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Voyeurism is one of the behaviors in a group of sexual problems called paraphilias. Paraphilias are associated with sexual arousal in response to stimuli not associated with normal sexual behavior patterns. Voyeurism is a practice in which an individual derives sexual pleasure from observing other people. 

Understanding Voyeurism

Voyeurism is a practice in which an individual derives sexual pleasure observing other people engaged in sexual acts, nude, in underwear, or dressed in whatever other way the "voyeur" finds appealing.  Differentiating innocent enjoyment of nudity from behavior that is similar but deviant in other circumstances can sometimes be difficult.

Voyeuristic practices may take a number of forms but their characteristic feature is that the voyeur does not directly interact with the object of their voyeurism (often unaware that they are being observed), instead observing the act from a distance by peeping through an opening or using aids such as binoculars, mirrors, cameras (including camera phones and video cameras), etc. This stimulus sometimes becomes part of a masturbation fantasy during or after the observation.

A subset of voyeurs derive sexual pleasure from looking under articles of clothing, an act sometimes known as an "upskirt". This can be accomplished by camera or simply by a chance viewing up skirts or shorts. Some voyeurs also derive pleasure by looking down shirts and blouses and viewing breasts, particularly when a person is bending over. This is commonly referred to as a "downblouse".

Paraphilias and Voyeurism

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the prevailing resource for diagnostic criteria of paraphilias, describes the essential feature of paraphilias as recurrent, intense, sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies generally involving nonhuman objects, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or partner, or children or other non consenting persons.

The DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for voyeurism are as follows:

The patient has recurrent and intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving the act of observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity. The person must experience significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning because of the fantasies, urges, or behaviors.  When severe, the act of peeping constitutes the exclusive form of sexual activity. Onset usually is in persons younger than 15 years, and the disorder tends to be chronic. The wide extent of voyeuristic tendencies in the general population is evidenced in the common desire to indulge in exploitative activities such as live shows and pornography (see sexual addiction and pornography addiction).

The DSM-IV-TR  list of other paraphilias includes:

Exhibitionism: the recurrent urge or behavior to expose one's genitals to an unsuspecting person.

Fetishism: the use of non-sexual or nonliving objects or part of a person's body to gain sexual excitement. Partialism refers to fetishes specifically involving nonsexual parts of the body.

Frotteurism: the recurrent urges or behavior of touching or rubbing against a non consenting person.

Masochism: the recurrent urge or behavior of wanting to be humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.

Sadism: the recurrent urge or behavior involving acts in which the pain or humiliation of the victim is sexually exciting.

Transvestite fetishism: a sexual attraction towards the clothing of the opposite gender.

Chronophilias such as Infantophilia: the sexual attraction to infants, Pedophilia: the sexual attraction to prepubescent children, Gerontophilia: the sexual attraction to the elderly.

Other paraphilias: includes rarer behaviors such as telephone scatalogia (obscene phone calls), necrophilia (corpses), partualism (exclusive focus on one part of the body), zoophilia (animals), coprophilia (feces), klismaphilia (enemas), urophilia (urine).

For additional "paraphilias", visit the page List of Paraphilias.

Causes of Voyeurism

The cause of voyeurism appears to depend on the individual and not on any one common characteristic factor.  Biological theories hold that testosterone, the hormone that influences the sexual drive in both men and women, increases the susceptibility of males to develop deviant sexual behaviors. Learning theory studies have shown that emotional abuse in childhood and family dysfunction are both significant risk factors in the development of voyeurism.

Treatment of Voyeurism

In cases of voyeurism and other paraphilias, where significant potential for negative consequences poses a concern, the need for long-term therapy and monitoring must be emphasized. For treatment to be successful, a voyeur must want to modify existing patterns of behavior. This initial step is difficult for most voyeurs to admit and then take. Treatments for voyeurism typically include cognitive therapy, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and medication.

Behavioral therapy is commonly used to try to treat voyeurism. The voyeur must learn to control the impulse to watch non-consenting victims, and just as importantly to acquire more acceptable means of sexual gratification. Outcomes of behavioral therapy are not known. There are no direct drug treatments for voyeurism.

Cognitive therapy seeks to change the patient's behavior without analyzing how and why it shows up. It is based on the idea that fetishism is the result of conditioning or imprinting. The therapy is not able to change the patient's sexual preference itself but can only suppress the resulting unwanted behavior.

Psychoanalysis tries to spot the traumatic unconscious experience that caused the voyeuristic behavior in first instance. Bringing this unconscious knowledge to conscience and thus enabling the patient to work up his trauma rationally and emotionally shall relieve the him from his problems.

Medication treatment involves various forms of drugs that inhibit the production of sex steroids, above all male testosterone and female estrogen. By cutting the level of sex steroids, sexual desire is diminished.

Additional Information

For more information about voyeurism or other sexual problem, please click on the linked websites listed below and the visit the glossary that is listed after these websites.

 Answers: topic voyeurism
 Mind disorders: Voyeurism
 Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2003

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