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home > sex & society > sexual variants > voyeurism


Voyerism; old pornographic illustration of a peeping tomThe word 'voyeur' is derived from the French verb 'voir' which means 'to see'. Voyeurism means that people experience sexual feelings when watching certain objects, persons or activities.

Voyeurism: everyone is voyeuristic
Consequently, everyone is voyeuristic. This is only natural, because seeing plays an important role in all our daily activities. When we fall in love for the first time (something that is caused by the experience of sexual feeling) we primarily go for the other person's 'looks'. Usually this person is out of our reach. The advantage is safety: we only need to watch, and daydream of a real touch. The disadvantage, of course, is loneliness, which causes negative emotions.

Voyeurism; looking without being seen
Even very young children are most interested in watching other people kissing or making love. Most children will never forget the moment they unexpectedly entered their parents' bedroom and saw them having sex, a memory that is associated with feelings of excitement as well as embarrassment. All our lives we are fascinated by watching without being seen. We do not necessarily need to watch explicit sexual activities. It is an extremely erotic experience to watch the person we cannot have from behind a curtain, through a hole in the wall, from behind the dunes and to masturbate, the excitement being partly due to the risk of getting caught or being seen.
The same is true, although to a somewhat lesser degree, for watching film scenes, video clips, pictures, and for reading descriptions of sexual behaviour (reading is also a form of 'seeing'). A commercial product that is made to satisfy voyeuristic feelings is called 'pornography'. Other forms are striptease and peepshows.

Voyeurism, tension between private and public
Typical of voyeurism is its private character. From a very early age on we keep our sexual feelings and desires to ourselves. We learn through contacts with others that it is not appropriate to talk about our secret lives. As we grow older, we realise more and more that the difference between private and public is huge, and that everybody therefore leads a double life. A person who privately uses certain images for masturbation may publicly condemn these images and cooperate in their prohibition.
The general separation of private and public is the foundation of morality. Those who do not conform to the prevailing morality are disapproved of, ostracised, condemned or punished. And this is how the category of people that are called 'voyeurs' came into being. They were (purposely or accidentally) careless, or in the wrong place at the wrong time.


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