What Is Voyeuristic Disorder?

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Voyeurism

Voyeuristic disorder is a condition that causes a person to act on voyeuristic urges or become so consumed by voyeuristic fantasies that they are unable to function.

Voyeuristic fantasies and urges occur when a person is sexually aroused by watching a person who is unaware that they are being watched engage in sexual activity. This condition typically develops in adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in men than in women.

Voyeurism in itself isn’t a disorder. When a person becomes so consumed by voyeuristic thoughts that they become distressed, unable to function or act on the urges with a person who hasn’t given their consent, then it becomes a disorder. 

Voyeuristic disorder is a type of paraphilic disorder. A paraphilic disorder is a condition that is characterized by strong and persistent sexual interest, urges, and behaviors that are typically focused around inanimate objects or children.

Some people with this condition might also experience thoughts of harming themselves or others during sexual activities.

Voyeuristic Disorder Symptoms

The most common symptoms of voyeuristic disorder include: 

  • Persistent and intense sexual arousal from observing people perform sexual activities 
  • Becoming distressed or unable to function as a result of voyeurism urges and fantasies 
  • Engaging in voyeurism with a person who doesn’t give their consent 

Some people with this condition might also perform sexual acts on themselves while observing others engaging in sexual activities. 

This condition often occurs alongside other conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. In some cases, people with this condition could even develop another paraphilic disorder like exhibitionist disorder. 

Causes

No particular cause has been identified for voyeuristic disorder, but certain risk factors could increase a person’s likelihood to develop the condition. Factors such as: 

  • Sexual abuse 
  • Substance abuse 
  • Hypersexuality 
  • Sexual preoccupation

Diagnosis 

A medical doctor or a licensed therapist can make a diagnosis of voyeuristic disorder. Upon examining you, if they find that you have voyeuristic urges and fantasies you are unable to overcome and feel distressed or unable to function as a result of these thoughts, a diagnosis of voyeuristic disorder might be made.

Symptoms of the disorder should have also persisted for 6 months or more before a conclusive diagnosis can be given. 

A person also has to be at least 18 years old before they can be diagnosed with voyeuristic disorder. This is because it might be difficult to distinguish between the disorder and genuine sexual curiosity in children. 

The DSM-5 also specifies the following criteria for a diagnosis of voyeuristic disorder to be made: 

  • Lasting over a period of 6 months 
  • Acting on sexual urges with a person who doesn’t consent 
  • Being at least 18 years old 

In order to be diagnosed with this condition a person’s voyeuristic urges and behaviors must be so severe as to cause harm or distress to themselves or others. The prevalence of this condition is thought to be up to 12% in men and 4% in women.

People with this condition are rarely ever diagnosed until they are caught committing sexual offenses as a result of their condition. This is because they are unlikely to share their condition with a medical professional or a loved one.

If you notice symptoms of voyeuristic disorder in a loved one help them get the help they need. Early treatment will prevent the condition from degenerating to a point in which the person living with it might commit a sexual offense.

As already mentioned, it’s important to remember that voyeurism by itself isn’t a disorder. Many people enjoy engaging in voyeurism which is solely the act of watching and being aroused by another person performing a sexual act.

Voyeurists will typically not engage in sexual activity with the person they are observing. 

Voyeuristic Disorder Treatment 

Voyeuristic disorder can be effectively treated with either psychotherapy, medication, or both, depending on the severity of a person’s condition.  

Medication 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine), Lexapro (scitalopram), and Cipralex (not available in the U.S.) are typically used for treating this condition. Although SSRIs are used primarily to treat depression, research shows that they can be effective in the treatment of voyeuristic disorder by helping to suppress impulsive behaviors. 

Alternatively, Zoladex (goserelin), Lupron (leuprolide acetate), and drugs that reduce testosterone could also be used to treat this condition. A reduction in your testosterone levels will also cause a reduction in your sex drive which might help suppress voyeuristic urges.

Psychotherapy 

Different forms of psychotherapy could help a person with voyeuristic disorder overcome the condition. Cognitive behavior therapy can help them learn to control their impulses and understand why their behavior isn’t socially acceptable.

Therapy can also teach them coping mechanisms to help overcome sexual urges that are voyeuristic in nature. 

Cognitive therapy can help a person explore the root cause of their behaviors and help them realize that some behaviorial changes need to occur. 

Coping 

The key to coping with voyeuristic disorder is first recognizing that you need help and reaching out for help. You can start with confiding in a parent, friend, or loved one who will be supportive and can help you get the treatment that you need. 

If you notice that a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of the condition help them get the help they need. You could do this by referring them to a medical expert or encouraging them to join support groups.

It’s often hard for people with this condition to recognize that they have a problem that needs to be treated until they get in trouble.

Just speaking with them and helping them realize the gravity and consequences of their condition is a good start to convincing them to seek treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Voyeuristic disorder can be a debilitating condition, but it’s a treatable one. With medication, therapy, or the right combination of both treatments you should be able to successfully overcome voyeuristic fantasies and urges and prevent yourself from acting on them. 

But, it’s essential to understand that having voyeuristic desires isn’t a bad thing as long as you are fulfilling them in a way that doesn’t violate or bring harm to anybody else and is not interfering with your daily functioning.

You can do this by watching pornography or sharing your desires with a partner who might consent to engage in them. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Brown, G. MSD Manual Professional Edition. Voyeurism. Updated August 2019.

  2. McManus MA, Hargreaves P, Rainbow L, Alison LJ. Paraphilias: definition, diagnosis and treatment. F1000prime Reports. 2013. doi:10.12703/p5-36.

  3. Långström N. The dsm diagnostic criteria for exhibitionism, voyeurism, and frotteurism. Arch Sex Behav. 2010;39(2):317-324.

  4. Fedoroff JP. Voyeuristic Disorder. Oxford University Press

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