Exhibitionism, also known as flashing, is the act of exposing oneself (most commonly the genitals) to another unsuspecting person. Exhibitionism is a mental disorder and is also a paraphilia, which is a group of mental disorders, marked by obsession with unusual sexual practices. This disorder, along with Voyeurism, are considered “hands off” paraphilia because those that have this disorder do not actually come into contact with their victims.

This type of disorder is considered a crime and an Exhibitionist can get in trouble with the law for the act of indecent exposure. An Exhibitionist will sometimes masturbate while they are exposing themselves or they will masturbate while fantasizing about exposing themselves. Some Exhibitionists are aware of their actions and have the conscious desire to shock their targets; while others fantasize that their targets will become sexually aroused by the exposure.

Classification of Symptoms by Severity

There are many different symptoms that come with Exhibitionism and these symptoms can be categorized in four different groups which include:

  • Mild- A person has recurrent fantasies of exposing themselves but has never acted on these fantasies.
  • Moderate- A person has occasionally exposed himself or herself and has difficulty controlling the urge to keep doing so.
  • Severe- A person has exposed themselves to three or more people and has a serious problem controlling the urges.
  • Catastrophic- This would be very severe and would probably not exist in someone who doesn’t suffer from other paraphilias. This level of severity denotes the presence of sadistic tendencies.

Causes of Exhibitionism

Just like any other mental disorder it is hard to determine the cause of Exhibitionism and it can vary in every individual. Although none have been conclusive, several theories regarding the cause of this disorder have been proposed. One theory is that a person who suffers emotional abuse as a child or has a dysfunctional family can grow up to develop this disorder. Or, there is the biological theory that states that people with high levels of testosterone are predisposed to develop sexually deviant behavior, which can ultimately lead to the act of Exhibitionism.

According to police records, Exhibitionism is one of the three most common sexual offenses, along with Voyeurism and pedophilia. It’s hard to determine how many people actually have this disorder though, because those that do have it rarely seek help. Although the stereotype of an exhibitionist is a dirty old man in a raincoat, those who are usually arrested for it are males in their late teens or twenties. In the U.S., most exhibitionists are Caucasian males and about half are married.

Treatment of Exhibitionism

The most common form of treatment for this disorder is psychotherapy and medication. Some different types of psychotherapy used in treatment are cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy or couples therapy (this therapy is most useful to exhibitionists who are married).

If you feel like you suffer from Exhibitionism and it is negatively affecting your life then it might be time to seek professional help. Seeking help from a professional psychologist or psychiatrist will help you better understand yourself and your disorder. Professional treatment will help you cope with exhibitionism and better your way of life.

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