Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Voyeurism motivation

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Voyeurism motivation:
What motivates voyeurism?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Voyeurism is the act of gaining pleasure, sexual or otherwise, from watching other people without their knowledge or consent (Cambridge, 2019).The behaviour is often described as being sexually deviant.  It has been known colloquially as a ‘peeping Tom’.The behaviour often draws questions surrounding mental health and psychology, asking what motivates and causes this behaviour. Voyeurism can be quite difficult to study, as it is not a behaviour that often gets reported, and often goes undetected unless the voyeur gets caught. This behaviour is also seen as being a form of public disturbance and is categorised as a crime, which can lead to arrests, and certain treatments if the voyeur is caught (Sydney Criminal Lawyers, n.d.).

What is voyeurism?[edit | edit source]

Voyeurism involves the watching of somebody else while they undress, are naked or are involved in some form of sexual activity. It usually has less to do with the person they are watching and more to do with the activity of watching (Cambridge, 2019). For a behaviour to be considered voyeurism the behaviour must be intentional. Viewing something accidentally is not considered voyeurism,[grammar?] it must be a pattern of behaviour and not a one time occurrence. Voyeurism is often seen as a form of public disturbance and the behaviour is not seen as normal by the public (Sydney Criminal Lawyers, n.d.).

Definitions[edit | edit source]

Voyeurism: the activity of getting pleasure from secretly watching other people in sexual situations or, more generally, from watching other people's private lives (Cambridge Dictionary, 2019)

Perversion: sexual behaviour that is considered strange and unpleasant by most [what?](Cambridge Dictionary, 2004)

History of voyeurism:[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Voyeurism depicted in historical art works

Through the medium of art and literature, we are able to see that voyeurism is something that has been present for many[vague] years; and is likely to be as old as any sexual taboo, even if there was not the stigma surrounding the behaviour that there is now. It has been recorded in the late 1800s that people in France could pay to look into brothels through a hole in the wall, which was one of the first recorded forms of voyeurism (Janssen & Diederik, 2018).  Though it can be seen from this that there was not the same thought surrounding the behaviour as there is now as this was considered reasonable practice at the time[grammar?].

Though, it has been thought that voyeurism has existed for as long as any other form of sexual deviancy or mental illness, it was only beginning to be properly studied as late as the 1950s. One of these first studies was conducted by psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel, who studied a middle-aged man's behaviour, seeing that he 'obtained gratification' by looking in on the goings on of the hotel room next to his (Metzl, 2004). Through this Fenichel was able to gather that the behaviour was sexual in nature and was a form of aversion, creating a basis for what we now know as voyeuristic behaviours (Metzl, 2014). This study would go on to help create the basic definition and reoccurring factors of what we now recognise as voyeuristic behaviour.

Voyeurism has been a struggle to study properly as voyeurs do not often come forward to address their behaviours on their own, as they often do not see their behaviour as a problem, or perhaps, they are simply not willing to admit they have a problem at all[factual?]. This can be an issue as there is not a great deal of study or literature looking at voyeurism from a scientific or psychological manner, and by not getting people coming forward we struggle to grow our understanding. As a result, there is much information surrounding voyeurism that currently goes unknown (Science Direct Topics, n.d.). It was only introduced to the DSM as recently as 1994[factual?].  This shows that until recently, so little was known about voyeurism that is was not yet able to be classified as a disorder.

History has not been a very helpful friend to psychology, most mental illnesses or disorders that are now recognised were not properly studied centuries before, and sexual disorders much less than any other. It was through Sigmund Freud and his theory of psychoanalytic that sexual deviance, and voyeurism was first truly studied in relation to psychology.

What are some causes of voyeurism:[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Freud[edit | edit source]

While there has really been no one root cause made to answer the question of what causes voyeurism there to have been some things that have been found to have been popular commonalities between voyeurs. Things[vague] like early hyper sexualisation, sexual abuse, and underdeveloped social skills[factual?]. Most voyeurs tend to say that their behaviour begun when they walked in on or happened to see a behaviour that most voyeurs tend to watch or be interested in[factual?].This is often an accident that somehow awakens a part of them that they previously may not have been aware of and can seemingly entice and encourage the voyeuristic behaviour. There are theories in psychology that can be attributed to understanding the causes and motivations surrounding voyeurism.  

Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages could possibly shed some light on this and show that an emotional or developmentally stunted child could get stuck in one of the stages and possibly become sexually dysfunctional (Pubmed, n.d.). If a child were to become stuck during the phallic or latent stage, it is possible that this could result in a dysfunctional view on sex and on that person’s sexual identity.

Another theory that could help to provide some insight into voyeurism is Freud’s theory of Sexual Perversion. This theory was first discussed in Freud’s essays entitled ‘Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality’ and states that everyone is somewhat perverse but that some people are not able to control the perversion and in turn act upon it in an inappropriate manner (Reformulated, 2003). The voyeurs themselves are the people who according to this theory are not able to control their perversion, and act on it (Reformulated, 2003). Whilst the majority of the population are able to express their sexual needs in an appropriate manner this theory states that voyeurs and people who suffer with other sexually deviant behaviour are not able to control their behaviour, and that it is at least partially subconscious behaviour controlled by the ‘id’ or pleasure principle.

Figure 2. Depicting Freud's theory of unconsiousness

Social learning[edit | edit source]

Another possible cause of voyeurism that is rooted in psychological theory is that voyeurism is a learnt behaviour,[grammar?] if the behaviour is viewed from childhood through a close adult, like a parent, then the child may grow up to view the behaviour as normal (Hanna, 2013). This could act as a form of social learning, whereby the parent acts as a role model to exhibit the type of behaviour that can and cannot be seen as normal, even if the behaviour itself is not normal (Hanna, 2013). This behaviour can then have a lasting effect on the child's future.

Operant conditioning[edit | edit source]

There is a possibility that if the voyeuristic behaviour is discovered early enough but not discouraged or given a punishment, then the voyeur may not feel that there are [missing something?] any real consequences and therefore the behaviour may not be avoided going forward (American Psychological Association, n.d.). This behaviour could also become less like to be continued in the future if it is treated with a positive punishment, or possibly even go extinct allowing for future healthy development.

Other causes[edit | edit source]

Another possible cause of voyeurism is hypersexuality which can cause a great deal of distress when combined with acts of compulsion, which voyeurism can be a part of. A study conducted by Rinehart and McCabe found that people who suffer with this distress are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, which can only further the behaviour and pose a risk of turning it into a compulsion (Rinehart & McCabe, 1998) . Underdeveloped social skills can also encourage and motivate sexual deviancy, as it can prevent a person from developing sexually in a way that can be seen as healthy and socially acceptable, which in turn can cause issues related to impotence,[grammar?] another thing that can evoke sexually deviant behaviour in an effort to try and feel as though they are involved in sexual behaviour with other people more than they may be in actuality (Heide, 2019).

Motivation and voyeurism:[grammar?][edit | edit source]

People are motivated by a multitude of factors to participate in, or be drawn to voyeurism. Some of these are social, emotional, psychological and developmental. Within these, there are many different reasons that someone may feel motivated to partake in voyeurism. Some of these are fear of rejection, emotional turmoil, loneliness, and hypersexuality[factual?]. For people who are not socially developed enough to engage in a relationship they may feel as though they are lonely or unable to maintain sustainable adult relationships and as such they may develop somewhat of a fear of rejection (Långström & Seto, 2006). Voyeurism can be a way to remove that fear, and as such it is possible that avoiding rejection could be a large motivational factor for voyeurism. Watching others in any way, even during intimate moments or without knowledge or consent could also possibly make someone feel less lonely, which could also motivate someone to partake in the behaviour (Långström & Seto, 2006). There are many different ways that someone could feel motivated to participate in the behaviours surrounding voyeurism and they appear to vary person to person as each person’s reasoning, background and personal motivation varies as well.

