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Naked exhibitionist woman on Budapest street

Exhibitionism is the act of exposing in a public or semi-public context one's intimate parts – for example, the breasts, genitals or buttocks. The practice may arise from a desire or compulsion to expose themselves in such a manner to groups of friends or acquaintances, or to strangers for their amusement or sexual satisfaction, or to shock the bystander.[1] Exposing oneself only to an intimate partner is normally not regarded as exhibitionism. In law, the act of exhibitionism may be called indecent exposure, "exposing one's person", or other expressions.


Women "flashing" (publicly exposing their bare breasts) at Woodstock Festival Poland, 2011

Public exhibitionism by women has been recorded since classical times, often in the context of women shaming groups of men into committing, or inciting them to commit, some public action.[2] The ancient Greek historian Herodotus gives an account of exhibitionistic behaviors from the fifth century BC in The Histories. Herodotus writes that:

Mark Roberts, a well-known streaker, at the Hong Kong Sevens Rugby tournament in 1994

When people travel to Bubastis for the festival, this is what they do. Every baris carrying them there overflows with people, a huge crowd of them, men and women together. Some of the women have clappers, while some of the men have pipes which they play throughout the voyage. The rest of the men and women sing and clap their hands. When in the course of their journey they reach a community—not the city of their destination, but somewhere else—they steer the bareis close to the bank. Some of the women carry on doing what I have already described them as doing, but others shout out scornful remarks to the women in the town, or dance, or stand and pull up their clothes to expose themselves. Every riverside community receives this treatment.[3]

A case of what appears to be exhibitionism in a clinical sense was recorded in a report by the Commission against Blasphemy in Venice in 1550.[4]

In the UK the 4th draft of the revised Vagrancy Act of 1824 included an additional clause "or openly and indecently exposing their persons" which gave rise to difficulties because of its ill-defined scope. During the course of a subsequent debate on the topic in Parliament, the then Home Secretary, Mr Peel, observed that "there was not a more flagrant offence than that of indecently exposing the person which had been carried to an immense extent in the parks...wanton exposure was a very different thing from accidental exposure".[5]

The development of new technologies such as smartphones and tablets has permitted some exhibitionists to reorient their methods such as with nude selfies.[6]

Psychological aspects[edit]

Charles Lasègue was the first to use the term exhibitionist, in 1877.

The term exhibitionist was first used in 1877 by French physician and psychiatrist Charles Lasègue.[7][8] Various earlier medical-forensic texts discuss genital self-exhibition, however.[9]

When exhibitionistic sexual interest is acted on with a non-consenting person or interferes with a person's quality of life or normal functioning, it can be diagnosed as exhibitionistic disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5). The DSM states that the highest possible prevalence for exhibitionistic disorder in men is 2% to 4%. It is thought to be much less common in women.[10] In a Swedish survey, 2.1% of women and 4.1% of men admitted to becoming sexually aroused from the exposure of their genitals to a stranger.[11]

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%).[12]

Types of exposure[edit]

Various types of behavior are classified as exhibitionism,[1] including:

  • Anasyrma: the lifting of the skirt when not wearing underwear, to expose genitals.
  • Candaulism: when a person exposes his or her partner in a sexually provocative manner.
  • Flashing:
    • the momentary display of bare female breasts by a woman, with an up-and-down lifting of the shirt or bra
    • or, the exposure of a man's or woman's genitalia in a similar manner
  • Martymachlia: a paraphilia which involves sexual attraction to having others watch the execution of a sexual act.[13]
  • Mooning: the display of bare buttocks by pulling down of trousers and underwear. The act is most often done for the sake of humour, disparagement, or mockery.
  • Reflectoporn: the act of stripping and taking a photograph using an object with a reflective surface as a mirror, then posting the image on the Internet in a public forum.[14] Examples include "images of naked men and women reflected in kettles, TVs, toasters and even knives and forks".[15] The instance generally credited with starting the trend involved a man selling a kettle on an Australian auction site featuring a photograph where his naked body is clearly visible;[16] other instances followed,[17][18][19] and the specific term "reflectoporn" was coined by Chris Stevens of Internet Magazine.[20]
  • Streaking: the act of running naked through a public place. The intent is not usually sexual but for shock value.
  • Sexting: the act of sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or videos.
  • Telephone scatologia: the act of making obscene phone calls to random or known recipients. Some researchers have claimed that this is a variant of exhibitionism, even though it has no in-person physical component.[21][22]

