be conscious of these types of concerns. Are you giving your money to countries that support homophobic policies? Are you supporting companies that help queer couples travel safely? Are you accustomed to feeling safe when you travel? How can you help others feel the same way?
Couples of any sexual orientation or gender identity deserve to feel safe as they travel both domestically and abroad. Before traveling, make sure to research your destination so that you and your partner’s physical, emotional, and legal safety can be assured. Happy and safe traveling!