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Exhibitionism (also known as Lady Godiva syndrome and Apodysophilia) is the psychological need and pattern of behavior to exhibit naked parts of the body to other people. In exhibitionism the individual shows a tendency to an extravagant, usually at least partially sexually inspired behavior to captivate the attention of others in a display of a body part, or parts, that would otherwise be left covered under clothing in nearly all other cultural circumstances.

The part(s) of the body exposed can be the female breasts or the genitalia or buttocks of either gender.

Exhibitionists who view exhibitionism as a lifestyle as opposed to a rare thrill carefully select their target audience and make the exposure brief, inconspicuous and apparently unintentional. It is a fetish, and many such practitioners see it as an art form. Many night clubs and goth bars encourage mild exhibitionism to enhance the venue's atmosphere. This contrasts with non-sexualized social nudity, in which the exposure is not connected with sexual expression, such as sunbathing or swimming at nude beaches or other participation in public nudity events where nudity is the norm.

Some exhibitionists wish to display themselves sexually to other people singly or in groups. This can be done consensually as part of swinging or group sex. When done nonthreateningly, the intent is usually to surprise and/or sexually arouse the viewer, giving the exhibitionist an ego rush. Some people like to expose themselves in front of large crowds, typically at sporting events (streaking). Some like to use the internet to distribute their stories and pictures. A similar phenomenon is when, at the conclusion of a sporting event, a woman may flash her breasts while sitting atop someone's shoulders in a dense crowd of people.

Forms of exhibitionism, usually by females, that are captured by various forms of media have proven highly popular among the Western male market.

Psychological aspects

Exhibitionism as a disorder was first described in a scientific journal in 1877 by a French physician and psychiatrist Charles Lasègue (1809–1883).[1][2]

Exhibitionism can be considered a psychological disorder if it interferes with the quality of life or normal functioning capacity of the individual.

A research team asked a sample of 185 exhibitionists, "How would you have preferred a person to react if you were to expose your privates to him or her?" The most common response was "Would want to have sexual intercourse" (35.1%), followed by "No reaction necessary at all" (19.5%), "To show their privates also" (15.1%), "Admiration" (14.1%), and "Any reaction" (11.9%). Only very few exhibitionists chose "Anger and disgust" (3.8%) or "Fear" (0.5%).[3]

Psychiatric implications

In psychiatry, exhibitionism is considered a paraphilia if the practice begins to interfere with the quality of life or the normal functioning capacity of the individual. Often exhibitionism does not have legal implications, unless the individual shows an aggressive or criminal behavior, as in indecent exposure. Likewise, exhibitionism does not necessarily imply alterations of the psychiatric condition of the average, everyday individual, although according to DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, IV edition), where all psychiatric illnesses are represented as numerals to avoid confusion, exhibitionism is classified as 302.4. Many psychiatric definitions of exhibitionism broadly define it as "sexual gratification, above and beyond the sexual act itself, that is achieved by risky public sexual activity and/or bodily exposure." It can include "engaging in sex where one may possibly be seen in the act, or caught in the act."[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Reasons for the various types of exhibitionism are varied. The person can act on the basis of competing to be the "first" in a trend, on the basis of adhering to a particular fashion, ostentation, posing, being bombastic, and many other instances. These forms can appear isolated or also as a group of manifestations.

Martymachlia is a paraphilia involving sexual attraction to having others watch the execution of a sexual act.


Two main classes of exhibitionism exist.

Non-threatening exhibitionism may be physically expressed in two basic ways. The first, colloquially referred to as flashing, involves the exposure of a person's "private parts" to another person or group of people in a situation where these would not normally be exposed, such as in a social gathering or in a public place. The act of flashing, particularly when done by females involving the breasts but also when involving her vulva and also her buttocks, may be at least partially sexual in intention, i.e. to prompt the sexual arousal of those being flashed, in turn giving the flasher an ego boost. However, flashing may also simply be intended to attract the non-aroused "attention" of another or others, or for shock value. An example of the latter is a male who displays his buttocks to someone else, an act which unlike a female who displays her buttocks is not typically taken by the viewer(s) as a sexually-provocative act. In fact, it is usually interpreted by the viewer as mildly or even severely insulting (see below).

