Learn About Exhibitionism vs. Nudism
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 lifestyle… Nudism 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are you an exhibitionist?
This article that defines exhibitionists and how they differ from nudists was published by – Young Naturists and Nudists America