Exhibitionism: a Psychological Considerate of a Societal Taboo Essay

Exhibitionism is a mental disorder that is identified by a compulsion to display one’s genitals to an unsuspecting stranger. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2000) classifies the disorder under the heading of a subcategory of sexual and gender identity disorders, “paraphilias. ” Exhibitionists, widely known as “flashers,” can be separated in to two categories with the first being those who masturbate while exposing oneself or while fantasizing that he or she is exposing oneself to another person.

In some cases exhibitionists are completely aware of a conscious desire to shock or upset their target; while others imagine that the target will become sexually aroused by their display. The question arises, “What makes exhibitionists preform these deviant acts? ” This question, though researched, remains problematic in the sense that all research findings are inconclusive. However, despite this problem, researchers have conducted and gained valuable knowledge of theories related to the development of this disorder.

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Through the research of scholars, Lee, Frey, Piemont, Bogaerts, and Jones, a better understanding of the disorder’s development is expressed while also connecting exhibitionism to its’ psychological significance, biological, learning, and psychoanalytical theories. Exhibitionism: A Psychological Considerate of a Societal Taboo Sex, fantasy, and stimulation are natural humanistic characteristics possessed by every individual. Exhibitionism, a societal “taboo,” is a broad term that can be addressed through multiple levels, but it most typically refers to an intense desire or compulsion to expose sexual parts of the body.

The American Psychiatric Association (2000) defines exhibitionism as “sexual gratification, above and beyond the sexual act itself that is achieved by risky public sexual activity and/or bodily exposure which can also include engaging in sex where one may possibly be seen in the act, or caught in the act. ” The main problem that researchers have faced while exploring exhibitionism is the inconclusiveness related to the primary source of the developing issue.

However, despite the fact of not possessing concrete factual proof of the paraphilia, there are a variety of theories, biological, learning, and psychoanalytical, that attempt to explain how exhibitionism develops. These theories of development are the primary focus of all accredited research. Through the consideration of the presented studies, the psychology behind this “unusual” sexual behavior is explored more in depth through scholars and their discoveries for an enhanced mental understanding. A more in depth knowledge of what exactly exhibitionism remains crucial. Exhibitionism is not essentially a compulsive or impulsive behavior but in its most extreme and compulsive form it is called apodysophilia” (American). Thus, exhibitionism is only reflected as a psychological disorder if it hinders a person’s quality of life or their normal functioning ability. According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, exhibitionism is classified under the title of paraphilias, a group of mental disorders marked by fascination with unusual sexual practices or with sexual activity involving non-agreeable or inappropriate confidantes.

It has been found in some cases that the exhibitionist masturbates while revealing himself or while fantasizing that he is exposing himself to the other person. Some exhibitionists are aware of a conscious desire to shock or upset their target; while others visualize that the target will become sexually aroused by their display. What causes this underlying fantasy? Researchers have proposed several theories that can be directly linked to exhibitionist symptoms, biological, learning, and psychoanalytical notions.

An expert in the field of treating paraphilias proposes in The American Psychiatric Association (2000) a method of classifying the symptoms of exhibitionism according to level of severity, based on criteria from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–III–R (1987) 3rd ed. , revised), the levels of severity are categorized by mild, moderate, severe, and catastrophe. In a mild case, the person has frequent illusions of revealing himself, but has seldom if ever acted on them.

Moderate cases reflect three targets or fewer through occasional exposer, and he or she has difficulty controlling impulses to do so. A severe case is classified as someone who has exposed themselves to more than three people, which in turn reflects on severe control problems. Finally, the fourth level of severity, catastrophic, signifies the presence of aggressive fantasies which, if acted upon, would cause severe harm or death to the victim. Conversely, this extreme level of severity would not be found in exhibitionists without the presence of other paraphilias.

