Exhibitionism, which involves exposing one's genitals or sexual organs to a stranger, falls under the psychiatric sexual disorders category of paraphilias, "abnormal or unnatural attraction" or obsession with unusual sexual practices or with sexual activity involving nonconsenting or inappropriate partners.

The exhibitionist might masturbate (or fantasize about masturbating) while exposing himself but makes no further attempt at sexual activity with the stranger. The individual is sometimes aware of a desire to startle or upset the observer. At times, the individual might fantasize that the observer will become sexually aroused. Exhibitionism, though often discussed as a humorous topic, is a very serious behavior that can frighten the victim. The exhibitionist is typically male, and the victim is usually a female (adult or child), and usually an unsuspecting stranger.

Social and sexual relationships may suffer if the behavior is found disturbing or if the individual's sexual partner refuses to cooperate with this particular preference. In some instances, the unusual behavior may become the major sexual activity in the individual's life. These individuals rarely seek help on their own and are likely to get professional assistance only when their behavior has brought them into conflict with sexual partners or society.

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Exhibitionism. Last reviewed 12/31/1969
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • DSM-IV™ Made Easy: The Clinician's Guide to Diagnosis
  • Treating Mental Disorders: A Guide to What Works
  • Abouesh, A., and A. Clayton. "Compulsive Voyeurism and Exhibitionism: A Clinical Response to Paroxetine." Archives of Sexual Behavior 28 (February 1999): 23-30.
  • Bradford, John M. W. "The Treatment of Sexual Deviation Using a Pharmacological Approach." Journal of Sex Research 37 (August 2000): 485-492.
  • Lee, J. K., and others. "Developmental Risk Factors for Sexual Offending." Child Abuse and Neglect 26 (January 2002): 73-92.
  • Simpson, G., A. Blaszczynski, and A. Hodgkinson. "Sex Offending as a Psychosocial Sequela of Traumatic Brain Injury." Journal of Head Trauma and Rehabilitation 14 (December 1999): 567-580.