On Voyeurism and Exhibitionism

While you often see these two terms side by side (and usually in a sexual context), only voyeurism has definitive sexual connotation. Exhibitionism means to purposefully draw attention to oneself in a general sense. However, when we apply this in a sexual light, it means to display one’s self in a sexual manner on purpose (so, letting a nipple show, flashing genitalia). However, voyeurism means to derive sexual satisfaction or arousal by observing others, usually when engaged in some sexual activity, such as peering into your next-door neighbor’s windows while they have sex. When a couple enjoys the acts of voyeurism and exhibitionism they can engage in any number of public sex acts or flirtatious exhibitionism.

We have this negative affiliation with the idea of watching someone in a compromising position. We hear that reprimand, “Don’t be a peeping Tom!” There is a huge difference between someone visually stalking the same target on a regular basis as opposed to happening to see someone engaged in a sex act through an unintentionally left open set of curtains. We all have a natural “look but don’t look” tendency to where we are drawn to the risqué and sexual behavior we see, but at the same time we realize it is a little naughty to be so intrusive.

This is the appeal of pornography. We feel like we are getting a peep hole vision into a couple’s sexual exploits (even though we know they are consenting). The extra benefit of natural voyeurism is that there is no consent, so it seems a bit riskier. We tend to justify watching, “If they didn’t want us to look, they would close the blinds!” The truth is though, when presented the opportunity to watch sexual activity, most people we take a peek at least, if not more, and that is completely natural.

When voyeurism takes an even more sexual turn is when the person (or people) watching begin to sexual stimulate themselves while they are watching. When watching pornography that is the common activity that goes along with it. The reason is it is visually arousing to watch sexual activity. Period. Both men and women enjoy it. The only time it becomes an issue, legally, is when a person continually stalks an unsuspecting person. Then there may be a more sinister underlying reason. Otherwise, it is quite normal.

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We, as humans, have a natural drive draw attention to ourselves. Yes, some people are very introverted and don’t really want the extra attention, but overall most people dress, put on make-up, jewelry and otherwise “prepare” to grab the attention of others, and specifically, the opposite sex. Even happily married women and men get a thrill when they know someone is checking them out. We are driven by this self-esteem boosting activity in various forms. When women and men go out for the purpose of attracting a new mate, they often will play upon their best features. Women wear tight skirts, low cut blouses and often accentuate their more sexual attributes. Men, similarly, highlight their physique and try to draw attention to their, well, package. This is a natural part of life.

When exhibitionism takes on a new form is when instead of being sexually suggestive, the person is overt with their sexual display. For example, often in New Orleans women will be seen virtually topless, perhaps with a little tassel or some tape placed over their nipples. This is more than just, “Hey, look at me” it is “HEY, LOOK AT MY BREASTS!” This is sexual exhibitionism. Sometimes a couple will engage in exhibitionism together. Have you ever seen a couple kissing and groping each other, much to the point where they are practically getting it on right at the bar? Or, have you walked by someone’s house and the couple is having sex right in the living room with the blinds totally open? Yes, this is intentional sexual exhibitionism. The couple gets a sexual thrill from the possibility of being caught. Sometimes the thrill increases when they are in a riskier situation. The more public, the more sexual, the greater the risk, the bigger the thrill.

The most important thing to remember about both of these activities is that sometimes there is a better place or time to have sexual activity AND sometimes it is less creepy to give someone their privacy. I think that for the most part people understand the differences.

Voyeurism or Exhibitionism?
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