Considering exhibitionism is a “hands-off paraphilia,” it hardly ever increases above the level of moderate severity in the absence of other paraphilias. As previously mentioned, theories have been suggested relating to the roots of exhibitionism although none are considered certain. Learning theories are among the few studies presented by researchers. Learning theories relate to the studies that have shown “emotional abuse in childhood and family dysfunction as significant risk factors in the development of exhibitionism” (Frey, 2003, 378).

Frey’s aim of study to focus on is the identification of specific developmental risk factors for exhibitions. Through his study of sixty four sex offenders and thirty three non-sex, nondrug correlated, and passive property offenders, clinical assessment for evidence of paraphilias, and their confrontational childhood experiences were measured by a series of tests. The offenders were separated into classifying groups related to their offenses.

Eight implements were administered to all the participants in the paraphilia and valuation groups to determine their paraphilic diagnoses; “to measure their extent of social desirability; and to assess their childhood experiences retrospectively in terms of nine variables, namely, childhood emotional abuse, parental care, parental control, family adapt-ability, family cohesion, childhood competence, childhood behavior problems, childhood sexual abuse, and childhood physical abuse” (Lee et al. , (2002), p. 82).

Once assessment was completed, results showed that dysfunction was the only common predictor in terms of a common developmental risk factor for each of the four selected paraphilias. The results moderately established the hypothesis that childhood emotional abuse is a common developmental risk influence for pedophilia, exhibitionism, rape, or multiple paraphilia. Childhood Emotional Abuse and Family Dysfunction were identified from various studies as a common developmental risk factor for pedophilia, exhibitionism, rape, or multiple paraphilia.

Yet, “further simultaneous and stepwise regression analyses indicated that childhood emotional abuse was a significant contributor as well as a common developmental risk factor” (Lee et al. , (2002), p. 87). Through Lisa Piemont’s research (2007) and examination of the psychological process, these acts of exposing one’s privacy or “privates” can be linked to the need and want of shocking others or making them feel repulsed. This need and want that exhibitionists’ desire relates directly to their need of constant feedback and confirmation from others to gain an understanding for who they are.

Piemont explores three case studies that demonstrate her thesis, “fears of psychic emptiness, powerlessness, abuse, and neglect in the early maternal environment and, the attachment of libidinal drives to external objects” (Piemont, 2007, p. 79). She then explores the effectiveness of individual cognitive-behavioral therapy and group treatment methods with recommendations for best practices in both modalities. Recent case studies express that exhibitionists share the common feature of mental emptiness.

During these acts of exhibitionism, this emptiness leads to projective identification which endures the need of mastering this overwhelming anxiety of emptiness. Through the case study of Mr. K and Mr. B, the conclusion is made that generally, men who display themselves present for treatment with a great deal of cognitive anguish about their urges, over which they feel they have no control. “They suffer greatly about their behavior and experience just as much ego-dissonance as they experience id-satisfaction about their histories of acting out” (Piemont, 2007, p. 0). Still, the urge to participate in the behavior overrides their strong concerns about consequences as well as the shame and guilt they associate with these acts. Further patient examination presents their treatment that shows evidence of “insufficient or damaged maternal interjects, resulting in an impaired capacity for mirroring and being mirrored” (Piemont, 2007, p. 87). In agreement, Piemont acknowledges Stoller (1975) who also describes the compulsive sexual behavior of exhibitionists as a defense against boredom.

Piemont supports the comparison by stating that “if boredom refers to a state of under-stimulation that threatens these structurally fragile and alienated patients with a form of psychic emptiness, the cases described herein support Stroller’s theory” (Piemont, 2007, p. 88). While Piemont found significant results through her study, Bogaerts also gained relevant research through his studies that relate to psychoanalytical theories about the development of exhibitionism. Through Bogaerts’ case studies, the comparison of exhibitionists and normal control subjects is made on the variables parental sensitivity and personality disorders (2006).

