Learn About Exhibitionism vs. Nudism

| December 9, 2014 | 17 Comments

The Difference Between Exhibitionism and Nudism

We all have seen those upsetting tweets and comments such as, “Why are nudists at a #nudebeach always people you don’t want to see naked?” My usual tweet back to them is something along the lines of “Nudists are not exhibitionists. If you visit a nude beach to look at people then you are just a #creepyvoyeur.”

For those who might be new to the nudist community or are curious about the naturist lifestyleNudism and Naturism are not about being seen naked for sexual gratification, or being a voyeur and gawking at people’s breasts, genitals or the “sexy” bodies they belong to.

If that is the motivation behind your interest in becoming a nudist then you should try searching online for swinger or sexual lifestyle resorts instead of nudist resorts.

What is Exhibitionism and the Exhibitionist Definition:

In terms of mental / sexual disorders, exhibitionism is the act of exposing one’s genitals to an unsuspecting stranger for the purpose of sexual gratification. Thus, the definition of an exhibitionist is a person, male or female, who gets sexual gratification from exposing his or her genitalia to an unsuspecting stranger.

This is how exhibitionism is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. An exhibitionist might masturbate when they expose themselves, but typically there is no intent to make physical contact or pursue any sexual acts with the victim. The majority of such exhibitionists are male and the majority of victims are female.

For the most part, aside from the feeling of arousal, exhibitionists expose themselves in order to inflict fear or to shock people. The victim’s consent is missing from the equation and that’s a big part of the thrill / power trip for them. They enjoy the pleasure and power they feel from being watched or seen. Their deviant behavior can be frightening and even traumatizing for victims, while for the exhibitionist, it creates arousal and generates satisfaction.

This is the type of exhibitionism we are focusing on for this article. However, note that the term exhibitionism can refer to many different behaviors when you consider its everyday use and some of these behaviors are very common, healthy and harmless. They certainly do not classify as a “mental disorder.”

One example is people who wear revealing clothing to show off some part of their body. Or for more overt examples, people who enjoy sex in public places with the fear of getting caught or those who go to sex clubs to be watched. And there are also those who put themselves in homemade porn videos to share online with the world.

The common thread of exhibitionist behaviors is the sexual drive behind it. But since society conflates nudity and sexuality, sometimes nudist tendencies are mistaken for exhibitionism. An example would be people loosely using the term for anyone who goes naked among clothed people (such as a roommate who likes to be naked at home, while other roommates stay clothed), even if there’s no sexual intent behind it.

nudism exhibitionism exhibitionist nudist public nudity sexuality genitals sexual offense yna

Nudism and Nudists vs Exhibitionism and Exhibitionists

Different Forms of Exhibitionism and Exhibitionist Activities:

In the U.S., a synonym for exhibitionist is “flasher.” This may conjure up an image of a guy opening his pants in front of a woman on the sidewalk or on public transportation. This would seem to be a common story when such incidences are reported (flashing is in the top three sexual offenses reported to police).

But in the digital age, it seems many have found new ways to satisfy their exhibitionist impulses.

First, there is the dick pic phenomenon. Dating websites and social media have made it very easy for men (it’s usually men) to send unsolicited penis photos (“dick pics“) to strangers.

Perhaps no online platform better mimics the dropping-pants-in-public experience than Chat Roulette. This video chat service allows users to connect with random people all over the world via webcam. The problem is many people found they were connecting with random penises all over the world. A website like this offers instant gratification to an exhibitionist as they can immediately see the viewer’s reaction.

In Ogas and Gaddam’s book A Billion Wicked Thoughts, they cite one blogger’s study done on Chat Roulette. On 1,276 consecutive sessions with random people, he found that one in four webcams were pointed at a penis.

The Research and Psychology behind the act of Exhibitionism:

Exhibitionism falls under the category of the paraphilia (also known as sexual perversion and sexual deviation). The term paraphilia refers to mental disorders categorized by intense sexual urges, obsession with odd sexual practices or sexual acts involving objects or inappropriate partners such as children. Many exhibitionists are found to have an unusually high sex drive.

As far as research goes, little is known about the prevalence of exhibitionism or what causes it. One Swedish study of 2,450 subjects ranging in ages 18 to 60 found that 3.1% of people reported having experienced arousal by exposing their genitals to a stranger. (4.1% of those were male, 2.1% female.)