Loneliness and fear of rejection are two reasons that voyeurism may interest someone,[grammar?] if a person is extremely lonely, they may participate in this behaviour out of a need to be involved in some form of socialisation even if they are not an active participant. Fear of rejection is another possible reason for voyeuristic behaviour, watching but not actively participating in the behaviour removes the fear of rejection surrounding both friendly and sexual relationships (Långström & Seto, 2006). There is a natural amount of fear that can surround loneliness and rejection,[grammar?] it can act as a motivator to ensure that people are actively trying to involve themselves with other people and having regular social interaction. However, when this fear becomes overwhelming and incapable of being dealt with in a healthy manner it can negatively affect how someone interacts with people. These two issues in particular can cause a person to try and force interaction with other people in a way that is not considered to be healthy or normal (Långström & Seto, 2006). Sexual inhibition or hypersexuality are also possible psychological motivations regarding voyeurism, through survey studies it has been found that voyeurs are statistically more likely to become sexually active later than their countries' national average (Långström & Seto, 2006).

Is Voyeurism a mental illness?[edit | edit source]

For a long time, it was not entirely known what voyeurism was exactly; a mental illness, a fetish, or something else entirely. The DSM currently has voyeurism categorised as a paraphilic disorder. It has become clinically known as ‘Voyeuristic Disorder’, in which the person can take their behaviour of watching and garner a form of sexual pleasure from it (First, M. B. 2014).

This disorder has the potential to derive distress from both the voyeur as well as the person they are watching. In order for someone to be diagnosed with this disorder they must fulfil certain criteria (First, M. B. 2014). They are:

Figure 3. DSM Cover

1.   A person must feel sexual arousal from the act of watching the person,[grammar?] this must have happened for at least a six-month period.

2.   The disorder must pose distress and dysfunction in the voyeur’s life, possibly affecting their work, social and personal life.

3.   The voyeur must be over the age of 18 and the viewing must be done without the knowledge or consent of the other person(s) involved.

There have been discussion regarding voyeurism being its own mental disorder and it having a comorbidity with other mental disorders. Specifically, this disorder carries a comorbidity of Depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (First, M. B. 2014).  There is also a risk of stalking where a voyeur will become obsessed with watching a single person, possibly following them to outside of their private residence in order to do so. Voyeurism is currently considered its own disorder, however as it is a relatively recent addition to the DSM (1994), there is still a rather small amount of motivational, causal and background research present and further study is needed to gain further depth of understanding (Britannica, n.d.).

Current research[edit | edit source]

There is more research to be done, though many studies looking at voyeurism are being released quite regularly (Långström & Seto, 2006). However, it has been seen that though the majority of voyeurs are male, statistically speaking, voyeurs do not have a specific set of qualities that make themselves up[awkward expression?] (Långström & Seto, 2006). It has been seen that voyeurs are not restricted by age, race or language. It has also been found through the small amount of studies conducted that voyeurs tend to be from higher socioeconomic backgrounds- usually middle class or higher, though this is not true for every case (Långström & Seto, 2006). This lack of research can make diagnosis quite difficult as there is very little way to try and make predictions regarding who will and will not suffer from this disorder, and how to best provide early intervention.

Possible treatments:[edit | edit source]

There is a great deal of stigma surrounding sexual disorders like voyeurism, and as a result there is a difficulty in offering the appropriate treatments outright. There is a focus on group therapy that is quite similar to that of alcoholics anonymous where people are able to openly discuss voyeurism and their participation in it, as well as receiving coping strategies and alternate routes to enable them to find healthier outlets (Brown & Brown, 2019). This can also allow them to recognise their behaviour as inappropriate and unacceptable by seeing it through someone else’s perspective, or through having to thoroughly explain what they do and why. This can begin to cause a form of realisation regarding the inappropriate nature of their behaviour. The use of pharmacotherapy, using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or through drugs that reduce testosterone and lower a person’s sex drive, for example leuprolide or medroxyprogesterone acetate have also been found to be very helpful forms of treatment (Brown & Brown, 2019). The only major downside to these treatments is that they are not able to be used as preventatives as they are only able to be employed once a person has been arrested for or diagnosed with the sexual disorder.