His research aligns with his earlier research that has shown that inadequate interpersonal factors and personality disorders play a role in the development of child molesting behavior. According to his prior research, out of the twenty five males with exhibitionism that were being studied, “twenty three suffered from a current comorbid Axis I disorder (major depressive disorder, compulsive sexual behavior, and substance use disorders were most common)” (Bogaerts, 2006, p. 637).

The follow up research comparison sample consisted of different variables concerning recalled parental bonding and personality disorders while also exploring whether the characteristics that prove to differentiate between both groups can be thought of as “sensitive predictors forecasting exhibitionism” (Borgaerts. 2006, p. 638). The sample of exhibitionists contained thirty three male adults recruited from an educational cognitive training program in Belgium. Among those thirty three men, five exhibitionists had earlier convictions for exhibitionism and twenty eight were registered as first offenders.

The group of exhibitionists was individually matched with a normal control group of thirty three samples. “Respondents with the targeted characteristics volunteer to participate in the study and may refer other potentially interested respondents to the researcher” (Borgaerts, 2006, p. 639). The groups were matched based on the variables of age, marital status, employment status, and educational level. Remembered parental bonding in childhood, with both parents, was measured by the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI; Parker, Tuplin, & Brown, 1979).

The PBI is a device that measures the parental impact to bonding, or a person’s memories of parental behavior and attitudes. His findings conclude that while memories of insensitive parenting did not prove to be core explanatory variables, the tests did however indicate that the maternal and parental care and paternal autonomy differed strongly between exhibitionists and normal controls. These interpersonal variables draw the conclusion that the group of exhibitionists conveyed less parental care originating from mother and father and greater experienced autonomy from father than the comparison sample.

Another accredited researcher, Matthew Jones, recently found valid results relating to the exhibitionism development from his studies (2010). Jones focuses his research on the understanding of the practice of mediated exhibitionism, “the phenomenon of amateur performers exposing their nude bodies on the internet” (Jones, 2010, p. 267). Through his examinations of the connections between amateur performance and mediated nudity, he concluded several themes emerge and contribute to an understanding of mediated exhibitionism.

The context under which the naked body is presented throughout history is a key factor he points out on how mediated exhibitionism is interpreted. Another theme found is, “in order to inhibit and control nudity as well as to impose the mark of culture upon the body, idealized standards of physical beauty are upheld through sanctioned performance and (especially) traditional mass media forms including photography, film, and video” (Jones, 2010, p. 268). Finally Jones concludes that “mediated exhibitionism can achieve incremental changes in social norms and attitudes toward the body through competitive boundary testing” (Jones, 2010, p. 68). However, despite any changes that do occur, the surrounding technology of the internet supports a commercial framework for the management of sexual expression. The problem researchers still face while exploring exhibitionism is the inconclusiveness related to the primary source of the developing issue. Despite this problem, there are a variety of theories, biological, learning, and psychoanalytical, that attempt to provide a better understanding of how exhibitionism develops.

Scholars, Lee, Frey, Piemont, Bogaerts, and Jones, all play valuable roles in the potential understanding of how exhibitionism develops within individuals as well as understanding of this “taboo’s” psychological significance.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed. , text rev. ). Washington, DC: Author. Bogaerts, S. (2006). Recalled parental bonding and personality disorders in a sample of exhibitionists: A comparative study. Journal Of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 17(4), 636-646.

Frey, R. J. (2003). Exhibitionism. In M. Harris & E. Thackerey (Eds. ), The Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders Vol. 1. (pp. 376-381). Detroit: Mi. Gale. Jones, M. T. (2010). Mediated Exhibitionism: The Naked Body in Performance and Virtual Space. Sexuality & Culture, 14(4), 253-269. Lee, J. P. , Jackson, H. J. , Pattison, P. , & Ward, T. (2002). Developmental risk factors for sexual offending. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26(1), 73. Piemont, L. (2007). Fear of the Empty Self: The Motivations for Genital Exhibitionism. Modern Psychoanalysis, 32(1), 79-93.

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