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Naked exhibitionist woman on a Budapest street in 2007. She may or may not be suffering from an exhibitionistic disorder

Exhibitionism is the act of exposing in a public or semi-public context one's intimate parts – for example, the breasts, genitals or buttocks. As used in psychology and psychiatry, it is substantially different. It refers to an uncontrollable urge to exhibit one’s genitals to an unsuspecting stranger, and is called an "Exhibitionistic Disorder" rather than simply exhibitionism.[1] It is an obsessive compulsive paraphilic disorder, which typically involves men exposing themselves to women. It is considered a psychiatric disorder. Such patients need psychological/psychiatric treatment.

The practice may arise from a desire or compulsion to expose oneself in such a manner to groups of friends or acquaintances, or to strangers for their amusement or sexual satisfaction, or to shock the bystander.[2] Exposing oneself only to an intimate partner is normally not regarded as exhibitionism. In law, the act of exhibitionism may be referred to as indecent exposure or exposing one's person, or by other expressions.


Women "flashing" (publicly exposing their bare breasts) at Woodstock Festival Poland, 2011
Mark Roberts, a well-known streaker, at the Hong Kong Sevens Rugby tournament in 1994

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.[3] The ancient Greek historian Herodotus gives an account of exhibitionistic behaviors from the fifth century BC in The Histories. Herodotus writes that:

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.[4]

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.[5] John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester was an early libertine in England, who was known for his exhibitionism.[6]

In the United Kingdom, the 4th draft of the revised Vagrancy Act 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 Robert 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".[7]

The development of new technologies such as smartphones and tablets has permitted some exhibitionists to reorient their methods such as with nude selfies.[8]

Psychological aspects

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.[9][10] Various earlier medical-forensic texts discuss genital self-exhibition, however.[11]

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.[1]

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.[12]

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%).[13]

Types of exposure


Various types of behavior are classified as exhibitionism,[2] including:

  • Anasyrma: the lifting of the skirt when not wearing underwear, to expose genitals.
  • Candaulism: when a person exposes their 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.[14]
  • 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.[15] Examples include "images of naked men and women reflected in kettles, TVs, toasters and even knives and forks".[16] 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;[17] other instances followed,[18][19][20] and the specific term "reflectoporn" was coined by Chris Stevens of Internet Magazine.[21]
  • Streaking: the act of running naked through a public place. The intent is not usually sexual but for shock value.
  • 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.[22][23]
  • Underwear as outerwear: the intentional display of underwear as a fashion statement or to be provocative can also be seen as exhibitionism.[24] When revealing thong underwear above pants or a skirt, the result is often called a whale tail.[25]

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.[1]

See also



  1. ^ a b c 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. doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596. ISBN 978-0-89042-554-1. OCLC 830807378.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "Origin of the world". Rutgerspress.rutgers.edu. 23 September 1977. Archived from the original on 20 November 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  4. ^ Herodotus. The Histories. Translated by R. Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Book Two, Chapter 60, p. 119.
  5. ^ Bloch, Iwan (1914). "Fall von Exhibitionismus im 16. Jahrhundert". Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft (Born): i.289.
  6. ^ Lewis, Jayne; Zunshine, Lisa; Caldwell, Tanya M. (2013). Approaches to Teaching the Works of John Dryden. Approaches to Teaching World Literature. Modern Language Association of America. p. 267. doi:10.33137/rr.v38i4.26394. ISBN 978-1-60329-167-5. OCLC 833381364. Retrieved 11 May 2023.
  7. ^ 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. ISSN 0025-8172. OCLC 5723571285. PMID 4923872. S2CID 41064094.
  8. ^ Hart, Matt (16 March 2017). "Being naked on the internet: young people's selfies as intimate edgework". Journal of Youth Studies. 20 (3): 301–315. doi:10.1080/13676261.2016.1212164. ISSN 1367-6261. OCLC 7124792920.
  9. ^ Lasègue, Charles. Les Exhibitionistes. L'Union Médicale (Paris), series 3, vol. 23; 1877. Pages 709–714.
  10. ^ Aggrawal, Anil (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press. p. 388. doi:10.1201/9781420043099. ISBN 978-1-4200-4308-2. OCLC 150372547.
  11. ^ Janssen, Diederik F. (2020). ""Exhibitionism": Historical Note". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 49 (1): 41–46. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-01566-0. ISSN 0004-0002. OCLC 8545083217. PMID 31667641. S2CID 204973943.
  12. ^ Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan (2014). Abnormal Psychology (6th ed.). New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Education. p. 384. ISBN 978-0078035388. OCLC 855264280.
  13. ^ Freund, Kurt; Watson, Robin J. & Rienzo, Doug (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. ISSN 0843-4611. OCLC 5656041161. S2CID 198916532. Archived from the original on 10 July 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2010.
  14. ^ "Psychologist Anywhere Anytime". Psychologist Anywhere Anytime. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  15. ^ "'Reflectoporn' Hits Auction Site". The Mirror. 9 September 2003. Archived from the original on 25 January 2022. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  16. ^ "Today's media stories from the papers". The Guardian. 9 September 2003. Archived from the original on 27 March 2021. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  17. ^ Mikkelson, David (3 April 2002). "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Indecent Exposure". Snopes.com. Archived from the original on 25 January 2022. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  18. ^ Haines, Lester (1 July 2005). "Nude eBayer flashes 19in monitor". The Register. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  19. ^ Haines, Lester (19 June 2006). "eBayer goes for bust in ashtray auction". The Register. Archived from the original on 11 August 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  20. ^ Haines, Lester (14 July 2006). "eBay in wing-mirror reflectoporn shocker". The Register. Archived from the original on 10 August 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  21. ^ "Reflectoporn@Everything2.com". Everything2.com. 10 September 2003. Archived from the original on 25 February 2021. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  22. ^ Hirschfeld, Magnus (1938). Sexual anomalies and perversions: Physical and psychological development, diagnosis and treatment (new and revised ed.). London: Encyclopaedic Press.
  23. ^ Goldberg, Richard L.; Wise, Thomas N. (1985). "Psychodynamic treatment for telephone scatologia". The American Journal of Psychoanalysis. 45 (3): 291–297. doi:10.1007/BF01253385. ISSN 0002-9548. OCLC 113661026. PMID 4051049.
  24. ^ Lauria, Betty-Ann (13 November 2003). "Young teens and exhibitionism". Cape Code Times. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  25. ^ Desborough, Jenny (18 June 2021). "What Is a Whale Tail? Inside the '90s Fashion Trend Making a Comeback". Newsweek. Retrieved 26 May 2024.
  • Nancollas, Chris (2012). Exhibitionism: The Biography: A Popular History of Performance and Display. London: Darton Longman & Todd. ISBN 9780232529159. OCLC 1062174649.