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Exhibitionism is loosely defined as the act or fantasy of showing genitalia to others without consent. There are many degrees of exhibitionism and the reasons for this behavior can vary from physical problems with the brain to chemical imbalances and traumatic experiences in childhood. When people act on exhibitionism fantasies, it is usually an illegal act, but the laws vary slightly from one place to another. According to experts, men are much more likely to be exhibitionists than women, although some experts think that women may engage in socially acceptable behaviors that satisfy similar impulses.
For many people, exhibitionism is simply a fantasy and they would never actually act on it. In those cases, it may not be considered a very serious issue, or it may not even be considered a problem at all. For other people, the fantasy exists in conjunction with a difficulty in controlling impulses or a psychotic delusion of some sort.
Many experts actually classify exhibitionism without self-control as a potentially dangerous kind of sexual deviance. This is because there is often an unwilling victim involved, and the person acting on the exhibitionist impulse is showing that he or she is unwilling to exhibit sexual self-control. It is very common for people who act on exhibitionist fantasies to suffer from other kinds of sexual deviancy, and it can often be part of an overall pattern of behavior.
People engage in exhibitionism for a wide variety of reasons. In impulsive individuals, it may be due to other underlying psychiatric problems, such as chemical imbalances. There are also people who have developed strange ideas that aren't based on reality. For example, some people may actually believe that strangers secretly want to see them naked, and they see their behavior as fulfilling these wishes.
Treatment for people who can't control exhibitionism varies greatly depending on the underlying cause of the disorder and the severity. For some people, simple therapy is more than enough to deal with minor compulsions. In other individuals, doctors may try everything from hormone therapy to drugs and even institutionalization. Many people with very minor exhibitionist compulsions never require therapy because they don't actually act on their impulses, so the average patients seen by therapists are more likely to have a serious problem.