Chus Martinez On Exhibitionism

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Exhibitionism is the act of exposing in a public or semi-public context those parts of one’s body not normally exposed – specifically the genitals or buttocks of a man or woman, or the breasts of a woman. The practice may arise from the desires or compulsions of an individual to expose themselves to groups of friends or acquaintances, or to strangers for their amusement or sexual satisfaction or to shock the bystander.

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Public exhibitionism by women has been recorded since classical times, often in the context of women shaming groups of men into committing, or inciting them to commit, some public action.  The term exhibitionism was first used to describe a specific mental disorder by French quack Charles Lasègue in a medical journal in 1877.

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Today when exhibitionism interferes with a person’s quality of life or normal social functioning it is considered a psychological disorder categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition (class 302.4) as a sexual deviation. Psychiatric definitions of exhibitionism broadly define it as “sexual gratification, above and beyond the sexual act itself, that is achieved by risky public sexual activity and/or bodily exposure.”

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A research team asked a sample of 185 exhibitionists, “How would you have preferred a person to react if you were to expose your privates to him or her?” The most common response was “Would want to have sexual intercourse” (35.1%), followed by “No reaction necessary at all” (19.5%), “To show their privates also” (15.1%), “Admiration” (14.1%), and “Any reaction” (11.9%). Only very few exhibitionists chose “Anger and disgust” (3.8%) or “Fear” (0.5%). Exhibitionism is treated as a sexual offence in many countries and exhibitionists can be arrested for indecent exposure.

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Types of exhibitionism included:

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Anasyrma: the lifting of the skirt when not wearing underwear, to expose genitals.

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Flashing: the exposure of male or female genitalia. For women it also includes the momentary display of bare breasts with an up-and-down lifting of the shirt and/or bra.

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Martymachlia: a paraphilia that involves sexual attraction to having others watch the execution of a sexual act.

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Mooning: the display of bare buttocks by pulling down of trousers and underwear. There tends to be a gendered double standard in this case: with males, the act is most often done for the sake of humour, disparagement, or mockery, as opposed to sexual excitement, whereas with females, the reverse tends to be true, and sexual arousal (or at least sexual attention) of those mooned is the intent.

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Streaking: the act of running nude through a public place. The intent is not usually sexual but for shock value.

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Candaulism: when a person exposes his or her partner in a sexually explicit manner.

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Reflectoporn: the act of stripping and taking a photograph using an object with a reflective surface, then posting the image on the Internet in a public forum. Examples include “images of naked men and women reflected in kettles, TVs, toasters and even knives and forks”. The instance generally credited with starting the trend involved a man selling a kettle on an Australian auction site featuring a photograph where his naked body is clearly visible; other instances followed, and the specific term “reflectoporn” was coined by Chris Stevens of Internet Magazine.

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Telephone scatologia or obscene phone calls – some researchers have claimed that this is a variant of exhibitionism, even though it has no in-person physical component.

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Two main classes of exhibitionism exist. Non-threatening exhibitionism may be physically expressed in two basic ways. The first, colloquially referred to as flashing, involves the exposure of a person’s “private parts” to another person or group of people in a situation where these would not normally be exposed, such as in a social gathering or in a public place. The act of flashing, particularly when done by females involving the breasts but also when involving her vulva and also her buttocks, may be at least partially sexual in intention, i.e. to prompt the sexual arousal of those being flashed, in turn giving the flasher an ego boost. However, flashing may also simply be intended to attract the non-aroused “attention” of another or others, or for shock value. An example of the latter is a male who displays his buttocks to someone else, an act which unlike a female who displays her buttocks is not typically taken by the viewer(s) as a sexually-provocative act. In fact, it is usually interpreted by the viewer as mildly or even severely insulting.

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Non-threatening exhibitionism can also be expressed in the context of a like-minded group who share the desire to expose themselves to each other. That type of exhibitionism has a wide variety of subtypes, including everything from nudist clubs or naturist resorts to small groups of friends or acquaintances sharing a hot tub without wearing bathing suits, or skinny-dipping together.

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The second class of exhibitionism, done threateningly or at least with aggressive intent, is referred to as indecent exposure, even though the physical act itself may also, somewhat confusingly, be referred to as “flashing”; however, even if the term “flashing” is used, the surrounding descriptive context gives a point of reference as to which of the two classes of exhibitionism is being described. A classic exemplary circumstance, meant to showcase the aggressive intent to “violate” another person’s peace of mind as compared to the first exhibitionism type, involves a male in a trench coat, naked underneath, who lurks in parks and on public footpaths, and when a woman appears proceeds to open his trench coat and display his nakedness (and possibly an already-existing erection) to the unwilling, possibly disgusted, and possibly frightened victim. For the person performing the act, the unwilling viewer’s repulsion and/or shock actually increases the flasher’s sexual excitement.

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Exhibitionism is not automatically a compulsion, but some people do have a distinct psychological tendency to expose themselves in a sexually-provocative manner, whether it is to “flash” (the nonthreatening form) or to “indecently expose” (the threatening form). When it is a compulsion, it is a condition sometimes called apodysophilia.

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