Are you an exhibitionist?
August 4th, 2011
07:47 AM ET

Are you an exhibitionist?

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

Are you an exhibitionist? Maybe even a little bit of one? Have you ever fooled around in the backseat of a taxi, or gotten it on at your parents’ house, or made out in an elevator or stairwell, or enjoyed some great sex amidst the great outdoors?

In my experience as a sexuality counselor, exhibitionism tops the list of frequent fantasies for both men and women and is also the inner desire that couples are most likely to translate into action. So what is it about being potentially caught in the act that’s such a turn-on?

On a simple level, the thrill of possibly being seen or heard while otherwise sexually engaged increases the brain’s transmission of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s a close cousin to adrenaline and plays a big role in sexual excitement.

As psychologist Elaine Hatfield says, “Adrenaline makes the heart grow fonder.” And for those couples whose hearts are already deep in the throes of infatuation, exhibitionist behavior may simply be a byproduct of that all-consuming, can’t-keep-your-hands-off-each-other feeling, in which love is not only blind to the opinions of others, but also to their gaze.

And of course, for some, exhibitionism is more a matter of practicality (like when you’re living at home or with roommates) than a function of actual desire.

But still, a propensity for exhibitionism runs far and deep and many psychologists theorize that its broad appeal may be strongly related to our first youthful experiences with the intense pleasure of orgasm, which most of us experienced (whether on our own or with someone else) when the possibility of getting caught was close by - say, in our parents’ house.

And, not unlike the development of a fetish, these formative experiences may establish a powerful link between the particular risk of getting caught and the singular pleasure of sexual gratification.

As a result, even years later, the possibility of getting caught as manifest in our exhibitionistic urges elicits powerful feelings of sexual desire. We may be far from our teenage years (and even have kids of our own), but that doesn’t mean we’re not above acting like horny, hormone-addled teenagers when home for the holidays.

With exhibitionism, there is also an underlying sense of power that comes from being observed - a power in knowing that we may be arousing the watcher(s).

In their recent book on the Internet and sexual desire, authors Ogi Ogas, Ph.D., and Sai Gaddam, Ph.D., note that “one in four webcams on the free webcam network ChatRoulette are aimed at a penis.”

This strong compulsion to experience power through the premise of arousing others would explain why guys like Anthony Weiner “sext” photos to women they’ve never even met. It’s not about specific sexual gratification, but more about a general feeling of power.

While most women probably don’t get turned on by random photos of guys’ genitals, that’s not to say that women don’t also experience a power and pleasure in being desired, hence the female propensity to engage in other acts of exhibitionism just as much as men.

Classical paintings of nudes often featured women who were more interested in soliciting the sexual gaze of the disembodied spectator than anyone else with whom they happened to be depicted, and today much amateur porn features women who are often making love as much - even more - to the person on the other side of the camera as the person they’re actually with.

Exhibitionism is not just about the thrill of getting caught, it’s about being seen, admired, loved and appreciated. Not long ago there was a spate of Hollywood starlets — Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan — who were exposing themselves “accidentally” while wearing short skirts with nothing on underneath.

Clearly, this could have just been their desperate ploy for press, but it also felt like their desperate attempt to be wanted and sexually craved by one and all.

In the end, a little playful exhibitionism can be fun and exhilarating and may well be part of our innate sexual psychology—but remember, it can also get you arrested. While you may enjoy drinking a fruity cocktail like Sex on the Beach, don’t take that as a suggestion to actually have sex on the beach, as one young couple recently did. You could end up in jail.

It’s one thing not to be able to keep your hands off each other in public; it’s quite another when you can’t keep your genitals off each other. In that case, go get a room. Odds are you can find one with a view.

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soundoff (95 Responses)
  1. jt_flyer

    Im not but I'm glad to see the smoking girl in the picture IS!

    August 4, 2011 at 09:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Me


      August 4, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      Goes without saying, the prettier you are, more you show: that's why you get girls gone wild vids, short skirts at the office, girls going crazy during spring break... it's wired in women, and men who think they are buff.

      ya, i'm having a bad day.

      August 4, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Then why does she have that muumuu covering her caboose. There's something hiding there, but what?

      August 4, 2011 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
  2. Teragon

    CNN featured, really?!

    August 4, 2011 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pig Lover

      Are you really surprised? CNN stopped being a real news organization a long time ago.

