Some of you might remember that man who – back in the 1970s – stripped naked and hurdled the stumps during a cricket match at Lord’s Cricket Grounds, in the United Kingdom. People at the time humorously called the madcap antic “streaking.” That man’s name was Michael Angelow. He was an exhibitionist.
If you’ve ever wondered why you feel good showing a little skin in public, it could be because you’ve got something in common with Angelow.
We aren’t jumping to any conclusions here – not just yet. But if you relish the attention of others while showing off your assets in sexy lingerie, then you are definitely teetering along the spectrum of exhibitionism.
Embracing Your Exhibitionist Self
But let’s clear things up a little, first. Don’t let the term “exhibitionist” put you off. These days, the noun is no longer solely reserved for those shady perverts who feel compelled to expose their genitals to people on the subway. That’s not what we mean here.
Here we are reclaiming the word for the sexy, consensual kind of exhibitionism that builds your confidence, improves your orgasms and enhances your sex life.
In this context, exhibitionism is “the desire to reveal one’s physical attributes in a sexually alluring or suggestive manner,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly.
That doesn’t sound so perverted, does it?
In fact, countless healthy, normal people regularly entertain notions of taking it even further. Some 81 percent of men and 84 percent of women in the US have “experienced sexual arousal at the thought of public sex,” according to psychologist Justin Lehmiller.
That’s the kind of exhibitionism embraced by the sexologist, Carol Queen. Queen, who calls herself “a recovering shy person,” also considers herself something of a political activist.
The California-based sociologist and former stripper wants to remove the term “exhibitionism” from the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders. To Queen, shyness is the real pathology. Perversion, in this instance, is the cure.
“Nobody wants to be shy,” says Queen. “Plenty of people are happy being introspective and quiet … but nobody wants to be shy and feel like they’re impaired from communicating with someone they think is interesting…”
A Special Relationship
One of Queen’s most fascinating concepts has to do with “solo” exhibitionism. This basically involves showing off by yourself, which she says may be an effective first step toward correcting what she calls “super-super shyness.”
By definition, however, exhibitionism requires at least a second party – a voyeur. In an ideal scenario, the two would go hand-in-hand.
“A voyeur is someone who feels sexual arousal by watching someone else nude or doing sexual activities,” says clinical sexologist Sarah Melancon. “The fantasy of exhibitionism requires a voyeur,” thereby creating a relationship between watcher and the willing object of his or her attention.
Of course, you have no need or reason to identify any sexual inclination you might have. But if you are curious and you want to find out whether you have exhibitionist tendencies, then you can rely on a few innocuous indicators for confirmation.
You may have already noticed a few novel twists in your sexual inclinations. For instance, you’ve thought about sending – or actually have sent – your partner nude photos while he or she was at work. Or you may have fantasized about – or already have actually enjoyed – sex in public places.
None of these activities or fantasies are indicative of worrying psychological aberrations. Indeed, for Queen, all these are normal, healthy desires that should be fed and nurtured.
Most consensual exhibitionists can engage their desires in a private sphere, she notes.
“Dirty Dancing in the Mirror”
Talking dirty is one of the core stepping-stones in exhibitionism, Queen says, along with role-playing, finding the right partner, and confronting body-image issues. All of these can be done in the relative privacy of the bedroom.
“Build your comfort with being seen by practicing alone – dirty-dancing in the mirror, watching yourself as you masturbate, experimenting with whatever garments feel sexy for you,” says Queen. “Getting a sense of your own pleasure in showing off is key to really enjoying it with a person watching.”
Once past this initial hurdle, psychologist Margarida Rafael says couples can incorporate exhibitionism in their sex lives through a number of activities.
Rafael, whose work focuses on individuals with histories of trauma and relationship problems, says you can videotape yourself masturbating and share it with your partner. You might also want to try surprising your significant other by walking out naked to greet them when they arrive home from work, she says.
Rafael says couples can have sex in public places “without breaking the law,” such as in a bathroom at a friend’s house, or against a window. You can also try sexual intimacy with your partner in “your swimming pool and on your balcony.”
Queen, however, warns against carelessness. She notes how playful, harmless exhibitionism can quickly spiral out of control in the modern milieu of the internet.
“Sexting” might proceed naturally from that “partner-finding phase” familiar to countless teenagers. But it can also result in a child pornography charge.
“The overarching message isn’t that you should take your bra off and throw it at a mounted policeman in the park,” Queen tells the East Bay Express. “Although,” she adds, pausing, “that could be fun.”
Are you one of the four in five adults who have fantasized about sex in public? Why not write your own story for others to read?