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What Is Exhibitionism?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Exhibitionism is getting sexual gratification from showing one’s genitals or private areas to others. People who participate in exhibitionism enjoy being seen or fantasize about being seen by others in a sexual manner.

You might have urges to be seen nude or performing a particular act. If you thrive on attention, you might want to explore consensual (mutually agreeable) exhibitionism as a way to boost your self - esteem.  

If you explore exhibitionism, it’s very important that it be consensual. That means anyone you display yourself to in any way is OK with it. In many situations, especially in public, sex and nudity is illegal. This behavior is called indecent exposure or flashing. People who engage in non-consensual exhibitionism face legal action such as a fine or imprisonment. 

Exhibitionism could include consensually sharing nude photos with someone or engaging in public sex at a swingers club. Make sure that other people involved are also having a pleasurable experience, and that they have agreed to what is going to happen ahead of time. 

What Is the Difference Between Exhibitionism, Voyeurism, and Nudism?

Voyeurism means a person is turned on by seeing others nude or having sex. Like with exhibitionism, it is very important to make sure that all parties are involved in the experience consensually. 

Nudism, or naturalism, is a lifestyle in which people do not wear clothing at all. Often, nudists stay together in groups. Unlike exhibitionism, nudism is not explicitly sexual in nature.

People who practice nudism may swim, hike, sunbathe, and do other activities completely naked. Exhibitionists, on the other hand, are unlikely to spend all their time nude. 

How to Explore Exhibitionism (Solo or with Partner)

To explore exhibitionism, start by thinking about your sexual fantasies. Consider whether they are realistic and safe.

If you want to act them out, talk to your partner about what you’re interested in trying. Make sure that you set specific boundaries and create a safe word to indicate if things go too far. Explicitly tell them what you would enjoy. 

Start slow. In the privacy of your bedroom, you can experiment with consensual exhibitionist fantasies. Allow for trial and error, and don’t set your expectations too high. Try to relax and explore as a pleasurable bonding experience.

There are clubs where people consensually agree to see nudity and sex acts. Some beaches and bath houses also allow nudity. However, keep in mind that some places that allow consensual nudity are not sexual in nature. Always remember to be respectful of the desires of the other people involved in your exploration. 

It’s extremely important to make sure you don’t break the law and that everyone involved has agreed to the experience. 

Safety Advice and Special Considerations

In many situations, exhibitionism is an illegal sex crime. Make sure that behavior is allowed and that everyone involved has agreed to the activity.

Consensual exhibitionism takes self awareness and planning. Never expose yourself to someone who does not want to participate. This can be disturbing to people and can result in legal action. In particular, make sure that the people who will see you are of legal age. 

Some research points to a connection between sexting (sending sexual images or messages to someone via text message) and depression and anxiety. Sexting may also be problematic if it leads to less interest in real-life interactions.

Make sure that if you are sending nude images of yourself to someone that you do so in a secure way. Only send nude photos to people you trust.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Cosmopolitan: “Here’s Your Everything-to-Know Guide on Consensual Exhibitionism.”

Encyclopedia Britannica: “Exhibitionism.”

Encyclopedia Britannica: “Voyeurism.”

Grinnell College: “NUDISM.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “exhibitionism.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “nudism.”

Psychology Today: “Nonconsensual Sexting Linked to Anxiety and Depression.”

Psychology Today: “Voyeurism And Exhibitionism: How Common Are They?”

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