      August 4, 2011 at 09:37 | Report abuse |
    • cadecker

      more like a tabloid now.... more gossip than news...then again i guess gossip is news......***rolls eyes**

      August 4, 2011 at 11:47 | Report abuse |
    • Atlas Shrugged

      On the lead page, no less; news tailor-made for us little nattering nabobs!

      August 4, 2011 at 12:16 | Report abuse |
    • jb82

      So you'd rather log on and see 100 people killed in an earthquake? Come on.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:19 | Report abuse |
    • J. Crobuzon

      You are reading the Chart Blog. The news is somewhere else. I think it's over by that clue you all need to get.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      And yet you took time to not only read this but to comment on it. Hmmmmm.... What does that say about you? Maybe that it was correct to feature this as it obviously generated your interest.

      August 5, 2011 at 11:38 | Report abuse |
  3. Bugs

    I sometimes see people, engaged in PDAs, who look around to see if anyone is watching them. In hetero couples, it's usually the female. If you happen to make eye contact, there's often a bit of giggling followed by even more vigorous PDA-ing. From this I have concluded that chicks are weird. But we knew that anyway.

    Exhibitionists! Get a Freakin' Room! Nobody wants to watch you vigorously swapping spit, especially if you're ugly.

    August 4, 2011 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Heathen

      Now if it was two hot women...

      August 4, 2011 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Don't want to see what we're doing? Do like you would when passing any other train wreck, look the other way.
      Because, after 30 years of marriage, whenever we remember how certain body parts work, we're going to use them. 😉

      August 4, 2011 at 10:03 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Not even a bit ugly, actually been told "smokin' hot", but if I'm with my sweetie in public and he gives me the eye, we may grab ass, so yeah, look the other way, prude.

      August 4, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse |
    • GAW

      The next time I do see a couple really going at it in public I will feel the need to rally 20 or more people to circle around them and laugh for 5 minutes.

      August 4, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Film them, and let them know it's going on Y0UP0RN

      August 4, 2011 at 11:57 | Report abuse |
    • mike

      MMMMM< two hot chix making out, HOOOOOOOOOT

      August 4, 2011 at 12:09 | Report abuse |
  4. bert

    who says i can't be married to an exhibitionist? i'm pretty much getting a high-five from the big man himself every time.

    August 4, 2011 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wzrd1

      At our age, remembering HOW to do it is like a major miracle from the deity of one's choice.

      August 4, 2011 at 10:05 | Report abuse |
    • lauradet

      What age is that?

      August 4, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
  5. Wzrd1

    Thank you for your kind input, the voice of the mentally infirm does tend to go unheard, all too often.
    For good reason.
    The reason being, in appropriate responses to the conversation tends to be greatly distracting.
    The religion.blogs page is next door, that is where your comment belongs, NOT on a psychology article.

    August 4, 2011 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Earnest T Bass

    MAN! That hand felt pretty Good!

    August 4, 2011 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Are you dating Rosie again?

      August 4, 2011 at 11:53 | Report abuse |
  7. Earnest T Bass

    zex on the beach? It's like an 80 grit baginia.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bubba

      That dang sand gets into EVERYTHING.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:39 | Report abuse |
  8. Wzrd1

    Well, at least we all know that you will never procreate. Idiots shouldn't be permitted to, it's bad for the gene pool.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff S

      Actually science disagrees with you. A diverse gene pool is better than a limited one.

      Natural selection tends to work better with, you know, .more selection.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:12 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff S

      Actually science disagrees with you. A diverse gene pool is better than a limited one.

      Natural selection tends to work better with, you know, .more selection.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:13 | Report abuse |
    • Accidents do happen

      You're clearly an exception to the rule.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
  9. Bubba

    It's not that I'm an exhibitionist as much as it is that women peep in my windows.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jb82

      you wish. lol

      August 4, 2011 at 12:22 | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      The lady up the road has a telescope.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:40 | Report abuse |
    • maxine

      I changed my mind. I'm going to look in Bubba's window, too.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:41 | Report abuse |
  10. maxine

    PLEASE STOP THE INSANITY, no one wants to see you grinding your guy!!!!

    August 4, 2011 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jujubeans

      Oh yes we do. I like to watch.

      August 4, 2011 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Oh yes we do!

