Do you feel amazing, almost as if you're being energized and excited, while standing naked under the gaze of a partner or someone you're about to be intimate with? If the answer is yes, you could be into exhibitionism. Here, we explore and ultimately give you a better understanding of what it means to be an exhibitionist.
What is exhibitionism?
"Exhibitionism is when a person experiences sexual excitation from the fantasy of being observed naked or engaged in sexual activity, or from actually being observed while naked or engaged in sexual activity," explains AASECT-certified sex therapist Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT, CST.
Importantly, this consensual kink is completely different and separate from the mental health condition known as exhibitionistic disorder, which involves deriving "recurrent and intense sexual arousal from the exposure of one's genitals to an unsuspecting person, usually a stranger," Stray Conger says. The key difference is in the lack of consent and the distress the person may feel about their own desires.
"Healthy exhibitionism is a sex-positive celebration of the erotic and should not be confused with exhibitionistic disorder," she says.
The desire to incorporate being watched by others into sexual activity is an extremely common fantasy, Stray Conger says. According to Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., New York University professor of human sexuality and sexpert for LELO, a recent study showed that, "66% of men and 57% of women fantasize about having sex 'openly in a public place,' and 82% of both genders fantasize about having sex in an 'unusual' place, including offices, public toilets, etc."
"Most of us have at least a little bit of an exhibitionist streak in us: This, like anything else in psychology, exists on a spectrum, and it is perfectly normal and healthy," Vrangalova adds.
Though bringing that fantasy into reality is slightly less common, it still occurs frequently enough via the robust swinging or "lifestyle" community, says Stray-Conger.
Signs you might be into it:
You fantasize about being watched.
Perhaps one of the biggest indications that you're into exhibitionism is that you find yourself regularly fantasizing about being watched. Whether alone or with a partner: "If a common theme to the fantasies that bring you to climax are about someone observing you naked or engaged in a sexual act," then you might be an exhibitionist, says Stray Conger.
"If this fantasy is a core component to your erotic template, you might explore what it would be like to bring that fantasy into reality—with consenting adults and legal behavior, of course," she says.
An early memory of your sexual self involves being observed.
If you have an early memory of being seen naked and recalling that memory as an adult evokes an erotic feeling for you, you could be an exhibitionist.
"Our erotic templates tend to be formed when young, and the first few times we experience ourselves as sexual beings may not be when we are involved in sexual acts. Those deepest memories of our erotic selves become an integral part of what turns us on and gets us off," Stray Conger says.
You like the idea of getting into burlesque, stripping, or other sexy forms of culture.
"This is show-offy but also has the value for some of giving their exhibitionism a context. [Because some people] might only be comfortable with sexy...not sex," says Carol Queen, Ph.D., sexologist with Good Vibrations.
You enjoy putting on a show for your partner.
Similar to being into the idea of stripping or burlesque, Queen says putting on a private show is another sign of exhibitionism. "Putting on a show for your partner—dancing, masturbating for them, etc.—isn't just to entice and please them, though that's nice and sexy. An exhibitionist will also find this very personally arousing," she explains.
You dress sexy in order to pull attention.
Queen says this includes wearing tight or revealing clothes, costumes with some kink value, sexy lingerie, or really going over the top at Halloween. "Different people will find different outfits and garments sexy—there is no one type of clothing that all people would feel sexy in—so this part is definitely personal with diverse looks associated with it," she notes. "But again, [it's about] you drawing the eye, and feeling sexy about it."
"Even if you're not yet bringing these behaviors into sexually fueled situations, they are early signs that you love the feeling of people watching you," adds Dainis Graveris, certified sex educator and relationship expert at SexualAlpha.
This isn't gender-specific, Queen adds. "We often think of women as 'objects of desire' in this culture, and women are expected to dress and groom accordingly. That doesn't mean they're all turned on by it! And it doesn't mean all other gender presentations have to sit this one out. Anyone can find this kind of play or fantasy enhancing, if they are into it in the first place."
You love bringing your partner with you while shopping for lingerie.