The DSM-5 diagnosis for exhibitionistic disorder has three subtypes: exhibitionists interested in exposing themselves to non-consenting adults, to prepubescent children, or to both.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Baunach, Dawn Michelle (2010). "Exhibitionism". Sex and Society. New York: Marshall Cavendish. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-7614-7906-2. Archived from the original on 2 May 2019. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  2. ^ "Origin of the world". Rutgerspress.rutgers.edu. 23 September 1977. Archived from the original on 20 November 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  3. ^ Herodotus. The Histories. Trans. R. Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. Book Two, Chapter 60, Page 119.
  4. ^ Bloch, Iwan (1914). "Fall von Exhibitionismus im 16. Jahrhundert". Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft (Born): i.289.
  5. ^ Rooth, F.G. (1970). "Some Historical Notes on Indecent Exposure and Exhibitionism". The Medico-Legal Journal. Part 4. 38 (4): 135–139. doi:10.1177/002581727003800405. PMID 4923872. S2CID 41064094.
  6. ^ Hart, Matt. "Being naked on the internet: young people's selfies as intimate edgework." Journal of Youth Studies (2016): 1-15.
  7. ^ Lasègue C. Les Exhibitionistes. L'Union Médicale (Paris), series 3, vol. 23; 1877. Pages 709–714.
  8. ^ Aggrawal 2009, p. 388.
  9. ^ Janssen, D.F. (2020). ""Exhibitionism": Historical Note". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 49 (1): 41–46. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-01566-0. ISSN 0004-0002. PMID 31667641. S2CID 204973943.
  10. ^ a b American Psychiatric Association, ed. (2013). "Exhibitionistic Disorder, 302.4 (F65.2)". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 689–691.
  11. ^ Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan (2014). Abnormal Psychology (6th ed.). New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Education. p. 384.
  12. ^ Freund, K.; Watson, R. & Rienzo, D. (1988). "The value of self-reports in the study of voyeurism and exhibitionism". Annals of Sex Research. 1 (2): 243–262. doi:10.1007/BF00852800. S2CID 198916532. Archived from the original on 10 July 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2010.
  13. ^ "Psychologist Anywhere Anytime". Psychologist Anywhere Anytime. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  14. ^ "'Reflectoporn' Hits Auction Site". The Mirror. 9 September 2003. Archived from the original on 25 January 2022. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  15. ^ "Today's media stories from the papers". The Guardian. 9 September 2003. Archived from the original on 27 March 2021. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  16. ^ "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Indecent Exposure". Snopes.com. 3 April 2002. Archived from the original on 25 January 2022. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  17. ^ "Nude eBayer flashes 19in monitor". The Register. 1 July 2005. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  18. ^ "eBayer goes for bust in ashtray auction". The Register. 19 June 2006. Archived from the original on 11 August 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  19. ^ "eBay in wing-mirror reflectoporn shocker". The Register. 14 July 2006. Archived from the original on 10 August 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  20. ^ "Reflectoporn@Everything2.com". Everything2.com. 10 September 2003. Archived from the original on 25 February 2021. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  21. ^ Hirschfeld, M. (1938). Sexual anomalies and perversions: Physical and psychological development, diagnosis and treatment (new and revised ed.). London: Encyclopaedic Press.
  22. ^ Nadler, R. P. (1968). "Approach to psychodynamics of obscene telephone calls". New York State Journal of Medicine, 68, 521–526.

External links[edit]

  • Nancollas, Chris (2012). Exhibitionism: The Biography: A Popular History of Performance and Display. London: Darton Longman & Todd. ISBN 9780232529159. OCLC 1062174649.