Exhibitionism  is the act of exposing one's genitalia to others for the purpose of one's own sexual arousal. Though exhibitionistic scenarios can be mutually arranged, the most commonly associated behaviors involve the "accidental" or deliberate act of displaying genitalia in an effort to shock, surprise or arouse an unsuspecting target. When this is the case, such behavior is usually classified as a second-tier sexual addiction as legal charges can be filed should the exhibitionist be caught.

The exhibitionist might masturbate (or fantasize about masturbating) while exposing himself but makes no further attempt at sexual activity with the stranger. The individual is sometimes aware of a desire to startle or upset the observer. At times, the individual might fantasize that the observer will become sexually aroused. Exhibitionism, though often discussed as a humorous topic, is a very serious behavior that can frighten the victim. The exhibitionist is typically male, and the victim is usually a female (adult or child), and usually an unsuspecting stranger.

Social and sexual relationships may suffer if the behavior is found disturbing or if the individual's sexual partner refuses to cooperate with this particular preference. In some instances, the unusual behavior may become the major sexual activity in the individual's life. These individuals rarely seek help on their own and are likely to get professional assistance only when their behavior has brought them into conflict with sexual partners or the law.

The key features of true exhibitionism are these:

  • There is sexual arousal directly related to surprising the victim
  • The victim is unwilling
  • No further sexual contact is desired

Clinical diagnosis of exhibitionism is made if the patient:

  • Over a period of at least six months, has recurrent sexually arousing fantasies or behavior involving exposing the genitals to an unsuspecting stranger
  • The person has acted on these sexual urges or the fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty in the workplace or in everyday social situations.

The onset of this condition usually occurs before age 18, although it can begin later. Studies show that few arrests are made in the older age groups, which may suggest that the condition becomes less severe after age 40.

Common Patterns Associated with Exhibitionism:

  • "flashing" strangers from outside the window of their home
  • taking pictures of your genitalia and placing them in an area where they will be found (e.g. a mailbox, school yard, windshield)
  • calling a stranger to your car for directions (or to give them a ride), then masturbating when the stranger arrives
  • calling attention to yourself to a stranger (or group of strangers), then pulling down your pants
  • riding your bicycle through a public park with your genitals "accidentally" exposed
  • on a first date, walking out of the bathroom nude in hopes that it will put your date "in the mood"
  • opening your blinds so that passersby may become aroused by "accidentally" seeing you getting dressed
  • lying out by the pool with an easily detectable erection
  • purposefully erecting your nipples before entering a public place
  • erotic dancing for personal satisfaction, rather than financial gain
  • having your partner hide in a closet while you engage in sexual behavior with another
  • having your genitals "accidentally" become exposed while sleeping, gardening or other everyday activities

If you engage in Exhibitionism and you are concerned about your behavior, you might want to consider scheduling a confidential consultation at NYCSAT and  read the information provided on this website on sex addiction. 

To schedule a confidential consultation in person or by phone email us or call at 212.665.7352

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