      August 4, 2011 at 10:34 | Report abuse |
    • PIxelologist

      InDEED, we do! Please....continue. Don't mind us. 🙂

      August 4, 2011 at 11:31 | Report abuse |
  11. Me


    August 4, 2011 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. palintwit

    @ rufus... yes he does. But not for the same reason.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Carly

    I like to embarrass my boyfriend by sticking my hand down his pants in public.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PIxelologist

      I like your style 😉

      August 4, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse |
    • Reuben

      tell me when you break up with him

      August 4, 2011 at 11:59 | Report abuse |
    • big Richard

      Yeah, but what do you find? Try mine!

      August 9, 2011 at 14:23 | Report abuse |
  14. GAW

    The next time I see a couple really going at it in public I will feel the need to rally 10 or more people to circle around them and laugh at them for 5 minutes.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bubba

    Thanx whoever deleted all the religion BS.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Frederico

    I was your waiter. Good times. Thanks for the huge tip.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. G

    Another quality article from cnn.com......

    August 4, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. PIxelologist

    Wasn't as big as the tip she got. *rimshot*

    August 4, 2011 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Barney

    The question is, why wouldn't you be?

    August 4, 2011 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. 4this 4 U

    are you insane......shooooot....

    August 4, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. palintwit

    They've deleted at least 30 posts here today. Including some of mine. Hmmm....

    August 4, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • really?

      and they left this one? your other posts must have really been bad then.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:29 | Report abuse |
  22. Frederico

    Thank you, Pix. I threw that line out in hopes someone would bite.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Lanfear

    Love it! People who complain about this type of thing... are just jealous. Haters gonna hate!
    My bf and I regularly have s3x in all kinds of different places in public and around the house. Especially in the forest/bushes. I take my dog out for walks so I'm frequently scoping around for hidden spots for us to get it on. The next place we want to do it is in a public washroom against the wall (at a bar or restaurant).
    The last place? My ex-bfs bed yesterday haha! Only possible because I have access to his house anytime cause we share a doggie still. I think my bf likes it a bit more than I do... but anything that gets him excited gets me excited. I've never done this with anyone else before. Certainly a great way to keep things fresh and exciting all the time.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. hippypoet

    yummie fun!!!!

    August 4, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Paul

    Is this thing on?

    August 4, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Frederico

      Check your straps.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:04 | Report abuse |
  26. Dimas

    CNN, please get it together. You make yourselves look foolish posting this crap.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Look at the kettle

      But you read it. Why is that I wonder? Now who looks "foolish"?

      August 4, 2011 at 12:23 | Report abuse |
    • hehe101

      buddy, this is a blog. Yes, you may find a link on the main page, but it's only there to give articles like this some traffic. Otherwise, just stick to the "Politics" "US" "Justice" and "World" pages. This is in "health". It's putting reason to why we grad @ss, kiss, or grind in public. Honestly folks! I came to this page because I am a bored person. I skim, then go look for some real news.

      August 5, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse |
  27. Jimmy Shaftbobber

    I s_ck my boss's d_ck.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Richard

    "like when you’re living at home or with roommates" This sentence blew a fuse in my brain- who does not live at home?

    August 4, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • balto paul

      Homeless people don't live at home.

      Idiot 20-somethings who write articles for CNN and who have their own apartments, but are still emotionally dependent upon their parents don't "live at home" either, but they go home to have their mothers wash their clothes.

      August 5, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse |
    • hehe101

      "live at home" refers to living w/ your parents, but I get why it's confusing. When you live by yourself in a house, and your out with friends. You'll at some point "Sorry, I have to go home now". But I've never heard that any way (or read, I'm in high school, "home" is w/ mom & dad).

      My brain hurts after this post, sorry I confused yall

      August 5, 2011 at 13:53 | Report abuse |
  29. Joe

    My girlfriend and I have full on sex in a room with people watching. It's a lot of fun; don't knock it till you've tried it, I say.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Jack Welch

    who is that guy in pic? Is that CNN Sanjay? 🙂

    August 4, 2011 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Andrea M

    If two hot people want to go at it in public, whatevs. However it always seems it's horribly ugly ghetto people. For example I saw this ghetto couple waiting for a train the other day. Guy was biting the girls neck, his hands everywhere, and he honestly looked like a skinny street dog trying to hump a somewhat disinterested partner. It was revolting! I'm not saying I'm above a little exhibitionist action, my track record speaks otherwise, but at least I'm not ghetto.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J. Crobuzon

      "at least I'm not ghetto." I just went and looked at you. You're ghetto. Sorry.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:43 | Report abuse |
  32. timestickin


    August 4, 2011 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Dulcimer172

    Fooling around in public is one thing. Can be fun, when you have no idea, who's watching – but in a taxi, it's just bad manners.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. JustaGuy

    Speaking of religion, how did the human race ever expand beyond the immediate family of Adam & Eve without any in-cest involved?

