Voyeurism is a condition or practice, wherein a person experiences sexual arousal and achieve sexual satisfaction by covertly looking at other people in intimate positions. These intimate positions may pertain to disrobing, sleeping while minimally clothed or engaging in sexual activities. A voyeur looks at other people without their knowledge or consent for personal gratification. The DSM also recognizes voyeurism as a paraphilia or a sexual disorder which is indicative of abnormal sexual behavior. This condition is different from normally achieved sexual arousal on witnessing sexual intimacy or nudity. The intention of a voyeur is what differentiates this condition from many other sexual conditions. In contemporary culture, majority of human population is believed to experience some level of voyeurism though the urges may not be acted upon.
Voyeurism, by definition, necessitates the voyeur to simply observe the subject of desire in intimate positions from a distance. Which means no bodily harm can be inflicted on another by a voyeur. However, pathological severity of voyeurism can transition into sexual molestation, stalking, sexual abuse and many other sexual disorders. Commonly observed cases also indicate an overlap between voyeurism and exhibitionism. A person suffering from voyeuristic urges can also feel socially and personally constrained and may recognize the sexual disorder. This can also lead to development of chronic depression and social reclusion. Marital life can also suffer as voyeurism becomes the primary way of achieving sexual satisfaction.
Voyeurs are known to be mentally much more capable and stable as compared to others suffering from paraphilia. Their psychological and physiological profile rarely shows any anomaly and they can very well be normal functioning adults. But there can be latent causes which can lead to development of voyeuristic tendencies. Voyeurism commonly starts surfacing at 15 years of age or even before that. This clearly indicates that like other sexual disorders, voyeurism is a part of sexual development and can rarely be developed at a later stage in life. Men are more commonly known to be voyeuristic as compared to women. Notable causes for voyeurism are –
- Hormonal: Excessive Testosterone production can lead to development of deviant sexual behavior in men and can also be the underlying cause of voyeurism
- Familial causes: Voyeuristic tendencies are observed in patients with dysfunctional families. If the patient has struggled through a difficult emotional childhood and is unable to integrate normal sexual development with social and moral conventions, voyeuristic tendencies are likely to develop.
- Emotional abuse: A person subject to emotional abuse and traumatic situations during the formative years of childhood may also develop voyeuristic tendencies and seek voyeurism as the primary route for sexual gratification instead of developing normal sexual behavior.
As a sexual disorder which can be conveniently hidden, voyeurism is difficult to diagnose unless the person is a known sex offender or commits to willingly seek help for voyeuristic tendencies. The Diagnostic and Statistical manual have defined certain diagnostic criteria for establishing voyeurism as a condition in the patient –
- Voyeuristic urges to observe others in intimate positions, without their knowledge, must be experienced and acted upon for at-least six months in a row.
- Sexual arousal and satisfaction can be exclusively achieved by voyeurism only
- Voyeuristic urges become too powerful to control and start interfering with inter-personal, occupational and social areas of life.
- Voyeurism becomes compulsive enough to drive the patient to the extent of stalking
Voyeurism is the most benign form of paraphilia and rarely ever develops in a sexual disorder. Hence the treatments used for voyeurism are mostly dependent on patient’s participation and willingness to fix voyeuristic urges. Commonly used treatments include –
- Psychoanalytic: This treatment relies on identifying the causes of voyeurism. The patient is then encouraged to consciously avoid voyeuristic urges.
- Group psychotherapy: As voyeuristic behavior entails ignoring the moral code established and followed by the society, group psychotherapy helps a voyeur most. By relating to others facing the same sexual problems, voyeurs can learn to accept their condition and consciously control it.
- Shock aversion: This behavioral restructuring enhances the inhibition response in the voyeur and makes him realize the moral consequences of invading another’s privacy and pursuing voyeuristic fantasies with criminal intent.
- Replacement with pornography: Replacing illegal voyeuristic behavior by legal viewing of pornography can result in successful behavioral reconditioning. A voyeur can learn to achieve sexual satisfaction from watching porn instead of submitting to voyeuristic urges.
- Medicinal aid: Anti-psychotics and anti-depressants are prescribed to a voyeur if the patient has other mental disorders which complicate the conditions of voyeurism.