Are you someone who likes to show off your body to others? Do you get an erotic thrill from doing so? Could you be a sexual exhibitionist?
It seems that more than ever, there are so many ways in which people can (and at times are actively encouraged to), show off their semi-naked or naked self to others.
Not to mention the phenomenal volumes of semi-clad images that individuals post of themselves on Socials, and of course the countless numbers of intimate body part pictures swapped on dating apps and the like.
Is there anything wrong with a consenting adult sharing their naked self with others? The short answer to that is, it’s complicated!
Adults are entitled to express their sexuality in whatever way they wish (providing it is legal), and it can be very nice to get attention, praise and even sexual stimulation from others’ reactions to your nakedness.
However exhibiting yourself to others is not without risk. Done incorrectly it can have risks for your reputation, your relationships, your freedoms, and even your mental and emotional health.
What is Exhibitionism
Often when sexual exhibitionism is spoken about, the connotation that is often carried with it is of some form of deviant sexual behaviour (such as say being a flasher in the park), that is condemned by society, and which should be repressed at all costs.
This conception is perpetuated by some of the dictionary definitions of the word such as:
Merriam-Webster: “A perversion in which sexual gratification is obtained from the indecent exposure of one's genitals (as to a stranger).”
Britannica: “Derivation of sexual gratification through compulsive display of one’s genitals.”
Collins Dictionary: “A compulsive desire to expose one's genital organs publicly.”
With those kind of definitions doing the rounds, who would ever want to admit to being a sexual exhibitionist?
However as with many things in life, the desire to exhibit your body to others, and potentially gain sexual satisfaction or fulfilment from doing so, is much more nuanced and multi-faceted than just a wish to be a ‘flasher’.
Dictionary.com defines an exhibitionist as: “A person who behaves in ways intended to attract attention or display their powers, personality, etc.”
There are many, many people who wish to, and enjoy, attracting attention to themselves by displaying their powers, personality or some other aspect of themselves to others.
Whether its the proud parent posting their baby pictures, the musician sharing their latest track for others to listen to, the talent contest entrant auditioning, the blogger writing about their latest wonderful travel experience, the cook posting photos of their new dish, the sportsperson putting up a clip of their athleticism, or the influencer sharing their latest life hack, most of us like to show off a little sometimes, in the hope of receiving some attention and positive feedback.
So being a sexual exhibitionist, in as far as you like to, and derive benefit from showing your nakedness to others either in real life, or online, is not necessarily deviant or a bad thing.
Human sexuality is on a spectrum, and not everything you do has to be ‘vanilla’. The Psychology Today website writes about paraphilias, a range of sexual behaviours such as sadism, masochism, exhibitionism, voyeurism and transvestism where a person gets sexual arousal and gratification in atypical ways. It highlights these behaviours (including exhibitionism), only become problematic when they are accompanied by distress or impairment, or when harm is caused to a non-consenting party.
Why Might You Be An Exhibitionist
So if you do derive pleasure and/or sexual gratification from showing off your body to others, why might that be? Some suggestions are as follows:
You Are Proud of Your Work: Maybe you naturally have physical attributes that you feel are exceptional, and that others will enjoy seeing. Or maybe you have put a lot of time and effort into shaping and maintaining your body and like to hear others’ feedback on your efforts. This can particularly be the case if you were not happy with your appearance at some point in your past.
It’s a Way to Explore Sexual Fantasies: Maybe showing off your body, in particular if that is connected to some form of character you are playing, is a means to explore your sexual fantasies with others, and do things you might not feel able to, or would not want to do in your everyday life. Sexual fantasies are normal.
It’s a Way to Receive Positive Feedback: Maybe others reacting to and commenting positively on your nakedness is a boost to your ego and your esteem, and helps you to feel good about yourself, in particular in terms of your physical attractiveness. Everybody needs and likes a little bit of praise, compliments or positive feedback sometimes.
It’s a Way to Get Sexual Satisfaction: Maybe others responding to your nakedness is a means to get your sexually aroused, and in the process can bring you (and potentially others), sexual satisfaction.
It Can Be Exciting: Maybe you find being naked in front of others exciting, which can release chemicals such as dopamine (often triggered by any form of sexual activity), and serotonin (helping you feel happy and calm), into your brain.
It’s a Way to Earn Money: Maybe it is a way to supplement your income. There are many sites and apps that enable users to monetise their nakedness through the likes of subscriptions, tokens or gifts.
It’s a Way to Satisfy Your Voyeuristic Tendencies: Maybe you are showing your nakedness to others with a hope or intent that they will then show their naked self to you. Voyeurism is when you get sexual aroused by watching others. As with exhibitionism, it can be considered a disorder if it causes distress, impairment or lack of consent from others.
Is Being An Exhibitionist A Mental Disorder
The vast majority of people who are exhibitionist in nature, including those who would consider themselves sexual exhibitionists are not mentally unwell, and do not have a mental disorder.
However on occasion, an individual might meet the criteria to be diagnosed as having Exhibitionist Disorder. Both the MSD Manual website and the Psychology Today website have more information on this condition.
The key criteria a medical expert will be looking for when considering diagnosing this disorder will include:
- High levels of distress (to you or others).
- Diminished functioning.
- A long-term presence of the behaviour.
- Acting on urges to expose yourself with a person who does not consent.
- Exposing of your genitals to an unsuspecting person.
