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Voyeurism: behavior, paraphilia or disorder?

Voyeurism: behavior, paraphilia or disorder?

June 12, 2024

According to various psychoanalytic theories, Lacanian, the human being is born with the need to look, to subjectivize its context through the gaze. It is what would be called scopic drive. For these currents humans are scopic beings, we have the need to look and enjoy with it.

When this enjoyment of looking at the other becomes sexual excitement, then we can talk about voyeurism , which is characterized by reaching sexual arousal by observing naked people or performing some sexual activity, without the knowledge of these.

  • Related article: "The 9 main sexual and psychosexual disorders"

What is voyeurism?

The word voyeur, of French origin, derives from the verb voir (see), together with the agent suffix -eur, and its literal translation is "he who sees".

According to the clinical setting, a voyeur or voyeurist is that person who seeks sexual arousal by watching naked people or who perform some sexual activity, however, this behavior does not imply any subsequent sexual activity on the part of the person observing.

Voyeurism can reach the degree of paraphilia, sometimes considered a disorder. The so-called voyeurism disorder involves carrying out voyeuristic impulses and fantasies without the consent of the other person; experiencing significant discomfort or functional deterioration due to such desires or impulses.

Voyeurism according to clinical practice

But not all voyeuristic practices can be considered pathological. It is true that if we stick to the traditional definition of paraphilia: sexual behavior whose main source of pleasure is outside coitus, voyeurism can be considered as such.

However, not all voyeuristic behavior is paraphilic, not all paraphilias can be considered pathological by themselves . Everything will depend on the degree of interference in the sexual and non-sexual life of the person, and the subsequent discomfort or deterioration of this.

Most people who have paraphilic interests do not meet the clinical criteria for paraphilic disorder. These criteria are summarized two points:

  • The behaviors, desires or fantasies of the person cause a clinically significant discomfort, a functional deterioration or cause harm to third parties.
  • This set of behaviors must occur for more than six months.

The desire to observe other people in sexual contexts is very frequent, and can not be considered anomalous in itself . These behaviors have to begin in the adolescent or early adult life. However, if during the course of this becomes pathological, the person ends up investing a considerable time in the search of opportunities to look at others; obstructing other responsibilities or daily activities.

Symptoms and signs

Usually, a voyeuristic person or voyeur has to observe the sexual scene from certain distance and, occasionally, hidden. Observing through, cracks or locks or by using objects such as mirrors or cameras.

This behavior is accompanied, occasionally, by masturbatory activities; but it is not a necessary condition for the practice of voyeurism. Further, the risk of being discovered acts as an excitement enhancer .

Often, this voyeuristic disposition is accompanied by exhibitionist tendencies. That is, the person enjoys showing himself, more or less openly, half-naked or completely naked. Both voyeurism and exhibitionism have a great compulsive and irrepressible component. In both, before and during each sexual behavior, the rate of sweating and the cardiac rate increase before the appearance of stimuli related to said activities; effects that disappear after the performance of the voyeuristic act.

It is also necessary to distinguish between voyeurism and the mere excitement of contemplating a naked body. The main difference is that in voyeurism there is no knowledge and / or consent on the part of the person observed, while in the rest of sexual activities it is assumed that there is. Being such contemplation of nudity a part within sexual activity, and not the totality of this.

Regarding the personality characteristics of a voyeurist, these behaviors tend to relate to people who have been shy during adolescence, being necessary to emphasize that they are not subject to have particularly pathological traits. Another term related to voyeurism, but something different, is the candaulismo, name that comes from a historical personage Candaules, last king of the Heraclida dynasty.This expression refers to a behavior in which the person observing derives pleasure from observing their partner by having sexual relations with another person.


As mentioned above, there are few people with voyeuristic tastes in which the behavior ends up becoming a disorder; since for the great majority of them these behaviors do not pose a problem either in their daily lives or for their psychological health.

Therefore, there are also few people who are referred to psychiatric or mental health centers. In most cases these patients are referred to these units after having broken the law and have been convicted as sexual offenders. In this case, the voyeurism disorder has two courses of action:

  • Psychotherapy along with assistance to support groups and selective inhibitors of serotonin reuptake (SSRI) , the latter to alleviate the compulsive acts of looking.
  • Antiandrogen drugs in very serious cases.

When SSRIs are not effective, due to the severity of the disorder, medications are considered to reduce testosterone levels and libido inhibitors. This medication, better known as antiandrogens, does not directly decrease testosterone levels; but by including agonists of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate they initiate a chain-reaction hormone that does reduce testosterone production.

Given the aggressiveness of this treatment and its side effects requires the informed consent of the patient and a rigorous liver function and serum testosterone levels.

Penalization of voyeuristic behaviors

In certain cultures voyeurism is considered a perversion and in several countries it is qualified as a sexual crime.

  • The United Kingdom added this behavior to the Sexual Offenses Act of 20013, thus criminalizing the act of observing someone without their consent.
  • At the end of 2005, Canada enacted a similar law, declaring voyeurism a sex crime.
  • USA it also penalizes this practice in nine of its states.

Voyeuristic Disorders: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments (June 2024).

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