Exhibitionism 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- 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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AlenaMay 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.
JApril 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.
MattAugust 11th, 2019 at 2:57 PM
I agree, there was a time when my mother in-law, saw me exiting the shower and she didnt have a horrified reaction, from that day forward i got off to it and tryed to show myself everytime chance i got til i got caught.
TomOctober 10th, 2019 at 8:20 AM
I enjoy exposing myself for the pure pleasure of such! It’s not my intent to horrify nor accost people, but to simply enjoy what gives me great pleasure. Appreciate your comments!!
HannahFebruary 22nd, 2019 at 3:56 PM
Agreed, this is a very simplistic view of the whole subject of exhibitionism. I’ve enjoyed (or suffered from, depending on your point of view) exhibitionistic tendencies for all of my adult life and to put the entire subject into four, basic, sub categories demonstrates a total lack of understanding about how and why a person does this sort of thing and what is involved. Just quickly going through it in my head I can think of at least twelve categories that you could split exhibitionism into, and each of those could easily be sub divided further, it’s a much more complex subject than just the basics described here. Interestingly, I’ve looked for a long time for a forum or chat room to have sensible conversations with people about this but the only ones that I have found seem to be basically soft porn forums enjoyed by fantasists, which is fine, but of no help to me. So, I’ll continue to enjoy what I do and I try to make sure that I offend no one. To anyone that reads this and is worried about being an exhibitionist my advice is stop worrying, embrace and enjoy it, make sure you control it, not the other way around and particularly to any women and girls, make sure that you stay safe.
MartynNovember 24th, 2019 at 9:49 AM
As an emotional intelligence practitioner I can state that every person is born with in individual emotional intelligence code, some people have emotional intelligence codes which guide them to enjoy being natural, it is their natural emotional desire to be natural which guides them to be exhibitionist.
AnonymousMay 23rd, 2022 at 8:48 PM
I agree with the comments, flashing definitely is all about the reaction. If people are doing it solely to instill fear or distress then maybe it could be called threatening, but even then I do not believe the intention is to cause harm. The high risk must be doing something to the physiology of the flasher in form of adrenaline and dopamine. This, combined with arousal and climax surely must be defined as highly addictive, and treated as such. It is also nearly absolute that females also get aroused from watching, even if only through the peripheral. Especially if the person flashing is semi attractive, well endowed, or both. If anything it is a social nuisance, which by law also illegal. It’s never good if someone gets fearful or cries as the result of exposure, and if the flasher isn’t a sociopath they will most likely stop the act. Like mentioned before, the whole idea is that the viewer will like it.
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