Exhibitionism: Symptoms and Description of this Paraphilia

Exhibitionism is a paraphilia, or a disorder of sexual arousal. Exhibitionism is characterized by intense, recurrent and sexually arousing fantasies involving the exposure of the individual’s genitals.

Symptoms of Exhibitionism

The symptoms of exhibitionism, summarized and paraphrased from the DSM-IV TR (2000: American Psychiatric Association), require both that the exhibitionist behaviour or fantasizing causes some stress or impairment to normal functioning and that the behaviour has been ongoing for at least six months:

  • For a period of at least 6 months, the patient has intense sexual desires, fantasies or behaviours concerning genital self-exposure to an unsuspecting stranger.
  • This behaviour causes clinically important distress or impairs work, social or other important areas of personal functioning.

Exhibitionism often co-occurs with another paraphilia, voyeurism.

Caveats About the Symptoms of Exhibitionism

Mild forms of exhibitionism are tolerated or even considered normal in many societies. To be diagnosed as a mental disorder, the behaviour must focus on unsuspecting strangers (not romantic partners, for example) and must cause stress or impairment.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. Please seek professional advice if you are experiencing any mental health concern.

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