However, the Internet would suggest it’s a lot more common than that. When discussing men’s online exhibitionist behavior, Ogas and Gaddam also had this to say:

“Historically, male exhibitionism has been considered a mental disorder. If that is the case, the Internet suggests we are a planet of mentally deranged men.”

The field of psychology presents a few different theories as to what causes exhibitionist tendencies. Some suggested causes are emotional and / or sexual abuse in childhood, head trauma, father abandonment (for men) and levels of testosterone in the body. But these are just theories with no definitive research.

If Ogas and Gaddam’s research is anything to go by, exhibitionism is simply an impulse left over from our primate ancestors.

Regardless of the causes or how common it actually is, those who have this impulse should find an outlet in healthy, consensual forms of sexual expression. Even if exhibitionism isn’t considered dangerous, flashing one’s genitals in public (as a non-consensual act) is and should be illegal. (Or it should at least be reason to send someone into psychotherapy if not jail.)

Sending unsolicited dick pics (or sexual / pornographic images) online is a nasty form of harassment as well.

With off-line behaviors especially, issues do arise when exhibitionism is chronic and interferes with daily life. When a person is driven to constantly act on their exposing habits, it can lead to isolation from friends, family and termination of employment.

If a person continuously exposes themselves in public, they will usually get arrested at some point. Once they are caught by police, exhibitionists will normally get checked in for treatment.

Treatment often involves medication to decrease the sex drive and deal with any hormonal imbalances. Psychotherapy tactics get utilized as well. Family therapy, group therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have all proven to be helpful for those dealing with exhibitionism.

The Definition of Exhibitionists and how they differ from just Naked Nudists

As most nudists will tell you, society at large has many misconceptions regarding nudism and naturism. Because nudity, and as a result, nudism, is seen as sexual, dirty and shameful, nudists can be wrongfully persecuted as sexual deviants and labeled exhibitionists.

An article in Psychology Today even states that nude beaches encourage exhibitionism. This is not true! While people, and therefore nudists, are sexual beings, the philosophy behind naturism is that it be non-sexually motivated.

Strangely, there are a number of nudists who openly call themselves exhibitionists. This is like pairing nudism with a sexual preference, and it’s perpetuating the myth that nudism is about sex. Even if they only mean to say they like to be seen naked at the nude beach, “exhibitionist” has certain connotations and these terms should not be used together.

Nudism is, in its core, a personal experience. Though it can and often times takes place in a social setting, the act itself should not be focused on someone else. The difference between nudism and exhibitionism is the intent as well as how, where and when it is practiced.

exhibitionism exhibitionist nudism nudist naturist flasher cartoon yna

Exhibitionists Vs. Nudists

Going by the DSM definition, nudists do not force their nakedness on others while exhibitionists do. Exhibitionists will seek out others so they can be seen while nudists do not. Nudists will find the proper place and time to practice nudism and often they will go to far out and secluded destinations so that they don’t offend or bother others.

But sometimes intent is the only thing separating an exhibitionist from a nudist. A nudist can inadvertently shock or upset an unsuspecting stranger if they happen to be seen hiking naked. While a naked hiker may have no ill intent, the other person may assume otherwise. Or even bystanders or police may assume otherwise, as was the case with Nigel Keer, a free hiker in the UK. This can lead to jail time, a fine and even being registered as a sex offender.

At the end of the day, respect for others is a vital component of nudism while exhibitionism (again, by its DSM definition) is pretty much a self-centered act that aims to invoke an emotional reaction from the unsuspecting victim.






This article that defines exhibitionists and how they differ from nudists was published by – Young Naturists and Nudists America

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Social Nudity Blogs, Nudism and Naturism, Sex Positive, Social Activism

About the Author ()

Jordan Blum is a lifelong nudie and co-founder of Young Naturists America.
  • livefyrebob

    Joy is possible when we are clothed or not clothed, and when we join with others who are clothed or not clothed.

  • justmeagain  “The actual search for other nudist in order to be naked around other people IS a sort of exhibitionism.” 
    No, it isn’t. People search for other nudists because humans are social creatures and want friends / partners to enjoy the nude beach with. Does that really need to be explained?
    I also don’t interpret that person’s story as one of exhibitionism. More like someone preferring to enjoy the sun without a swimsuit. But even if they were getting some sort “exhibitionist” satisfaction, who cares? The important thing is they behaved respectfully enough and the staff people didn’t seem to care.
    There are sex clubs where you can go and be seen naked for sexual gratification, and many would also call those “swinger clubs.” A lot of different sexual environments fall under the name of swinger. There are most definitely swingers that invite others to watch.
    Nudism may not be a “lifestyle” to you, but it is to many others. Whether that means they live in a nudist resort or spend most of their summer at the nude beach, or just go a few times a year, it doesn’t really matter. The bigger problem with the word “lifestyle” for nudists is that it’s sometimes used for swingers.

