exhibitionism-hammock-coupleExhibitionism is a sexual fetish in which a person feels a compulsive desire to expose his or her genitals, breasts, or buttocks to strangers. It is classified into two sub-classes:

  1. Non-Threatening Exhibitionism – Non-threatening exhibitionism occurs when someone exposes him or herself as part of a group or to have fun. A woman flashing her breasts at Mardi Gras is an example of non-threatening exhibitionism.
  2. Threatening Exhibitionism – A form of predatory sexual behavior in which a person exposes his or her genitals to shock or horrify people. For example, a man who exposes his penis to a stranger on the subway is exhibiting threatening exhibitionism.

Colloquial Use of the Term “Exhibitionism”
While exhibitionism is a sexual paraphilia, the term is more commonly used to denote anyone who enjoys being watched in a sexual context. A porn star might claim to be an exhibitionist. This variety of exhibitionism can be classified as a fetish if the person can only get sexual enjoyment through exhibitionistic behavior and if the behavior interferes with his or her daily life or threatens the well-being of others. Thus, someone who could only enjoy sex in public and who had repeatedly been arrested for having sex in public places may be characterized as having a sexual fetish.

Types of Exhibitionism
Some mental health professionals break exhibitionism down into distinct types. These include:

  • Anasyrma – Lifting one’s skirt while not wearing underwear.
  • Candaulism – Exposing a sexual partner in a sexual context; for example, a man lifting up his wife’s shirt to expose her breasts.
  • Martymachlia – Enjoying being watched in sexual acts by other people. This is the form of exhibitionism most commonly referred to in popular culture and colloquial use.
  • Telephone Scatologia – Making obscene phone calls to people who do not want and did not solicit the call.


  1. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  2. Fundukian, L. J., & Wilson, J. (2008). The Gale encyclopedia of mental health. Detroit, MI. Thomson Gale.

Last Updated: 08-21-2015

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  • Alena


    May 24th, 2017 at 4:49 AM

    This is so simplistic. From what I’ve seen, the majority of men who perform “threatening” exhibitionism are not threatening at all. They do not expose themselves to shock or horrify someone else, that’s the farthest thing from what they want. They are after the thrill of being seen. They want their victim to enjoy the experience as much as they are. They are looking for a pleasant experience so he can go home and masturbate about it. There probably are men who get off on getting a reaction of horror, but not many.

  • J


    April 26th, 2018 at 12:34 PM

    Agreed. I’ve been an exhibitionist for many years (50 year old white male). I find very rare situations when I’m able to pull this off, to be honest. I never do it in public and I’m very subtle (it’s usually done if a female is in my home (safe space) and it doesn’t always involve nudity, but near-nudity. I’ve seen women actually react quite well to this and I’m careful not to push it too far.

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