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Candaulism is a sexual practice or fantasy in which a man exposes his female partner, or images of her, to other people for their voyeuristic pleasure. Candaulism is also associated with voyeurism and exhibitionism.

The term may also be applied to the practice of undressing or otherwise exposing a female partner to others, or urging or forcing her to engage in sexual relations with a third person, such as during a swinging activity. Similarly, the term may also be applied to the posting of personal images of a female partner on the internet or urging or forcing her to wear clothing which reveals her physical attractiveness to others, such as by wearing very brief clothing, such as a microskirt, tight-fitting or see-through clothing or a low-cut top.

History of the term[edit]

The term is derived from a story involving ancient King Candaules who, according to the story, conceived a plot to show his unaware naked wife to his servant Gyges of Lydia. After discovering Gyges while he was watching her naked, Candaules' wife ordered him to choose between killing himself or killing her husband in order to repair the vicious mischief.[1][2][3]

The term was first used in psychology by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his book: Psychopathia sexualis. Eine klinisch-forensische Studie.[4]

1782 cartoon by James Gillray, depicting Sir Richard Worsley helping George Bisset view his wife, Seymour Fleming, naked in a bath-house. The caption reads: "Sir Richard Worse-than-Sly / Exposing his Wifes Bottom; – O fye!"


Isidor Sadger hypothesized that the candaulist completely identifies with his partner's body, and deep in his mind is showing himself.[5] Candaulism is also associated with voyeurism and exhibitionism. An alternative definition proposes it as a practice involving one person observing, often from concealment, two others having sexual relations.

Historical instances[edit]

In the 1782 case of Sir Richard Worsley against George Bissett for "criminal conversation"[6]—that is, adultery with Lady Worsley—it was revealed that Sir Richard assisted Bissett to spy on Lady Worsley taking a bath.[7]

The art collector and connoisseur Charles Saatchi has considered the influence of candaulism upon the work of Salvador Dali, citing episodes recorded by the artist's biographers in which Dali's wife Gala was displayed to other men.[8]

Robert Hanssen was an American FBI agent arrested in 2001 for spying for the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. It was disclosed that he had taken explicit photographs of his wife and sent them to a friend. Later Hanssen invited his friend to clandestinely observe Hanssen having sex with Hanssen's wife during the friend's occasional visits to the Hanssen household. Initially, his friend watched through a window from outside the house. Later, Hanssen appropriated video equipment from the FBI to set up closed-circuit television to allow his friend to watch from his guest bedroom.[9][10][11] Hanssen also posted sexually explicit stories to the Internet crafted to allow readers who knew the Hanssens to identify them, also without his wife's knowledge.

In literature[edit]

Candaulism is a theme of A Dance to the Music of Time, the cycle of novels by Anthony Powell. A key scene in the penultimate volume, Temporary Kings, is set in a Venetian palazzo under a ceiling on which Tiepolo has depicted King Candaules allowing his wife to be seen naked by Gyges. The theme of voyeurism runs through the sequence of novels including a scene in which the recurring character Kenneth Widmerpool watches his wife with a lover.

In the Book of Esther the King orders Queen Vashti to appear before his guests wearing her crown and she refuses. Some commentators have taken this to mean her crown and nothing else, which if accurate would place this story as an example.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ André Gide, Le roi Candaule (1901)
  2. ^ Hebbel, Gyges und sein Ring
  3. ^ Herodotus, Histories, Book 1.8[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Psychopathia sexualis. Eine klinisch-forensische Studie by Richard von Krafft-Ebing (Stuttgart: Enke 1886).
  5. ^ Ernest Bornean, Lexicon der Liebe (Hannibal, 1984)
  6. ^ Worsley v. Bisset (1782)
  7. ^ Rubenhold, Hallie (2008). Lady Worsley's Whim. London: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-7011-7980-9.
  8. ^ Evening Standard, 21 August 2014
  9. ^ Wise, David (2003), Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America, Random House Publishers, ISBN 0-375-75894-1, pp=252–253}}
  10. ^ Adrian Havill. "Robert Philip Hanssen: The Spy who Stayed out in The Cold". Court TV (now TruTV). Retrieved 6 February 2007.
  11. ^ "Hanssen: Deep Inner Conflicts". Texas A&M Research Foundation. Archived from the original on 2010-12-03. Retrieved 4 Nov 2010.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]