According to various psychoanalytical theories, of a Lacanian nature, the human being is born with the need to look, to subjectify his context through the gaze. This is what would be called the scopic drive. For these currents we humans are scopic beings, we have the need to look and we enjoy it.

When this enjoyment of looking at the other becomes sexual excitement, then we can already speak of voyeurism , which is characterized by achieving sexual excitement by observing naked people or performing some sexual activity, without their knowledge.

What is voyeurism?

The word voyeur, of French origin, is derived from the verb voir (to see), together with the suffix of agent -eur, and its literal translation is “he who sees”.

Depending on the clinical setting, a voyeur or voyeuristic is someone who seeks to obtain sexual excitement by observing naked people or who engage in some sexual activity, however, this behaviour does not involve any subsequent sexual activity by the person who observes.

Voyeurism can reach the degree of paraphilia, sometimes being considered a disorder. So-called voyeuristic disorder involves carrying out voyeuristic impulses and fantasies without the other person’s consent; experiencing significant discomfort or functional impairment due to such desires or impulses.

Voyeurism according to clinical practice

But not all voyeuristic practices can be considered pathological. It is true that if we stick to the traditional definition of paraphilia: sexual behaviour whose main source of pleasure lies outside intercourse, voyeurism can be considered as such.

However, not all voyeuristic behavior is paraphilic, not all paraphilias can be considered pathological by themselves . Everything will depend on the degree of interference in the person’s sexual and non-sexual life, and the subsequent discomfort or deterioration of this.

Most people who have paraphilic interests do not meet the clinical criteria for paraphilic disorder. These criteria are summarized in two points:

  • The person’s behaviors, desires or fantasies cause him/her clinically significant discomfort, functional impairment or harm to others.
  • This set of behaviors must occur for more than six months.

The desire to observe other people in sexual contexts is very frequent, and cannot be considered abnormal in itself . These behaviours tend to start in the adolescent or early adulthood period, however, if during the course of this it becomes pathological, the person ends up investing considerable time in looking for opportunities to look at others; obstructing the rest of the responsibilities or daily activities.

Signs and Symptoms

Usually, a voyeuristic or voyeuristic person has to observe the sexual scene from a certain distance and, occasionally, hidden. Observing through, for example, cracks or locks or by using objects such as mirrors or cameras.

This behavior is occasionally accompanied by masturbatory activities; but it is not a necessary condition for the practice of voyeurism. Furthermore, the risk of being discovered acts as an excitation enhancer .

This voyeuristic disposition is often accompanied by exhibitionist tendencies. That is, the person enjoys showing himself, more or less openly, semi-nude or completely nude. Both voyeurism and exhibitionism have a great compulsive and irrepressible component. In both, before and during each sexual behaviour, the sweating rate and the heart rate increase when faced with the appearance of stimuli related to such activities; effects that disappear after the voyeuristic act.

It is also necessary to distinguish between voyeurism and the mere excitement of contemplating a naked body. The main difference is that in voyeurism there is no knowledge and/or consent on the part of the observed person, while in all other sexual activities it is assumed that there is. Being such a contemplation of nudity a part within the sexual activity, and not the totality of it.

As far as the personality characteristics of a voyeurist are concerned, these behaviours are usually related to people who have been shy during adolescence, and it is necessary to emphasise that they are not subjects prone to possess especially pathological features.Another term related to voyeurism, but somewhat different, is candaulism, a name that comes from a historical character Candaules, the last king of the Heraclid dynasty. This expression refers to a behavior in which the person who observes gets pleasure from observing his partner having sex with another person.


As mentioned above, there are few people with voyeuristic tastes where the behavior ends up being disordered; for the vast majority of them these behaviors do not pose a problem either in their daily lives or for their psychological health.

Therefore, few people are also referred to psychiatric or mental health facilities. In most cases these patients are referred to these units after they have broken the law and been convicted as sex offenders. In this case, voyeurism disorder has two avenues of action:

  • Psychotherapy along with support group assistance and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) , the latter to alleviate compulsive staring.
  • Anti-androgen drugs in very severe cases.

When SSRIs are not effective, due to the severity of the disorder, medications to reduce testosterone levels and libido inhibitors are considered. This medication, better known as anti-androgens, does not directly decrease testosterone levels; instead, by including gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate they initiate a hormonal chain reaction that does reduce testosterone production.

Given the aggressiveness of this treatment and its side effects, informed patient consent and rigorous monitoring of liver function and serum testosterone concentrations is required.

Criminalization of voyeuristic behavior

In certain cultures voyeurism is considered a perversion and in several countries it is qualified as a sexual crime.

  • The United Kingdom added this behaviour to the Sexual Offences Act of 20013 , thus criminalising the act of observing someone without their consent.
  • In late 2005, Canada passed a similar law, declaring voyeurism a sexual offence.
  • The U.S. also penalizes this practice in nine of its states.