The accepted generalisation is that women are more exhibitionist (like to show their bodies) than men but less voyeuristic, while men are more voyeuristic (wanting to look at women) and less exhibitionist. This seems to make biological sense given that in the western culture our notion of beauty is based, at least to some extent, on the female body. So, in general, women enjoy displaying themselves and men like looking at them. The female body in it self is quite capable of producing an erection in many men, especially if it is scantily clad or naked. In the West women are allowed to show off their bodies (albeit not entirely naked) whereas the law intervenes if a man put his genitals, legally called his ‘person’, on public display.

Exhibitionism becomes a perversion when it is a person’s preferred sexual activity, leading to his greatest sexual pleasure. It is most common in timid young men who frequently best enjoy the activity if the selected victims, usually pubescent girls, look at them just as their masturbation has reached the point of ejaculation. Such acts are not intended to be seductive and if the man has a partner of his own, (some are married) he does not usually want intercourse. Such men are basically harmless but other types of exhibitionists certainly are not. Some alcoholics, psychotics, criminally sadistic paedophiles and brain-damaged people may exhibit themselves occasionally but this may not be the limit of their activities. Similarly, disturbed women may exhibit their genitals and perhaps masturbate in public. Some mentally deficient people exhibit themselves too, probably to attract attention rather than for any overt sexual pleasure.

Survey evidence suggests that nearly a half of all girls and women can expect to be the victim of male exhibitionism or, as it is called, indecent exposure. A third or so of these will tell no one, but if they are under the age of sixteen or so they can be very upset by the episode. The young girls who are subsequently most disturbed are those who tell their parents who then over-react, perhaps involving the police, as happens in a fifth of cases.

Few members of either sex would fail to watch nude members of the opposite sex or a couple having intercourse if the opportunity presented itself, especially if there were little chance of detection. Inhibited people of either sex who have been fitted with an eye-camera, and who therefore know that the experimenter knows what they are looking at, will look anywhere except at the nude body of a member of the opposite sex with whom they are confronted. When looking is allowed, as at strip shows, which are now available for both sexes, or on nude beaches, the inhibition recedes. Probably we are all reared, by others if not by our parents, to believe that it is ‘dirty’ to look at the genitals or sexual behaviour of others.

Whilst this is voyeuristic behaviour it is not really voyeurism in the true sense of the word. Voyeurism is a condition in which the person usually, but not invariably, takes deliberate steps to watch others undressing or copulating and so gets his or her kicks from witnessing ‘realistic pornography’. Some conceal themselves in bushes, creep on knee pads, drill holes in walls, or climb ladders in pursuit of their peeping-Tom activities. Some homosexuals spy on their own sex ‘and some specialist voyeurs concentrate on watching women urinate. An occasional voyeur such as a psychopath may assault the woman he is watching but the vast majority of peeping Toms are harmless.


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