Voyeurism: Behavior, Paraphilia Or Disorder?

According to various psychoanalytic theories, of a Lacanian nature, the human being is born with the need to look, to subjectify his context through the gaze. This is what would be called scopic drive. For these currents, humans are scopic beings, we have the need to look and we enjoy it.

When this enjoyment of looking at the other turns into sexual excitement, then we can talk about voyeurism which is characterized by achieving sexual arousal by observing naked people or engaging in some sexual activity, without their knowledge.

What is voyeurism?

The word voyeur, of French origin, derives from the verb voir (to see), along with the agent suffix -eur, and its literal translation is “he who sees.”

Depending on the clinical setting, A voyeur or voyeur is a person who seeks to obtain sexual excitement by observing naked people or that they engage in sexual activity, however, this conduct does not imply any subsequent sexual activity on the part of the person observing.

Voyeurism can reach the level of paraphilia, sometimes being considered a disorder. The so-called voyeurism disorder involves carrying out voyeuristic impulses and fantasies without the consent of the other person; experiencing significant discomfort or functional impairment due to such desires or impulses.

Voyeurism according to clinical practice

But not all voyeuristic practices can be considered pathological. It is true that if we stick to the traditional definition of paraphilia: sexual behavior whose main source of pleasure is outside intercourse, voyeurism can be considered as such.

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However, Not all voyeuristic behavior is paraphilic, not all paraphilias can be considered pathological in themselves Everything will depend on the degree of interference in the person’s sexual and non-sexual life, and their subsequent discomfort or deterioration.

Most people who have paraphilic interests do not meet the clinical criteria for paraphilic disorder. These criteria are summarized in two points:

The desire to observe other people in sexual contexts is very common, and cannot be considered abnormal in itself These behaviors tend to begin in adolescence or at the beginning of adult life. However, if during the course of this it becomes pathological, the person ends up investing considerable time in searching for opportunities to look at others; obstructing the rest of daily responsibilities or activities.

Symptoms and signs

Usually, a voyeur or voyeur tends to observe the sexual scene from a certain distance and, occasionally, hidden. By observing through cracks or locks or by using objects such as mirrors or cameras.

This behavior is occasionally accompanied by masturbatory activities; but it is not a necessary condition for the practice of voyeurism. Besides, the risk of being discovered acts as an arousal enhancer

Often, this voyeuristic disposition is accompanied by exhibitionist tendencies. That is, the person enjoys showing themselves, more or less openly, semi-naked or completely naked. Both voyeurism and exhibitionism have a large compulsive and uncontrollable component. In both, before and during each sexual behavior, the sweating rate and heart rate increase when stimuli related to said activities appear; effects that disappear after carrying out the voyeuristic act.

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It is also necessary to distinguish between voyeurism and the mere excitement of contemplating a naked body. The main difference is that in voyeurism there is no knowledge and/or consent on the part of the person observed, while in the rest of sexual activities it is assumed that there is. Such contemplation of nudity being a part of sexual activity, and not its entirety.

Regarding the personality characteristics of a voyeurist, these behaviors are usually related to people who have been shy during adolescence, and it is necessary to highlight that they are not subjects prone to possessing especially pathological traits. Another term related to voyeurism, but somewhat Different is Candaulism, a name that comes from a historical figure Candaules, last king of the Heraclida dynasty. This expression refers to a behavior in which the person observing obtains pleasure from observing his or her partner having sexual relations with another person.


As mentioned above, there are few people with voyeuristic tastes in whom the behavior ends up leading to disorder; since for the vast majority of them these behaviors do not pose a problem either in their daily life or for their psychological health.

Therefore, few people are also referred to psychiatric or mental health centers. In most cases these patients are referred to these units after having broken the law and having been convicted as sexual offenders. In this case, voyeurism disorder has two avenues of action:

When SSRIs are not effective, due to the severity of the disorder, medications to reduce testosterone levels and libido inhibitors are considered. This medication, better known as antiandrogens, does not directly decrease testosterone levels; but by including gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, they initiate a hormonal chain reaction that does reduce testosterone production.

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Given the aggressiveness of this treatment and its side effects, informed consent from the patient and rigorous monitoring of liver function and serum testosterone concentrations are required.

Penalization of voyeuristic behavior

In certain cultures, voyeurism is considered a perversion and in several countries it is classified as a sexual crime.