  • justmeagain

    I am what you will probably call home nudie. I am usually naked in my house, if alone or with family members. However, I don’t call it a “life style” nor impose it on house guests. When I have guests, I put something on – not because I am not comfortable with my body, but as not to put them in an uncomfortable situation. MOST people don’t accept or don’t appreciate nakedness.

    You claim nudism is a life style. I disagree. Being a vegetarian is a life style. Wherever a vegetarian goes – he’ll only eat vegetarian food. If there is no vegetarian food he won’t go there or he wont eat. Most devoted nudist or naturist go to work, school, shopping and any other place which is not designated as cloths free/optional when they are fully clothed,

    I find it ridiculous to put something on, drive across town to somebody’s place, take off my cloths for the 1-2 hours of a social visit, then put it back on for the drive home.
    The actual search for other nudist in order to be naked around other people IS a sort of exhibitionism. It might not give you sexual satisfaction – or maybe not there and then – it probably wont get you aroused as if you do get aroused you have to cover yourself (for some reason naturists don’t see an erection as a natural occurrence and don’t appreciate that state of the body…)

    Here’s something that was ported on a nudists forum by a person of so called life style:

    I visited north Thailand 2 months ago, I stayed at a small resort in Pai, Mae Hong Son, they have only 4 bungalows and only one staff there. I asked her if I can take off clothing and enjoy sunbathing in front of my bungalow, she said…. bikini ok.
    The 2nd day morning, I took off everything and sit in front of my bungalow, she came to me and saw me, but she said it’s ok and she will go out for 2 hrs….., after she left, I enjoyed naked walking and sunbathing around the resort, while I sunbathing naked in front of my bungalow, oop…., another staff came to clean another room, she saw me naked and said sorry to me, I just smile to her, but seems she was a little surprised…..
    It’s a nice experience in Pai, Mae Hong Son, north of Thailand.

    Seems to me his satisfaction came from exposing himself to others and not from just being naked.

    I am not a “beach and sun” person so I don’t usually go to the beach. If I was, though, and happened to be near a nudist beach / resort, so yes, I’d probably go naked. makes sense, But to fly somewhere of drive half across the country for a ‘nudist day activity’ – talking about dry activity, not swimming pool / beach activity – that’s just a type of exhibitionism / voyeurism.

    Some of the articles on this site such as:

    All about looking for partners to be naked with – to show and watch…
    I didn’t look for a NUDIST wife nor did I “train” my kids to be nudists. They don’t hide when they change cloths nor lock the bathroom door when showering. The accept my nakedness but prefer to put something on most of the time. We all feel fine with each other.

    And all those remarks like “if you look for sexual satisfaction go look for a swingers’ club”. You make it sounds like swingers parties are events that everybody walks around naked and jump on each other… Well, they are not. At least not the few I was invited to and attended. They were all just simple social gathering, having dinner together, drink, talk and normally socialize, and if some people were sexually attracted to each other they discretely went to a private room. Just like any normal adult gathering or party.

    If the only objective of nudism / naturism is to be naked, just go naked. No need to look for other to be naked with, no need to give it pretty titles. For me it’s definitely NOT a life style. Actually more like a dress code :)

  • jochanaan

    @FelicityJones Thanks!  But lots of folks tend to think we are crazy. *lol*

  • MurraySchechter FelicityJones Agree, “deviant” is too subjective and judgmental.

  • MurraySchechter

    FelicityJones Lamdba Felicity, thank you for acknowledging that sometimes there’s a grey area between naturism and exhibitionism. We can acknowledge that line and still act appropriately. I’ve always thought the line is well described by the term “naughty”.

  • MurraySchechter

    FelicityJones MurraySchechter I agree that language is important, so let’s get rid of the word “deviant”, as that word brings many people into judgment, and instead talk about being inappropriate or violating boundaries. “Deviant” means who you are is wrong, while “inappropriate” means what you’re doing is wrong.

  • Lamdba Ugh, yeah I hate that. A woman shows any kind of skin for her own reasons (like going topfree because it’s hot out), and people will label her as ‘just looking for attention.’ I think it’s a way of persecuting women who are expressing their sexuality or just taking control of their own bodies, instead of playing by the rules for when it’s okay for a woman to be naked or semi-clad. And the times when it’s okay seem to be when she’s selling something or catering to the male gaze. 
    Idk though, I’d have to think about it more.

