What is Voyeurism?

Voyeurism, or voyeuristic disorder, is a paraphilia in which a person derives sexual pleasure from the act or fantasy of watching unsuspecting people while they are undressing, bathing, participating in sexual acts, or–in extreme cases–urinating or defecating. Voyeurs are usually male and are commonly known as "Peeping Toms" or, simply, “peepers.” The risk of getting caught by the victim often leads to greater sexual excitement for the voyeur. Some voyeuristic activities include spying on people who are taking showers in locker rooms, looking through binoculars for people undressing by their windows, or watching people from hidden cameras. Other common examples of voyeuristic tendencies include using cell phones with built-in cameras to look up womens’ skirts and paying to spy on girls over the internet. Voyeurs often masturbate during or after watching someone, as a way of increasing their sexual pleasure. For an individual to be diagnosed with voyeuristic disorder, they must prefer the sexual pleasure associated with watching someone over normal sexual activity, such as sexual contact with a partner.¹

Most people fantasize about what other people may look like naked or become sexually aroused at the sight of another naked person. This type of behavior is normal and quite common. Peeping and voyeuristic watching become atypical, however, when a person repeatedly seeks or resorts to peeping for sexual pleasure and eroticizes voyeuristic experiences by masturbating. Voyeurism is considered a coercive paraphilia, because the unsuspecting victim has not consented to being viewed by others. Voyeurs are usually committing an illegal act by invading another person's privacy, trespassing, or breaking and entering to observe someone in the nude.¹

Is Voyeurism Normal?

Voyeurism is a fairly common practice, especially if one considers watching pornography a form of voyeurism. According to one study, about half of adolescent males have participated in an act that would be considered voyeuristic. Voyeurism even appears in the Old Testament story of David and Bathsheba, where King David spies on Bathsheba while she bathes. This is evidence of its lasting presence throughout history. In some places in the United States, voyeurism is perfectly legal as long as there is no trespassing or documenting of the incident (photos or videos). As prevalent as the practice has been throughout history, that does not necessarily make it acceptable morally or legally. Voyeurs rarely, if ever, take into account the consent of their victims, and it is still a crime in most parts of the world.¹


A slight variation of voyeurism is scoptophilia. A scoptophile derives sexual pleasure from viewing other people engaged in sexual acts and/or other people's genitals. Again, this type of behavior tends to be common for many people who would not be considered scoptophiles. For example, people may watch pornographic movies or go to strip clubs to watch naked people for sexual excitement. The purpose of pornography and strip clubs, among other things, is for the pleasure and excitement of viewers who can watch sexual content in ways that are noncoercive. Scoptophilia is different from this type of behavior in that the person prefers to receive pleasure from the forbidden and risky nature of viewing others without their knowledge. As with other types of voyeurs, scoptophiles often masturbate while watching or after the fact to enhance their sexual pleasure.


1. LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality. 2nd ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2012. Print.

Last updated 3 April 2014.