Non-threatening exhibitionism can also be expressed in the context of a like-minded group who share the desire to expose themselves to each other. That type of exhibitionism has a wide variety of subtypes, including everything from nudist clubs or naturist resorts to small groups of friends or acquaintances sharing a hot tub without wearing bathing suits, or skinny-dipping together.

The second class of exhibitionism, done threateningly or at least with aggressive intent, is referred to as indecent exposure, even though the physical act itself may also, somewhat confusingly, be referred to as "flashing"; however, even if the term "flashing" is used, the surrounding descriptive context gives a point of reference as to which of the two classes of exhibitionism is being described. A classic exemplary circumstance, meant to showcase the aggressive intent to "violate" another person's peace of mind as compared to the other exhibitionism type, involves a male in a trench coat, naked underneath, who enters a dark movie theatre or is sitting in one of the seating rows near to a woman, and standing, proceeds to open his trench coat and display his nakedness (and possibly an already-existing erection) to the unwilling, possibly disgusted, and possibly frightened woman. For the person performing the act, the point of such indecent exposure and similar indecent exposure is that rather than the unwilling viewer's repulsion and/or shock causing a loss of sexual excitement in the flasher, the shock and repulsion actually increases the flasher's sexual excitement. While this example may or may not have actually occurred in practice, the story, often related in Western culture in particular, is meant to show that a person who does these or similar acts usually has some sort of psychological warping of his or her sexuality, and is thus not a psychologically "healthy" individual. These factors are usually cited as the main ones that separate indecent exposure from the non-threatening form of flashing.

Exhibitionism is not automatically a compulsion, but some people do have a distinct psychological tendency to expose themselves in a sexually-provocative manner, whether it is to "flash" (the nonthreatening form) or to "indecently expose" (the threatening form). When it is a compulsion, it is a condition sometimes called apodysophilia.[4]

The Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices (2009) classifies exhibitionism in this way.[2]

Class I: Fantasizing Exhibitionists

These people fantasize about exhibiting their genitals to unsuspecting persons, but are too timid to actually carry out their fantasies. They tend to remain happy merely with their exhibitionistic fantasies. They may turn to zoophilic exhibitionism to fulfill their fantasies, since it apparently is a safer activity.

Class II: Pure Exhibitionists

These people are cowardly and docile, and they are content with just showing off their genitals from a distance and masturbating. They do not touch their victims or actually do them any harm.

Class III: Exhibitionistic Criminals

These offenders are primarily exhibitionists, but they also engage in other sexual crimes, especially pedophilia and child molesting. Upon finding a child alone, their sexual behavior may start with exhibitionism, but may progress to child molestation. These are more dangerous to the society and obviously need more attention.

Class IV: Exclusive Exhibitionists

These offenders cannot form normal romantic relationships with persons of the opposite sex and cannot engage in normal sexual intercourse. For them, exhibitionism is the sole outlet for sexual gratification. Such exhibitionists do not seem to have been reported in literature so far, but based on the theory of paraphilic equivalence, it can be predicted that these exhibitionists do exist in society and they will be reported sometime in the future. Behaviorally, they lie on the extreme end of the paraphilic continuum since they cannot form normal romantic relationships with other individuals. However, in a legal sense, class III exhibitionists may be more dangerous as they also resort to criminal activities.

See also


  1. Lasègue C. Les Exhibitionistes. L'Union Médicale (Paris), series 3, vol. 23; 1877. Pages 709–714.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Aggrawal, Anil (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Boca Raton: CRC Press. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "aggrawal" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Freund, K., Watson, R., & Rienzo, D. (1988). The value of self-reports in the study of voyeurism and exhibitionism. Annals of Sex Research, 2, 243–262.
  4. apodysophilia - Dictionary of sexual terms. URL accessed on 2012-08-01.

External Links

  • Exhibitionist Post A sociological study of biographical experiences that is trying to determine if there is such a category as "healthy exhibitionism".


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