Thursday, October 13, 2011
Voyeurism and exhibitionism seem like the same thing to me. They're just two sides of the same coin. After all, you can't have exhibitionism without someone watching, and you can't have voyeurism without someone being watched. In any given act of voyeurism/exhibitionism, one or more persons is the voyeur(s), and one or more persons is the exhibitionist(s).
I suppose consent may be an issue. A man who exposes himself to strangers in the park is engaging in exhibitionism with nonconsenting "voyeurs" (if we can even call them that). And a man who peeks through the keyhole of a bedroom door is engaging in voyeurism of nonconsenting "exhibitionists" (again, if we can even call them that).
But it seems to me that a person who likes to watch (or be watched) would, purely out of politeness, prefer to watch (or be watched by) someone who likes to be watched (or who likes to watch). Yet there is this stereotypical assumption that voyeurs get off on invading the privacy of others, and that exhibitionists get off on shocking and offending people.
I am sure there are fetishists out there that are like that, but what about the rest of us who like to watch or be watched preferably in a consensual context, given the opportunity? Is there a different word for us? Frankly, I think it's discriminatory to assume, by definition, that voyeurs and exhibitionists are persons who are aroused by intrinsically nonconsensual sexual activity!
Personally, I think there should be more of a distinction between consensual and nonconsensual voyeurism/exhibitionism, than there is between voyeurism and exhibitionism itself. Perhaps we need a new concept to describe voyeurism and exhibitionism as they occur in a consensual context - Mutual Voyeurism/Exhibitionism (MVE) perhaps? Or maybe something that emphasizes the importance of observation, without signaling one or the other side of it: as nonconsensual voyeurs engage in voyeurism against non-exhibitionists, and nonconsensual exhibitionists engage in exhibitionism against non-voyeurs, and only mutual voyeurs/exhibitionists engage in consensual voyeurism/exhibitionism (simultaneously).
Note also, that if a person engages in nonconsensual voyeurism or exhibitionism, it does not necessarily preclude them from being a mutual voyeur/exhibitionist. It may simply be the case that, due to an inability to find a consenting partner (not hard to believe in a society that discourages, even stigmatizes, voyeurism and exhibitionism), they may, perhaps in desperation, or purely out of convenience, have taken risks or made decisions resulting in a less than optimal outcome. Given the right opportunity, they may prefer a consensual experience to a nonconsensual one, and should thus not be stigmatized as the type who thrives on the nonconsent of their "partners" (or victims, if you will).
Furthermore, even a mutual voyeur/exhibitionist may prefer one over the other, due to his tastes and personality, just like some people in the BDSM community prefer to be doms or subs, while others can enjoy both sides. I would designate these persons either mutual voyeurs or mutual exhibitionists, depending, with the "mutual" prefix indicating that they prefer consenting partners to nonconsenting ones (contrary to what the public casually assumes about voyeurs and exhibitionists - much like they have, in the past, stereotypically assumed that members of the BDSM community are rapists and committers of violent sexual abuse).
Myself, I would describe as a mutual voyeur/exhibitionist, as I enjoy both sides, and prefer to engage with consenting "partners". (In the case of voyeurism and exhibitionism, the term "partners" may refer not only to people you are engaging with in sexual contact or intercourse, but also to persons you are watching - "performers" - or persons who are watching you - "observers"). Lastly, because of the hands-off nature of voyeurism and exhibitionism, as well as the immediacy of sight, it stands to reason that allegedly "nonconsenting" acts of voyeurism and exhibitionism can often be very minor invasions of privacy or offenses against decency - indeed, if at all - and should thus be considered accordingly, and not treated like serious crimes when they clearly do not constitute such.