  • Lamdba Yes, for sure. Streaking is usually a lighthearted, fun event and not about visually assaulting anyone for sexual gratification. That said, with streaking and with WNBR and with the naked hiking example I mentioned above, sometimes it’s all about the person’s intent.
    I don’t know if there’s any such thing as an “unconsenting bystander.” A bystander of WNBR or Body Painting Day would be presumably a consenting onlooker. If they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t be a bystander, they’d be walking (or running lol) away / looking away. In the same token, a person might be shocked by coming across a woman openly breastfeeding her infant. Is that woman an exhibitionist, throwing her “nudity” in someone’s face and upsetting them? Many say such exposure is fine, but there are people that disagree. Many people think something should be illegal just because they’re offended by it, but law making would be impossible if we went by that. The law should really be going by someone’s intent (to harm) and behavior. Nudity, in and of itself, does not harm others, or seek to harm others. It’s how the person behaves.
    As some have pointed out here as well as in conversations we’ve been having on social media, some people will and do mix up a little nudism and harmless “exhibitionism,” if you go by the very broad dictionary definition that an exhibitionist is doing some act to get attention. But people seek out attention in all kinds of nonsexual ways. Exhibitionism definitely has sexual connotations. Are there maybe people at a nude beach who are feeling some sexual satisfaction from being looked at? Probably. But as long as they are behaving in a respectable way, that’s all that really matters.
    Maybe some participants in WNBR get a thrill from shocking people by being naked. But unless they are seeking out the shocked viewers and running after them naked, pointing their penis at them, and trying to upset them…there isn’t really an issue in my opinion.

  • Lamdba

    Oh, and while we’re talking about textile tropes, one of my favorites is “she’s” (because it’s almost always a she) “just looking for attention.” I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean - I don’t think they really think it through before they say it.

  • Lamdba

    I really liked the article. One subject, though, that might have been interesting to touch on, is streaking. Streakers often get lumped in with exhibitionists, but whenever I see or hear comments from a streaker, they always seem to be more motivated by the adrenaline rush and sense of freedom, as opposed to sexual gratification.

    Further down the spectrum, I’m also curious on how you differentiate events like the World Naked Bike Ride, and this year’s NYC Body Painting Day. For something like that, there will always be unconsenting bystanders that just didn’t get the memo (personally, I support any project that attempts to destigmatize the human body, but sometimes part of me feels a little conflicted).

  • MurraySchechter I agree with you… “deviant” is a subjective term. Is the guy pulling down his pants on the subway to get a shocked look from an unsuspecting person – is that guy “deviant”? I would say yes in the sense that it’s illegal and most people have enough self-control not to do that. If a person can’t control their impulse to flash and upset random strangers in public, I think they probably need psychiatric help. That’s when it should really be called a mental disorder. 
    But the textbook definition sort of makes everyone who sends unsolicited dick pics into a “deviant” when that’s really quite common behavior. I was trying to make the point in this article that the rise of the Internet has made it seem that the DSM’s definition no longer classifies as abnormal or deviant. Suddenly a lot of people were able to act on an exhibitionist impulse anonymously without legal / social consequences. But I purposely was only trying to remark on what was “common” rather than “normal.” So, is sending dick pics deviant? No. Wrong? By our standards, yes. Pardon my language but consent is f*cking important.

  • jochanaan livefyrebob Very nice response! 
    And I don’t think nudism is in the DSM or we’re ALL mentally deranged ;)

  • jochanaan

    livefyrebob There are many kinds of pleasures.  Yes, it is a great pleasure to be naked in sun, wind and open water; and yes, it is a great pleasure to be naked with folks who, like ourselves, enjoy simple nudity in company.  What gives the word “pleasure” a *creepyvoyeur factor is when it gets used as a synonym for sexual gratification without the active consent of others involved.  But that is only one kind of pleasure, one that is not pleasing to those who may serve unwittingly as objects of gratification.  The best pleasures are usually the simplest ones and the mutual ones.

  • Paul Clothesfree

    Very nice article once more! Reblogged at http://naturistsholiday.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/exhibitionism-vs-nudism/

  • SunCple

    The very first paragraph made the whole article worth reading.  That is a GREAT comeback. +1!

  • livefyrebob

    What does DSM say about people who enjoy going to nude beaches and find pleasure in being naked with others?