Exposing yourself to an unsuspecting, and non-consenting person, in particular in a public space, would be considered criminal activity and as such is extremely high risk to you, and psychologically damaging to others. If you are feeling these types of exhibitionist impulses, please seek out psychiatric support as soon as possible before you or someone else comes to serious harm.
Are There Risks Attached To Being An Exhibitionist
You may not be exposing yourself to unsuspecting others in a manner where there is no consent, or exposing yourself in public places, however being a sexual exhibitionist can come with other risks:
Your Reputation: If you are engaging in sharing your naked self with others either in person or digitally, that could create a record of your behaviour (e.g. a photo or video), that might surface at some later stage, well beyond the point of your exposure. Think beyond the moment to reflect on how you will feel if such content surfaced in the future.
Your Relationships: Those close to you may feel uncomfortable or take issue with you showing your body to others. This can be particularly the case for a romantic partner who did not know and agree to you taking part in the practice of exhibiting yourself to others.
Your Freedom: Nudity in a public space that could involve others being exposed to your nakedness can often be illegal and will risk your freedom. There are of course those that follow a naturist/nudist lifestyle and that in itself is not automatically criminal. In those circumstances though, the individuals and groups are very careful not to cause offense to others, such as by the likes of using designated nudist beaches.
When a behaviour becomes a likely criminal activity will often relate to intentionally exposing genitals in a way that causes alarm/distress to others, or if a person commits an act that is defined as lewd, obscene or disgusting in public. The Stuart Millar website gives some more background on this.
Please also be aware that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to exhibit themselves naked in any way to others, and it is also illegal to exhibit yourself to anyone under the age of 18, or to solicit someone under the age of 18 to provide explicit material. The Childnet website gives some more information on this.
Your Mental Health: Exposing your naked body to others will hopefully open up lots of positive praise and feedback, however it does create the risk that you may also get some negative feedback too. Are you prepared for that and how will you handle it?
Positive feedback from others can help build your confidence and esteem, but in itself is not likely to fully do the job. Put ongoing effort into building your positive view of yourself in all dimensions, including what you see when you look in the mirror.
Your Self-Control: Like everything in life that is exciting and stimulates a sense of feeling good, sometimes the more you do something, the more you get used to it, and as such you can need to push the boundaries further and further to get a ‘hit’.
There can also be a risk that when you are caught up in the excitement of the moment when exhibiting yourself to others, that they might urge you to push yourself beyond what you feel comfortable doing.
Your Choice: You should only ever be nude or do things when nude that are entirely of your choosing. Be aware though that there are some people out there who may wish to exploit your exhibitionism for financial gain. The PSNI website gives some more information on sextortion.
Your Considered Relationship With Exhibitionism
So if you are an adult (over the age of 18), who wishes to engage in some form of display of your naked body with other adults, where all parties are consensual, it is happening in a discreet manner (either in person or online), where no harm is being caused, that is totally fine. Make your relationship with exhibitionism a considered one by reflecting on, and being aware of:
Asking Yourself the ‘4D’ Questions: Does your exhibitionism deviate significantly from what the ‘average’ person (and you), consider reasonable? Does it prevent or inhibit your day-to-day life functioning? Does it cause you (or someone who matters to you), significant distress? Does it put you (or someone else) in danger?
Making Sure There is Consent: Does the other person consent (or can be reasonably assume to have consented), to seeing you naked? This might be in the form of you asking in advance to display yourself, or them asking to see you, and you consenting to show yourself. If you are in an environment where nudity is common and can be expected (for example of a camming site), then those engaging with you in that environment can be seen as having consented to viewing nudity by being on that site (if its purposes are clear).
If the other person has had no opportunity to object or refuse to see you naked, before seeing you naked, then there is not likely have been opportunity for, and giving of, consent.
Never Engaging With Those Under 18: Do not engage in nudity with anyone under the age of 18, and if you are not sure that the person you might show your nakedness to is over 18, then do not proceed. If you are exhibiting online, only do it on sites or apps that have robust age verification processes, that helps screen out children from using those platforms.
Being Careful in Public Places: Even if you are in a space where nudity is accepted (e.g. a nudist beach), displaying yourself as sexually aroused, and/or engaging in sexual activity may not be acceptable, and may be considered as indecency.
Knowing Your Limits: Be clear and firm with yourself on your (and potentially if you are in a relationship your partner’s), limits on your exhibitionist behaviours. Take time to think about this away from the incidences when you are actually engaging in showing your body, so you can make a calm and considered decision on what is right for you, and what you do not want to do.
Keeping an Eye on Your Mental Health: As you engage in your exhibitionist behaviours, monitor your own mental health and esteem. Is the behaviour bringing more positivity than negativity into your life? Is it helping you to feel good and satisfied, or is it beginning to cause you distress? As with anything, if the bad starts to outweigh the good, cut back or stop.
Expanding Your Praise Mechanisms: If part of your motivation for being an exhibitionist is to get praise and positive feedback from others, expand your mechanisms for getting this in your life, so that you do not solely need to rely on one form of affirming feedback. Why not also seek praise for your work efforts, your personality, your kindness etc.
If you are an adult who gets benefit, and/or sexual satisfaction from showing your naked self to other consenting adults in an appropriate way that is fine, there is no harm in that, and it does not make you a pervert.
The spectrum of expression of human sexuality is a wide one, and there should be space for everybody on it.
Just take some time to think out the type of exhibitionist behaviours you are going to engage in to make sure they never cause you or anyone else any form of harm. If that is becoming a struggle, or harm is being caused, then seek out professional support sooner rather than later.