By Emily Osborn
I don’t think I stand alone when I say that when I see a couple kissing in public, I cringe. Something about seeing a stranger in that intimate moment makes us feel so uncomfortable as if we are somehow intruding on something private. So why is it that some people like to watch, and like to be watched during sex? Society’s love affair with voyeurism runs deep. From pornography to cam-girls, to swinging, people love the act of watching. And yet, public displays of affection are seen as a total faux pas.
It’s worth saying that public displays of affection, while some people cringe at the thought of them, are not necessarily a bad thing. Physical touch and closeness are often a sign that you are comfortable and trusting around your partner, and it’s a natural human instinct to want to show your affection for your loved ones through touch. However, on the contrary, these displays of affection could also be a sign of insecurity within a relationship, as if you are trying to convince your partner of your feelings towards them. It can also be a signal to any potential love rival that your partner is strictly off-limits, which can come across as quite toxic.
Public displays of affection are often also taken for granted by straight and cisgender people. Members of the LGBTQ+ community often aren’t afforded the freedom to express their love for their partner in public without worrying about who is around them. So why is displaying your affection for your lover in public so polarising? Social media has added a new layer to the number of PDAs people see on a regular basis, with explore pages worldwide showcasing many picture-perfect edits of loving couples. A part of our distaste for PDAs, in this context, may simply be envy. The single population may view these intense displays of affection and wonder why they can’t have something similar. It can also be intensely uncomfortable for people to see public displays of affection, as they themselves are not comfortable engaging in it. The idea of kissing or holding hands in public is borderline hellish for some and seeing other people canoodling in the open can stir up feelings of awkwardness. Other people just feel that affection like this is better kept in the bedroom or the privacy of your own home.
So, what about Voyeurism? Voyeurism is the name given to the enjoyment of viewing other people naked or having sex. People who enjoy voyeurism describe it as an entirely different way to experience sex. While some aspects of voyeurism are entirely normalised in society, such as watching pornography, other activities such as allowing another party to watch while you and your partner get down and dirty, stray to the more taboo side of kink. The voyeurism kink as a whole has a certain stigma about it, with terms like ‘peeping Tom’ being used to point out the potential creepiness of the fetish. Interestingly, voyeurism is a term that is often used in a derogatory manner, despite its prevalence as a kink in society.
Voyeurism is even categorised as a mental health disorder, being described as gaining gratification from non-consensually viewing people either naked or engaging in sexual intercourse. Voyeurism is even illegal in the UK, with offences such as upskirting being categorized under this law. While this and the entirely consensual kink are totally opposite ends of a spectrum, it’s clear that consent is a major part of voyeurism, as with any kink or fetish. To link back to why so many people feel uncomfortable viewing public displays of affection, this could be due to the fact that they have basically non-consensually viewed this moment of intimacy between partners, which is an unsettling thought at best. The feeling of intrusion, whether it be in public displays of affection or in voyeurism, is what makes both of these things potentially uncomfortable. We all want to feel like we are in control of ourselves and what we are seeing, and that feeling being taken away is more than just a turn off.
Both PDAs and Voyeurism are things that can be and are enjoyed by couples worldwide. Consent is a major part of what makes these activities enjoyable, and people who regularly engage in these find them both exciting and fulfilling, and a great way to strengthen their relationship and at excitement to their sex lives. Whatever the case, next time you get the urge to shift your partner in between lectures, maybe have a look around to make sure nobody is watching first.