Sex and staring

By Hayley Gray, The Sex Collective


Exhibitionism and voyeurism. These terms are the butt of jokes surrounding sexuality, and we consider them to be in bad taste. When we think about exhibitionism and voyeurism we think about the illegal, the inappropriate, and the lowest denominator of human existence. We bring to mind pictures of psychologically disturbed individuals peeking through your window or dropping their pants in the middle of a deserted hallway.

We think of these kinks as wholly separate and distinct from our own experiences and those of our social groups. I am not so sure if those distinctions are accurate.

Within all forms of psychopathy, there exists a spectrum of shades of grey upon which we have placed a line. This line determines whether you have a problem or a quirk. Exhibitionism and voyeurism are no exception.

German neurologist Albert Eulenburg described all forms of paraphilia (sexual preferences that fit outside the norm) as being based in normal sexual preferences. “Their roots reach down into the matrix of natural and normal sex life,” he said. “They are…hyperbolic intensifications, distortions…of certain partial and secondary expressions of this eroticism which is considered ‘normal.’”

You may be thinking: “How does this apply to me?” Honestly ask yourself: have you ever gotten dressed up to go out on the town? Have you ever been enamoured with someone to the point that you cannot stop staring at them in class then dropped your head as soon as they looked in your direction? Or, have you ever known someone was staring at your back and sat up a little straighter because of it?

Whether it be in these ways or others, whether it was sexually stimulating or not, whether we care to admit or would like to ignore that part of ourselves, it is clear that the desire to look at or be looked at are part of the human condition.

Exhibitionism is not about wanting sex. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual, or the bible of psychology, describes the sexual disorder of exhibitionism with no reference to actual ‘sex acts.’  In a 1988 study in the Annals of Sex Research, Kurt Freund (that’s not a typo) and his colleagues asked 185 exhibitionists what reaction they would hope to get out of an individual they were exposing themselves too; only a third said that they hoped that the other person would want to have sexual intercourse. The rest of the answers ranged from “no reaction” to “any reaction.”

In a similar vein, our desire to express ourselves sexually with our appearance does not mean that we are soliciting sex. Some people who are going out ‘done up’ because they are hoping to pick up; some want people to react to them; many are not hoping for a reaction at all.

Wanting to look and be looked at is an aspect of the human condition. In its extremities it can be inappropriate, disrespectful and illegal. But in our day to day lives it is part of the socio-psychological reality of being a sexual creature, whether we act on it or not.

Exhibitionism and voyeurism are not appropriate behaviours to engage in without consent. If you are feeling propelled to these behaviours in a way that could make you or others feel uncomfortable, give Dal Counselling Services a call at (902) 494-2081. They love to chat.

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Dalhousie Gazette Staff

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