Exhibitionism: Clinical Definition vs. Everyday Use

Forget, for a moment, the traditional or perhaps clinical definition of exhibitionism which, according to the American Psychiatric Association is the “need to expose one’s genitals to other people. The audience of this type of behavior is usually unsuspecting strangers; the result is sexual satisfaction or the exhibitionist.”

Instead, consider a form of exhibitionism that has only relatively recently become possible thanks to the internet. While this could certainly include the “unsuspecting stranger,” it may also include the suspecting stranger or the suspecting non-stranger. Often, for the exhibitionist, the person who is witnessing the exhibition is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that someone witnesses it. And in the digital age, that can occur with unprecedented ease via a web cam.

The clinical definition does not include someone who has sex or masturbates in front of a willing audience, but the layperson would certainly refer to people who participate in this act as exhibitionists. If doing so is not a disorder, then all the better. However, this is the type of exhibitionism which has not only become much easier in the digital age, but has flourished with the internet.

The desire to be watched while masturbating or having sex is not a new concept. Having sex in public is an act which has occurred with frequency across history and is well-documented. Usually, stories about someone masturbating in public are regarding the arrest of that person and comments from experts about their mental health. This article from Salon gives an excerpt from the book “The Pleasure’s All Mine: A history of perverse sex,” which provides a brief history of watching and being watched.

Voyeurism: Clinical Definition vs. Everyday Use

Watching people masturbate and have sex is of course voyeurism; the clinical definition of which, like exhibitionism, also limits what can be described as voyeurism. The definition, also according to the American Psychiatric Association is “sexual gratification on seeing other people perform private activities such as undressing, being naked and/or seeing people performing a sexual act.”

However, unlike exhibitionism, the definition goes on to suggest that perhaps the people who are masturbating or having sex are aware that someone is watching – “In certain instances, […] the target of the person displaying Voyeuristic Disorder is aware of the presence of voyeur and consents to this behavior.”

When considering the impact of the internet on voyeurism, the distinction of whether or not the “victim” is aware has particular importance because the uncountable number of pornography sites across the internet could be considered as turning us all into voyeurs. PsychCentral.com explains that voyeurism is not the same as an addiction to pornography. Be that as it may, if the porn site tells the viewer that the person is unaware, is it then up to the view to believe it or not? Does viewing the act through a screen with the belief that the person on the other end is unaware make it voyeurism?

The Impact of the Internet

Sex and masturbation on the internet are common. For the sake of argument, let’s not consider pornography nor the kind of cam action that might occur between two consenting adults trying to satisfy a sexual need while in a long distance relationship. Though, that too is an example of the impact from the internet, if not on exhibitionism and voyeurism, on general human sexuality. Think like an exhibitionist would. While being watched by a significant other might create a thrill, a larger thrill would come from being watched by a stranger, willing or unwilling.

Willing Participants

Finding people willing to watch is fairly easy on the internet. Sites that are dedicated to finding romantic partners on the internet, whether legitimate or casual can provide an avenue. On the Titled Forum Project, a website where people can discuss progressive sexual themes, a man gives his own version of the desire to be watched: “I always fantasized about being watched while masturbating, especially the initial look and reaction of a woman when she sees my fully erect penis.” The writer goes on to describe how he met women on Craigslist who were willing to watch him masturbate, many of them in person.

There are a number of websites that are go beyond helping you to find someone for casual sex and help you to make money on the internet by becoming a “webcam model.” One of the best known examples is Jasmin or Webcams.com. Sites such as these provide the platform and you provide the show. Understandably, most of the models are women as there are many more men who are looking to watch than there are women.

However, there is a market for male models. On a related note, another perhaps obvious fact is that for male models, your audience, could also very likely be male. The writer on the Tilted Forum Project, mentioned earlier, admitted to experiences via a webcam where more than 90% of the viewers were other men. Though, this wasn’t a problem for him as, again, the most important part was being watched and knowing that the viewer enjoyed the experience.

Unwilling Participants

A much more sensitive topic is having unwilling or unsuspecting people watch you masturbate or have sex. In the world outside of the internet this is quite clearly illegal and even on the internet there is a precedent for being charged with a crime for exposing yourself. This BBC article discusses an event where a man sent what is referred to as a “dick pic” to an unsuspecting woman. It seems that since the woman didn’t accept the picture there was not a digital trail to follow and there were no charges filed but it is an example of an intent to investigate.

If looking to expose yourself on the internet or otherwise masturbate or have sex in front of an unsuspecting person, it’s perhaps better to compromise slightly and use a service that, while not explicitly for the purpose of exhibitionism, does come with the known possibility. Easily the best example of this kind of website is Chatroulette.com.

At the click of a button, after enabling your webcam, Chatroulette.com will pair you with a complete stranger who has also turned on their webcam. The result is, well, whatever the two people happen to doing while on camera. Often it’s clean fun, like telling jokes or singing. But there are plenty of examples where there is nudity from the onset. Of course, if you are not interested you can stop the camera. There is also a feature that allows you to “report” a user and if it happens often enough, could result in a suspended account. Additionally, the website states from the onset that it’s only meant for users age 18 and up.

Erotic Voyeurism

Chatroulette.com and similar websites  (imlive.com) are probably as close as you can get to true internet exhibitionism and voyeurism. On the completely other side of the spectrum is what ElephantJournal.com has termed “erotic voyeurism” and describes it as “a kind of love that is a fundamental creative impulse with a sensual element.” In effect, it’s a sort of “nice” voyeurism. A prime example is also on ElephantJournal.com and features an attractive, fully clothed woman who is sitting on a vibrator while reading an erotic book out loud. She orgasms from the vibrator while reading. Another more well-known form of erotic voyeurism are the images or videos of only someone’s face while they orgasm.

If you have exhibitionist or voyeuristic tendencies, you can probably see the appeal to all three possibilities: willing viewer, unsuspecting viewer and erotic voyeurism. Besides Chatroulette.com, here is a quick list of some of the best-known websites that provide at least a version of all three.

  • Jasmin.com – This pay site offers “up to 80% share” to potential models. Models make money by viewers who “buy credits.” More money is to be made in “private” rooms. Rather expensive but all of the models, both the women and the men, are very attractive.
  • Webcams.com – The website describes itself as “the world’s biggest community for erotica made at home.” It is a pay site, however, it has the feel of many of the casual dating websites that are scams. There are indications that it’s legit but there also a number of complaints around the web.
  • GentlemenHandling.com – This site is an attempt at erotic voyeurism. The site describes itself as “a lovely place to watch moving images of male masturbation.” It then goes on to separate itself from porn by “raising the bar on the quality of erotic films.” You can view images for free but videos require payment.
  • ChatVille.com – An unsuspecting viewer website which allows you to video chat with a stranger in a private room or with up to four strangers at a time. The website comes with “rules” which state that anything obscene is not allowed. However, it does require users to be 18 or above.
  • Omegle.com – Omegle.com is a site where you can find unsuspecting viewers that differs slightly by offering a moderated version, where it is expected that people will “behave” and an adult section, where anything goes. It also offers a chat version or a webcam version.