In doing this, "your partner will feel sexually aroused, and you love seeing how they react to you showing off your body. A classic example of an exhibitionist and a voyeurist together," says Graveris.
Exhibitionism vs. voyeurism.
Exhibitionism and voyeurism actually go hand-in-hand, Vrangalova says.
"Exhibitionism and voyeurism are like two sides of a coin. Exhibitionism is about the possibility of being seen by others being arousing, while voyeurism is about watching others naked or having sex being arousing," she tells mbg. "Like exhibitionism, voyeurism is quite common (visual sexual stimuli is inherently arousing), and perfectly normal as long as it involves consenting adults."
Like with exhibitionism, consent is key to voyeurism and making the two kinks function well together.
"As a voyeur, I've had to learn how to respectfully enjoy the excitement and pleasure of someone that wants to be seen, especially in intimate settings during any group play or kink scenes," says Tiana GlittersaurusRex, polyamorous educator and co-founder of The Sex Work Survival Guide. "Watching verbal and nonverbal cues, how their bodies react or move, and knowing my attention is an additional form of participation is what makes the delicate dance of watcher and watched all the more titillating. The entertainment industry is worth billions because we live in a society that has people that love to perform and the fans that love to ogle."
Tips and tricks to explore your exhibitionist side:
Start in the realm of fantasy before introducing the real thing.
Before diving in, Stray Conger encourages open and honest conversations about what you want when it comes to your exploration of exhibitionism, especially with any sexual partners you might be engaging with.
"Talk about what sex would be like if others were watching. Discuss different scenarios and what would be most arousing," she says. "Then bring those fantasies into the bedroom while having sex, imagining that what you have already talked about is actually playing out. If that's arousing for you and your partner, you might discuss what it would take to make those fantasies real. Discuss whether that is something you both want to do, or if the fantasy is enough."
Add sexy garments or a striptease element to removing your clothes.
"Let the garments play up what you feel sexiest about, or cover 'body image areas' so you feel sexier than usual, or help you bring a role or identity to life," Queen suggests. "You'll probably care about whether someone else will find your outfit sexy—but much more important is what you feel sexy wearing."
Keep the lights on and put on a show.
If you're seeking the exhibitionistic thrill, then it might be a little harder to do so in the dark. Queens recommends keeping the lights on, getting on top, and putting on a show.
"Be showy, ask your partner to look at you, move, be a tease. Put on an erotic show for your partner; tease, masturbate, etc.," she says.
Try mutual masturbation.
Queen also recommends trying mutual masturbation, which is when two partners masturbate at the same time, enjoying self-pleasure while watching each other get off. "I love suggesting that both partners masturbate and watch at the same time," she says. "Just get on either end of the bed and make sure the lights aren't too dim."
Try a sex party or group sex scenario.
Once you've covered the bases of communication and you've incorporated a bit of your exhibitionistic fantasies into the bedroom, then it might be time to take things up a notch.
"Explore a sex party or swingers gathering. Again, choose an appropriate scenario, even if you were just talking about something over-the-top like having sex in the municipal pool. Don't get in trouble out there, and don't (as Queen Victoria reportedly said) 'do it in the street and frighten the horses,'" Queens says.
This could also lead to more intense orgasms or an overall better experience when you do make it back into the bedroom at the end of the night.
The bottom line.
So, now that you have a better understanding of consensual exhibitionism and what it means to be an exhibitionist, what are you going to do with it? The truth is, you don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with.
"If you think you wouldn't be brave enough to try exhibitionism or worry you wouldn't like it in real life, that's OK. A lot of our fantasies live in our minds and bring us plenty of joy without turning them into reality. That doesn't mean you're not an exhibitionist at heart," says Stray Conger.
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Stephanie Barnes is a freelance writer from Kingston, Jamaica. She studied Information Technology from the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean and spent several years as a front-end/iOS engineer. Her work has been featured at The Huffington Post, Healthline, The Lily, HelloGiggles, Business Insider, and more. She's passionate about all things mental health, technology, and binge-worthy television.