Some men have a recurrent urge or fantasy to expose their genitals. It is interesting that the need to expose your genitals to another in order to get excited exists only in men. Women do find pleasure in showing parts of their bodies, including their genitals. Yet, women exhibit their genitals in order to be sexually exciting to another person. It is found that in almost 100% of cases of exhibitionism that it is men who gets sexually excited by exposing themselves to women.
It is also interested that men who act out their exhibitionism are often caught. Why do they act this out in such a way that they get caught? Men might risk their social standing, marriage and careers when they engage in exhibitionistic behaviour. What is so appealing that they risk so much and why do they so often allow themselves to be caught?
Let’s look at the example of a man who has been caught for exhibitionism on more than one occasion. He knows that his career and marriage is at risk and yet he continues to act out his impulse to exhibit himself. It is interesting to note that his impulse to exhibit himself usually follows a situation in his marriage or at work where he feels humiliated. This man is then overcome by an impulse to seek out a strange woman or girl to whom he can exhibit his penis. This man does not exhibit his penis to women he knows and in his marriage he is even shy and feels his wife doen not respect him. If the woman he exposes himself to reacts by joking with him he feels humiliated again and runs away. If the women is upset and angry and calls the police the man is excited and reluctant to get away. The man feels victorious over the women and experiences a sense of triumph. He has had a huge impact on her and has caused a severe reaction. For this man the real risk is not being caught by the police, but the humiliation that he suffered earlier the day. This humiliation is a repetition of humiliation suffered in childhood that has left this man fearing that he is not a strong, potent male. For this man the risk is not to be caught, but to feel impotent and humiliated. By exhibiting his penis he shows that he is a potent man (not weak, humiliated, unmanly and castrated). What this man is doing is to exhibit his manliness (not simply his physical sexual organ). If the women reacts strongly and calls the police the man has the experience that he does have a fine penis (and is a manly man) – fine enough to create such a fuss. This man’s aim is not safety from the police, but safety from feeling humiliated, insignificant and unmanly.
It is clear from this example that men with exhibitionism assert their masculinity by exhibiting their genitals. Men who exhibit themselves acknowledge the inappropriateness of their behaviour and often feel guilt afterwards, but cannot resist the impulse to exhibit their genitals (their manliness). These men frequently use these exhibitionistic episodes as masturbatory fantasies. An exploration of such a man’s sense of masculinity and childhood history is essential in helping him resolve this behaviour (and it’s underlying dynamics).
(This article is based on the work of Robert Stoller.)