Exhibitionism"Exhibitionism" commonly denotes a sexual perversion in which satisfaction is linked to the displaying of one's genital parts. Psychoanalysis broadens this notion by acknowledging many early manifestations of this tendency in the sexual life of the child. Freud showed how infantile sexuality, prior to the establishment of the genital functions, was governed by the interplay of various component instincts which manifest themselves most often as pairs of opposites and each of which is linked to a particular erotogenic zone. In this context exhibitionism is one of the elements of instinctual life, making its appearance in conjunction with its opposite, namely pleasure in looking, both being related to the eye as the relevant erotogenic zone. Seen in this light, exhibitionism as a perversion in the adult bespeaks regression to an earlier fixation of the libido.
It was chiefly in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, including the notes added to this work over its successive editions, that Freud outlined his conception of exhibitionism: "exhibitionists, . . . if I may trust the findings of several analyses, exhibit their own genitals in order to obtain a reciprocal view of the genitals of the other person." A note added in 1920 elaborates: "Under analysis, these perversions . . . reveal a surprising variety of motives and determinants. The compulsion to exhibit, for instance, is also closely dependent on the castration complex; it is a means of constantly insisting upon the integrity of the subject's own (male) genitals and it reiterates his infantile satisfaction at the absence of a penis in those of women" (p. 157 and n.). The anxiety aroused by the perception of this real lack of the penis in women—in the mother, for example—led Freud to describe how, by the mechanism of disavowal, such a perception could be so thoroughly denied that an object, a fetish, could come to stand for the absent penis and "become the chosen object determining the achievement of sexual pleasure" (Green, 1990). For Guy Rosolato (1967), "fetishism is at the heart of all perversion in that it disavows the difference between the sexes"; it must therefore, and a fortiori, be central to exhibitionism.
Let us note, lastly, that exhibitionism as a manifestation of childhood sexuality is a common phenomenon and a part of sexual play. The desire to show off the genitals is linked to the needs for reassurance and knowledge. Child psychologists underline the importance of such play, though they insist that it should be confined to children of the same age, generally within a group where the curiosity is shared.
Exhibitionism is one of the most reported sex offences. Courts often treat this seriously as they feel that often exhibitionism leads to more serious sex offences. More than 10 percent of child molesters and 8 percent of rapist began as exhibitionists. Most are not dangerous and do not attempt to have sexual contact with their victim. The typical exhibitionist is a sexually inhibited, unhappily married young man. He will go to a public place and typically show his penis to a young woman. The exhibitionist gets aroused from the women's response. Usually he will get sexual gratification in privacy while fantasizing about the event. Sometimes exhibitionism occurs as a symptom of some other disease - such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, senile brain deterioration or mental retardation. Most are simply shy, inhibited, sexually inferior feeling men.