Exhibitionism is the revelation of one's sexual organs to non-consenting strangers chiefly for personal erotic excitement or pleasure. Exhibitionism is also known in lay terms as “flashing".
Exhibitionism is a bona fide psychiatric disorder included in the DSM IV. The diagnostic criteria for exhibitionism entail that the individual has experienced strong sexual urges/arousal when exposing his/her genitals to strangers for at least six months. Going to New Orleans and flashing your breasts once or twice would not be considered exhibitionism by this criteria. Moreover, the individual has either acted upon these urges or they also cause significant personal distress or interpersonal difficulties.
In most cases, the exhibitionist will expose genitals to strangers but in some cases may also actively masturbate in front of the victim. It is the shock of the victim that induces the sexual arousal for the exhibitionist. Usually there is no physical contact with the victim but this also depends on circumstances. Evidence today indicates that there are also aggressive exhibitionists who will touch or grab the victim.
Exhibitionists are quite cunning individuals and usually employ tricks to attract the unsuspecting victim to a certain area. Usually isolated areas are selected but more often than not, the exhibitionist rarely makes any attempt to hide his/her identify. It is this risk factor that is critical for achieving sexual arousal. The real number of exhibitionists in the general population is unknown but among sex offenders, it appears that almost 30 percent have exhibitionist tendencies. While the majority of culprits are males, there are reports that exhibitionism is also common in females. This is common at adult dancing parlors and strip tease bars. Moreover, wearing of skimpy clothes, revealing outfits or see though clothes is also considered exhibitionism--but somehow society rarely complains when it is the female who is the offender!
Exhibitionism usually first surfaces in early teenage years and peaks in the adolescence years. The victims of exhibitionists are usually adult females or children.