Humans are natural exhibitionists (well, to at least some degree) whether it be having sex in a park, or wearing those tight mesh inset leggings to the gym to show off that bodacious derrière. For most animals, showing off their sexual prowess is a way to display themselves to potential mates, but we participate in sexual acts for far more than just mixing our DNA – whether it’s to connect deeper with our partner(s), express ourselves, experiment, or for just for fun.
Exhibitionism can be quite controversial in some ways, though it can also become a healthy kink to incorporate into your sex life, when practiced under safe and consenting conditions.
What is Exhibitionism?
Exhibitionism has both stumped me and fascinated me. What first comes to mind when I think of the word “exhibitionist” is a shady-looking man in a long brown trench coat that quickly flashes his entire body to a random unsuspecting woman. Another image that comes to mind is the “banana flasher” art piece that portrays the idea of exhibitionism through the idea of a banana “peeling” back and exposing his banana to two feminine-looking fruits: a pear and strawberry. Either image demonstrates what society thinks of when the term is presented, and unfortunately for responsible kinksters out there, it’s not a positive one.
Exhibitionism is defined as “when a person has ongoing strong urges, behaviors and fantasies that involve exposing genitals to others (most likely strangers) in inappropriate settings and without their consent”. (Butcher, Mineka, Hooley, 2013).
Yet, far from the “flashing on the subway” stereotype, many adults can explore their exhibitionist desires in entirely consensual ways with other adults, like at orgies and sex clubs. In the past, I didn’t understand exhibitionism, and even had a negative perception of it. However, after learning more about sexual fantasies, I am starting to understand that there is so much more to exhibitionism than meets the clinical (and criminal) eye.
Psychology & Non-Consensual Expressions
Fantasies and sexual urges like exhibitionism often emerge during childhood or adolescence, however they don’t reach higher levels of definition and expression until adulthood. Childhood upbringing seems to be a reoccurring theme when it comes to the early development of many fantasies, fetishes, and kinks.
However, like many kinks, there is a healthy way to express it (with consenting adults) and unhealthy ways to express it (like flashing people on the subway). The latter expression of exhibitionism is actually considered a mental disorder based on The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5), the accepted standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. Exhibitionist crimes are the most common sexual offense reported to police, and commonly co-occur with “peeping Tom” type voyeurism (when a person likes to observe a person(s) engage in sexual activities). It’s theorized that those who commit exhibitionist crimes, specifically men, do so to release feelings of powerlessness and uselessness, and overcome anxiety and emptiness. These people feel inadequate about themselves, and in turn act through a non-consensual outlet to overcome their feelings of being the less dominant. It has been recorded that a small percentage of women commit exhibitionism-related crimes as well. (Editor’s note: Studies we found seem to have studied cisgendered folks only.)
This is a relatively new aspect of exhibitionism, coined “mediated exhibitionism”, which is essentially amateur performers exposing their nude bodies on the internet. This mediated exhibitionism can vary from sending nude photos by text or Snapchat, to adult social media platforms. This made me wonder about how extensive exhibitionism is in the world today. It seems with every changing culture, we as a society have at least developed new ways to express our desires, and people don’t have to actually wear a trench coat and expose themselves at a local park or other public place. Rather, they can extend to a broader audience and send genital pictures to others or through social media websites. So, as long as Snapchat is soaking up your battery life, there will always be an easier access for people to exchange, send, and receive explicit photos.
(Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this article, we listed Snapchat and Tumblr as resources where people share explicit photos. Tumblr has since banned all adult content. Read more about sex education censorship across various social media platforms here.)
Sending Snapchat nudes is still a violation, though, when someone exposes themselves directly to a person who has not given consent. But with mediated exhibitionism, the lines have blurred. This has made me speculate as to what, within the media platform, is deemed indecent exposure and what is considered “art” or expression of opinion. For example, I constantly see images on my feeds like Tumblr that show risqué and erotic pictures that involve genitals. Although I have not given consent or implied in that is what I want to see, I don’t view these images as a violation to myself when they randomly pop up on my feed. (Editor’s Note: Again, it is now against Tumblr policy to share erotic images. While on one hand, the removal of erotic images removed some aspects of issues regarding consent, as we discuss in this article, it also impedes the promotion of sex positive and sex educational material when all outlets that share sexual content are prohibited. To learn more about the bills that inspired this censorship, read one of our posts on SESTA/FOSTA.)
Exhibitionism as a Healthy Kink
Exhibitionism has become a rather big kink in the fetish community, and is just as safe as it is fun. Even porn websites have certain categories that involve exhibitionism. Sex clubs and swinger clubs are a great way to explore your sexuality and have safe environment to play with exhibitionism and voyeurism. If you and your partner(s) are interested in trying exhibitionism, here are a some ideas to inspire you. (Just make sure it’s okay by your state laws.)
1. Tease All Day Long
Subtle exhibitionism can be a sexy way to be able to tease your partner all day long. How, you ask? On a day where you need to run errands and will only see each other in passing, try wearing something that makes you feel good and that they will swoon over, like a provocative outfit that shows a bit of your booty or cleavage. You can give sly glances or subtle flashes just enough to build up the sexual tension for some hot sex later. It can be a great foreplay tactic to really create the lust for one another even more.
2. Hook Up in Your Car
Now, this one can definitely get you into trouble if you’re not careful – so make sure wherever you park is not near a local school or can easily be seen by people that could be walking by. Timing is a major factor, so go when it’s around night time, and the chances of people passing by are less.
3. Take Sultry Selfies
Arch your back in the mirror just enough to make your partner instantly aroused. (We actually have a whole guide on how to take sexy selfies here.) However, keep in mind that when taking a nude, there should be clear boundaries between you and your partner. Make sure it’s okay in advance to send them, and let your partner know if you don’t want them to be shared, and if the photos are for them and ONLY them. Your communication and trust should be concrete. Also, keep in mind that the participating persons involved should be of age, and you should be of age. If you’re below legal age, nude pics (including your own) can be considered child pornography depending on the laws of the state. So, do your homework and use common sense. Once that is established, the possibilities are endless.
So yes, we are all exhibitionist, to some degree. We flash, hook up on forest grounds, and send some very stellar pics. We like to see other people have sex, and sometimes, we like to show off our sexual prowess and sensuality too. As long as boundaries are set and consent is understood, exhibitionism can become a very healthy and pleasurable kink to include in your sex life!
Butcher, J.N., Mineka, S., Hooley, J.M. (2013) Abnormal Psychology. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.
Jones, M. (2010). Mediated Exhibitionism: The Naked Body in Performance and Virtual Space. Sexuality & Culture. 14(4). 253-269. Doi: 10.1007/s12119-010-9075-9
Piemont, L. (2007). Fear of the Empty Self: The Motivations for Genital Exhibitionism. Modern Psychoanalysis. 32(1). 79-93. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ccco.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e5e50f11- 1049-4715-aadf-1333ac48beb0%40sessionmgr120&vid=17&hid=116
n.a. (2014, August 18). Paraphilic Disorders. “ [Youtube]. Taylor Study Method. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TtryBLokZc