What is Exhibitionism?

there are two kinds…


ALTHOUGH EXHIBITIONISM IS THE MOST COMMON OF ALL SEX OFFENCES, comprising from one third to two thirds of such crimes (Sexual and Marital Therapy, Vol4, No1, 1989, p93; Behav. Research & Therapy, Vol29, No2, p129), little is known about it. Mere exposure of the genitals, for instance, does not define the act.

Broadly speaking, exhibitionism can be of two kinds. One is the “open” variety and occurs on places like nudist beaches, where people can disrobe in public and they can do so legally. Both men and women frequent these places.

The other kind of exhibitionism, which is what the law is concerned with, and which is the subject of this article, is what I call “clandestine” exhibitionism. It is illegal and is usually confined to men. Few women expose themselves in this manner, and those that do, do so for entirely different reasons than the men.


The most common and widely accepted definition of exhibitionism is that it is a way of attracting attention.

That certainly is true, but once again it does not define the act.

People do many things to get attention: they may wear radical or colorful clothes, or rings in their lips; they may drive ostentatious cars or live in trendy suburbs; or they may simply act boisterously. But this is just showing-off. We all do it and it’s a natural way of getting attention.

Exhibitionism however, in the sense we are using it here, is completely different: the exhibitionist targets a specific woman, or a specific group of women, and exposes ONLY to them. Although it is done in public, paradoxically it is a very private affair. The exhibitionist will set things up so that only the targeted person, or group of people, can see him.

Moreover, the exhibitionist is seeking a reaction from these women. The stronger the reaction, even if it is anger, the more “successful” the flash. In his search for such a reaction, the exhibitionist is often forced to go outside the normal and accepted channels (like nudist beaches) and expose himself in places and situations where it is not tolerated. This often “succeeds” in getting him the attention and reaction that he seeks, but it also attracts the attention of the law. The intensity of the experience however is such that the flasher is willing to take the risk. And often!

And that is why legalized outlets for exhibitionists, like nudist beaches, do not work. On a nudist beach everyone is unclothed. Nudity is expected and almost boring and a flasher will find it very hard to elicit any sort of reaction from the other unclothed individuals.

To conclude, the targeted person’s reaction is everything. Women who run to the police are actually playing into the flasher’s hands because their reaction is so strong.

If they want to thwart a flasher’s efforts then it is far better NOT to react in any way. Take away the reaction, and you take away the flasher’s incentive.