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Understanding the Exhibitionist

Updated on September 24, 2014

The exhibitionist is often visualized as the classic flasher who jumps out from a bush and pulls open their trench coat to reveal themselves to an unsuspecting older lady. This is perhaps one type, but exhibitionists display a variety of different victim choices, mostly dependent upon the offender’s experiences.

The layman would assume that an exhibitionist has a great deal of self-confidence to boldly put themselves up for brief public display. However, this is not the truth in the psychology of the offender. They usually feel inadequate as human beings, either in a social or sexual sense. “During subsequent periods of stress or inadequacy, exposure becomes an increasingly effective way of dealing with uncomfortable emotions…” Bartol & Bartol, 2011). Their lack of masculine image, in the case of most offenders being male, drives them to deal with their issues by exposing themselves. By causing discomfort in others, they circumvent their own uncomfortable feelings, and release their tension later through masturbation, thus reinforcing the cycle as a means of relieving stress.

The early socialization of an offender is credited to the beginnings of exhibitionist tendencies. Childhood play which turns mildly sexual, either deliberately or by accident, can start the self-perpetuating cycle. “...the history of most exhibitionists includes a vivid memory of a young girl expressing amazement or fear at their penis, viewed either accidentally or during sexual play” (Bartol & Bartol, 2011). The offender is exposed to another person who responds in shock or disgust, the offender becomes aroused, masturbates, and glues the action with the response, and the response to the stimulation.


The exhibitionist is compensating for his feelings of inadequacy through shocking others, and then relieving his stress with masturbating while mentally reliving the event.


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