Legal issues[edit | edit source]

The act of voyeurism is not just a mental or sexual illness, it is also a crime; as it is seen as a gross invasion of privacy and is done without consent. In New South Wales voyeurism is seen under section 91J of the Crimes Act (1900), and carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, and a fine of up to $11,000 (Sydney Criminal Lawyers, n.d.). Depending on the age of the victim there is large risk of voyeurism coinciding with child pornography or paedophilia charges, in these cases the punishment can be up to five years on top of any other sentences. The use of general surveillance by the government via security and closed-circuit cameras is generally not considered to be voyeurism (Sydney Criminal Lawyers, n.d.).

Figure 4. High Court of Australia

As the act of voyeurism is a crime and can be punishable by the law it is important to understand the possible treatments that can aid people who are voyeurs. Though there are times when people are charged with voyeuristic crimes like invasion of privacy or public indecency and are sentenced to jail,[grammar?] there are alternate routes of punishment, many of which provide some form of psychological treatment (Sydney Criminal Lawyers, n.d.). Things like psychopathology, support groups and medication are some examples of this. There is a large emphasis on teaching these people to recognise and respect boundaries, as well as on learning to control sexual behaviour related to voyeurism (Sydney Criminal Lawyers, n.d.). A large deal of these things are done in tandem with cognitive behavioural therapy, aiming to change the overall behaviour and allow them to hopefully return to society.

Case study:[edit | edit source]

George Thomas (38), a London based married man with one child was arrested in relation to 10 counts of voyeurism in late 2015. Thomas installed hidden cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms in his own house, as well as throughout London in areas like his workplace, coffee shops and other heavily populated parts of the local London area (Finnigan, 2015).  He then used the footage, some of which involved naked victims onto his computer, and compiled the footage for what was described by the court as being for his own “sexual gratification” (Finnigan, 2015). Once placed in front of a court he was found that have filmed more than 3,500 people, including children (Finnigan, 2015). He was sentenced to four years’ incarceration and given a sexual harm prevention order for ten years- essentially registering him as a sex offender. The judge presiding over this case, His Honour Jeremy Donne said that ‘…this case is undoubtably sophisticated, organised, planned and long running campaign of voyeurism the scale of which, the court has been told, is beyond any previously encountered…” (Finnigan, 2015).  This case in particular shows the development of voyeurism when paired with technology and how difficult it can be to keep oneself safe, Thomas collected photos and videos for nearly 5 years before getting caught. Previously voyeurism was seen via peeping in windows and cracks in walls, or with the aid of things like binoculars; however with the introduction of devices like drones, and small hidden cameras it is growing increasingly difficult to ensure that you are not becoming a victim of voyeurism, and in turn it is growing increasingly difficult to police.

Voyeurism in the media[edit | edit source]

Voyeurism has been shown in various forms of media, including but not limited to: books, films, paintings and music. There has long been a form of fascination related to sexually deviant behaviour as it is something that deviates from the norm. There is a heavy interest in people trying to gain some insight as to why people do the things they do, for example there is a long standing interest in the mindset of people who commit atrocious crimes, the fascination to try and understand voyeurs motives and mindset is quite similar to that. Freud’s theory on perversion could help to understand why the general public is interested in the cause and motivation of things like voyeurism, as it fills a form of perversion within themselves without them acting on it (Reformulated, 2003).