    August 4, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GOD

      There were already millions of people living in the Land of Nod when I created Adam and Eve.

      August 5, 2011 at 08:11 | Report abuse |
    • hehe101

      True. Very very true. Well, that would explain why some children from non-incest families are born with things like diabetes, no feet, or a fragile heart... or their mommy smoked crack.

      August 5, 2011 at 13:56 | Report abuse |
  35. cinna

    Dont knock it til ya try it! Love the fact of bein somewhere in public where others can watch or whatever...theres a thrill/excitment to it...dont like it? Dont watch

    August 4, 2011 at 12:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Exhibitionist Yep

    I guess that I am one of the one in four. Who knew? Oh well I have fun.

    August 4, 2011 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Victor

    If the number of people who talk about all the times they have done things in public was 1/10th as many as the number of people who have actually done something in public, you would be running into people getting hummers, having s_x in all sorts of ways, all the time. As I have only come across three couples full on and I have spent a lot of time in Clubs, bars, resorts, etc.,, I can only suspect that I either have my head in the sand or there is a lot of fantasizing going on. Don't get me wrong...I'm not hating and I love a good fantasy...but let's keep things in perspective shall we.

    August 4, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. 2bits

    Well Obama sure is. Or rather a narcissistic shadow of a dictator–such as Hitler.

    August 4, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Somtimes Watched

    I am an exhibitionist by mistake. Its possible. Trust.

    August 4, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Earnest T Bass

    Lets plan an event, everyone come out at 400 pm on Saturday with only a trench coat on and Get it on with one and other.

    August 4, 2011 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. UpandComing

    so what's her phone number????????????????

    August 4, 2011 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Blessed Geek

    Exhibitionism is a loud and yet silent cry for HELP.

    It is like a child, not mature enough to discern, exploding into tears trying to soak up as much compassion as possible. In the case of misguided adults, such poor discernment, their mental states correlate compassion with passion. And so, they throw their valuable passion onto the streets like swine wallowing in mud. For passers-by to trample on.

    August 4, 2011 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anthony Weiner

      How sweet. I'm sending you a tweet of my meat in response.

      August 5, 2011 at 08:10 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      I wouldn't over analyze pda's. Baufin' is one thing but pda's is no big deal, Mr. Greek, so relax.

      August 5, 2011 at 11:39 | Report abuse |
  43. fernace

    There's another aspect to exibitionism. For thousands of years people lived in multi family households & religion wasn't focused on judeo/christian rules as it is today. Therefore people had s.e.x. in front of others in a more hedonistic atmosphere. It just wasn't the taboo that it is now. We are actually a bunch of prudes, compared to historical societies. When the Puritans took hold of this country, we started equating s.e.x. with sin, which is bs., & we've been trying to work our way out of that mindset for centuries. Nudity, s.e.x. & our expression of both are as natural as being a human. My take is that it's more comfortable 1 on1, in a private place!

    August 5, 2011 at 00:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Cory

    I don't see a problem with it. I'm not ashamed of pinching a little flesh, or nibbling a little flesh with my sweetie in public. Of course I'm not gonna flat out just jump his bones in the grocery store cuz some things are supposed to be intimate and saved for the bedroom. But I have no issue being playful outside..Cuz well I love him and I'm not ashamed. 🙂

    August 5, 2011 at 01:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. jujubeans

    I admit I'm an exhibitionist. I'd love to strip at a bachelorette party but never had the nerve to pursue it.

    August 9, 2011 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ginger

      Come over to my place Juju. You can hone your act here ; )

      August 10, 2011 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
  46. Ginger

    I like to wear loose tops with no bra and when I come across a cute guy, give him a down-blouse view. Then I look him straight in the eye and wait for his reaction.

    August 9, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • big Richard

      Just look him straight in the crotch, you'll see a reaction!

      August 10, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse |
    • MrInstructor

      Thank you from all the boob guys!

      September 6, 2011 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
  47. Panties

    I am very happy being an exhibitionist.

    August 13, 2011 at 06:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. emilie

    I am very happy

    August 13, 2011 at 17:35 | Report abuse | Reply

    Just some points on pain:


    October 11, 2016 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply

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