Exhibitionism/Exposing self

Dear Alice,

I expose myself about once or twice a week on public transportation coming into work at the university. I show myself mostly to high school girls, but sometimes to adult women. I position myself so only the person viewing me can see. I unzip my pants and let my underwear show first. If they look and keep looking, I pull my penis out. Only a few times have I masturbated while exposing myself. In all cases, they did not get up and leave. On more then one occasion, the high school girls have moved closer to get a better look. I like what I am doing, but know I should not be doing it.

I don't think I am harming anybody. Do you think the women are annoyed or upset? Are they being harmed?

P.S.: I also expose myself in clinical situations. When I go to see the nurse practitioner, we start with a paper drape, but I put it on the side. She has known me for years and she lets me lay on the exam table, jokes, and carries on a normal discussion. I also play with myself before she does an examination and I masturbate to ejaculation after the exam. But I only go to her if I have a real physical problem.

— Exposed

Dear Exposed,

The fact that some of the women you've exposed yourself have remained silent does not imply that they are consenting to seeing your genitals. People who witness exhibitionism such as yours may react in different ways, but it is likely you are causing some, or all, of these women harm (mental distress, feeling unsafe, feeling violated, etc.). In addition, you may be jeopardizing yourself; your behavior is illegal, and the more you engage in it, the greater the likelihood of arrest. Exposing oneself, a.k.a. public lewdness, is a misdemeanor offense, which can be punished with a jail sentence (for example, up to three months in New York State). Aside from legal implications, you may want to consider that your job, your family relationships, and your reputation are also at stake.

These women and high school girls have not made an agreement with you prior to your act. Exposing yourself to non-consenting people is a form of sexual abuse. Also, carrying on "normally," as your nurse practitioner does when you expose yourself in her office, does not mean she is giving consent. She may feel too uncomfortable to ask you to cover yourself; her jokes may even be a nervous response to your exposure.

Having fantasies about exhibitionism is not necessarily a problem if it doesn't lead to non-consentual and/or public acts of exposure. If you can find a consenting person to help you play out these fantasies in private, you may be able to explore your desire for exposure in a "safe" way. However, if you do not have explicit consent and still feel the need to expose yourself, it's time to consider stopping this behavior all together and/or seeking help. To avoid negative consequences (harming others, getting arrested), think about making an appointment with a qualified counselor.

Public exhibitionism is not a casual mode of sexual expression. It is non-consensual and it is illegal. Exhibitionism can be safe in certain private, pre-arranged, consensual situations, but not in the illegal public or professional situations you describe.

Last updated Jul 13, 2015
Originally published Mar 21, 1996

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