Case study[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. Rear Window movie poster

An effective case study of voyeurism through another person's eyes, shown through the medium of film is Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ (1954). The film follows Jeff as he spends the film participating in voyeuristic behaviours including watching his neighbours and photographing people (Morgan & Chew-Bose & Weber, 2017). The film is shot to be from Jeff’s perspective and allows the audience to feel as though they are the voyeur as well. The film actively focuses on the concept of voyeurism and shows many of the dark aspects of it, including anxiety as the main character Jeff seems to become consumed with his idea that one of his neighbours has murdered their wife (Morgan & Chew-Bose & Weber, 2017). The film shows a very dark reality of voyeurism as well as showing that not all voyeuristic behaviours are sexually motivated, as Jeff only begins to participate in this behaviour as he suffers with boredom due to a broken leg, and not a sexually deviant need. The film also is seemingly aware of the way that voyeurism is viewed by the public as Jeff’s nurse in the film, Stella states ‘...they’d poke your eyes out with a red-hot poker’ if anyone were to find out about his behaviour (Morgan & Chew-Bose & Weber, 2017). Rear Window had a great deal of success and was overall shown to make a great deal of its audience feel uncomfortable in making them watch the neighbours through the window with Jeff (Morgan & Chew-Bose & Weber, 2017). This further exemplifies the way in which the majority of society feel regarding voyeurism and how it is most definitely not socially acceptable behaviour, despite being something that may fascinate us.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

If David enjoys watching women getting changed in a change room in the clothing store he works in, David could be seen as suffering from which sexual disorder:


To be diagnosed with a Voyeuristic Disorder’ a person must exhibit which of these symptoms:

Must gain arousal from the person being watched.
Must interfere with voyeurs personal and work life .
Must be occurring for more than a six-month period.
All of the above.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Voyeurism is a form of deviant sexual behaviour that causes the people being victimised and subjected to it to become reasonably uncomfortable. It involves watching another person or people(s) in different stages of undress or engaging in sexual behaviour without the other person's knowledge or consent. It can be known colloquially as a ‘peeping Tom’.  Voyeurism has a long been an enigma to the general public who simply cannot understand the behaviour and the motivations behind it. As such it has been a focal point of many films, books and music as well as academic content like research papers. There are many issues that can arise from this behaviour as it is seen as perverted, or unacceptable behaviour.  A great deal of voyeuristic motivation is not entirely known as voyeurism is reasonably difficult to study in an organic way. This is due to the fact that most people who engage in voyeuristic behaviour do not understand that the behaviour is wrong or that they do understand the behaviour is not acceptable, but do not come forward for fear of repercussions or due to stigma.

In the future it could be possible to rectify this by allowing case studies to be made on people who have been caught participating in this as part of their punishment, as this could allow for empirical evidence to be built and allow for further knowledge to be discovered surrounding cause and motivation of the behaviour. Another way this could help would be to allow people to understand and recognise the signs of symptoms as well as ensuring they are using deterrents for voyeuristic behaviours; like keeping their blinds closed for example. Another way to help understand the motivation of the behaviour going forward would be to study the stigma around voyeurism and the way that society reacts and views the behaviour itself as well as the people who participate in it. These things would help to engage researchers, the legal system and the public in gaining a wider level of comprehension surrounding the behaviour, the people involved and the motivations and causes behind voyeurism.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Balon, R. (2016). Lack of Clarity in the DSM-5 Criteria of Voyeuristic Disorder. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 42 (5), 391-392.

Metzl, J. (2004). From scopophilia toSurvivor: A brief history of voyeurism. Textual Practice, 18(3), pp.415-434.

Hanna, R. C., Crittenden, V. L., & Crittenden, W. F. (2013). Social Learning Theory. Journal of Marketing Education, 35(1), 18–25. doi: 10.1177/0273475312474279 [Accessed 11 October 2019]

Janssen, Diederik F. “‘Voyeuristic Disorder’: Etymological and Historical Note.” SpringerLink, Springer US, 26 Mar. 2018, [Accessed 21 September 2019]

Långström, N., & Seto, M. C. (2006, August 11). Exhibitionistic and Voyeuristic Behavior in a Swedish National Population Survey. Retrieved from [Accessed 19 September 2019]

Rinehart, N. J., & Mccabe, M. P. (1998). An empirical investigation of hypersexuality. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 13(4), 369–384. doi: 10.1080/02674659808404255. [Accessed 15 September 2019]

Stoudenmire, J. (1973). Behavioral treatment of voyeurism and possible symptom substitution. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 10(4), 328–330.

External Links[edit | edit source]