If you’ve ever enjoyed watching a consenting partner touch themselves, or if you’ve ever caught a glimpse of them in the shower or undressing, then you’ve explored voyeurism. As with any sexual activity, the way people enjoy voyeurism exists on a spectrum: It can be a casual interest, a more involved kink, or something in between. Read on to learn more about consensual voyeurism, how to practice it safely and consensually, and how to identify when voyeurism may be considered a problem or even a disorder.
What voyeurism means
Voyeurism is when a person derives erotic pleasure from watching someone else (or even watching themselves) do something typically private and/or sexual in nature, like undressing or masturbating. Kayla Lords, co-host of the Loving BDSM podcast, tells O.school that voyeurism “is most often associated with watching other people engage in sexual or kink activities, but it can also be deriving pleasure from watching attractive people (which is subjective and determined by the voyeur) exist in the world.”
Why engaging in “consensual” voyeurism matters
Consensual voyeurism means that all parties involved (the watcher and those being watched) are aware of the situation and are enthusiastically consenting. Consent can also mean the person being watched agrees to role play or feign surprise or ignorance that they are being watched. A person may even consent to being watched at an undisclosed time, or with a hidden camera, so they can more authentically act as an unsuspecting subject — which may be a turn on for the voyeur.
Consent matters in all sexual contexts, but when it comes to voyeurism, it’s especially important that those being watched by the voyeur know what’s going on and have enthusiastically agreed to the terms of the situation or scene. Otherwise, there is a danger of major boundaries being crossed, safety being compromised, and potential harm or risk to those being watched. Without consent, being a voyeur can be considered a crime punishable by law in some cases.
Exploring consensual voyeurism, however, can be a perfectly normal way to engage in play. It’s even possible to try voyeurism without involving a partner at all. For example, some consider watching porn to be a fulfilling voyeuristic activity because they are experiencing erotic pleasure from watching other people have sex on screen.
Why some people enjoy voyeurism
There’s a wide variety of reasons someone might enjoy voyeurism. Some people may enjoy it simply because it feels good and it turns them on. Lords tells O.school that others may like it because of “the pleasure of the taboo” — doing something that is not traditionally considered “acceptable” and “watching what is normally a private moment.” Some people find that “they’re more visual and are turned on by what they see.” “And still for others, it’ll be a combination of those reasons or something else entirely.”
For some partners, there is also mutual enjoyment for the person being watched and the watcher. Those who enjoy being watched are known as exhibitionists.
6 ways to practice voyeurism consensually and safely
Trying voyeurism can be a very exciting and fun way to sexually explore, if done responsibly. If you’re curious how to explore voyeurism consensually and safely, here are six things you can try.
1. Watch yourself masturbate
Lords says a great place to start with voyeurism is to “be your own voyeur [and] watch yourself masturbate. [This] is a great way to play if you worry about making other people uncomfortable or don’t have access to spaces where voyeurism is welcome — like BDSM dungeons or sex parties,” or a partner to role play with. You can use a mirror to watch yourself masturbate or set up a camera, get into the scene, and watch the video later on.
2. Watch your partner masturbate
Some people partake in voyeurism by watching a consenting partner masturbate. This may look like sitting with your partner and watching them pleasure themselves, or adding in role play, where you pretend that one partner doesn’t know the other is watching. “I have worked with couples where the voyeur wanted to watch their partner masturbate [and] through some negotiation and with the partner's full consent, the partner hid in the closet and watched their partner masturbate,” Aydrelle Collins, sex therapist at Melanin Sex Therapy tells O.school. You can even ask to watch your partner shower, bathe, or change, and if everyone is into it, you can act like they don’t know you’re watching.
3. Attend a sex club
Often, sex clubs are places where watching other people have sex is welcomed. In fact, some people really like having sex in a sex club because they enjoy when other people watch. “In dungeons, play parties, and clubs that allow for public play, they often have designated seating areas so people can watch,” says Lords. However, even if there is designated seating for viewing, it’s usually expected that you ask the people having sex if it’s okay to watch. In some situations it's permitted to masturbate while watching and in other’s it’s not, so it’s important to learn the club, party, or dungeon rules, and check-in with the people you’re hoping to view.
4. Watch voyeuristic porn or live cams
“Voyeurism” is an entire genre of porn and many people explore their voyeuristic interests by simply Googling the term. Watching porn is completely safe and there are no questions around consent so long as you are watching privately. There are also live cams where you can watch individuals, couples, or groups having live sex. For many voyeurs, the aspect of watching live cam sex is appealing as it mimics the act of peeking in on a couple who is unaware. Just make sure the porn you find is ethically made and that everyone involved is consenting to the scene.
5. Record yourself and a trusted partner having sex
You and your partner can film yourselves having sex and then enjoy watching it later. You can even talk with your partner about role playing a scene where you put a “hidden” camera in the room and act like one partner doesn’t know it’s there. When making DIY porn, be sure to establish consent, boundaries, soft and hard limits, what will happen to the footage post filming, and who is allowed to view it. If everything is talked out thoroughly, making homemade porn with a partner can be a lot of fun and a great way to sneakily look at your own sex life after-the-fact.
6. Watch your partner have sex with someone else
Some may consider this act of voyeurism to be a bit more advanced as it takes a high level of communication and openness between partners. Those in an open relationship, for example, might enjoy trying cuckolding or threesomes as a hot way to watch a partner have sex with someone else. In this situation, all of you can decide how the voyeur would like to watch — whether that’s watching through a window, closet, listening from another room, participating for some parts, or receiving sexy pics and videos afterwards. Just be sure to talk extensively with everyone involved beforehand about boundaries and interests.
How to identify voyeuristic disorder
While consensual voyeurism can be a hot, safe way to explore a kink, for some people, the urge to watch others in a sexual context can feel overpowering or out of their control. Some people may find themselves consumed by voyeuristic thoughts and fantasies and may intentionally spy on unsuspecting, non-consenting people. When this happens, it may be considered voyeuristic disorder, a DSM-5 paraphilic disorder. This means the behavior is causing distress to the individual or risk of harm to others. You may have heard the colloquial term for someone with voyeuristic disorder: Peeping Tom. According to Psychology Today, “To be diagnosed with voyeuristic disorder, a person must experience persistent and intense sexual arousal from the fantasy or act of watching unsuspecting people who are naked, partially disrobed, or sexually active, for at least six months.“
Collins tells O.school, “The person often has obsessive thoughts around the act of voyeurism. They may experience distress when they are not able to perform the act of voyeurism.” When someone engages in voyeuristic behaviors without consent it may not only be a disorder, but a crime punishable by law. If you are being consumed by voyeuristic thoughts and fantasies of spying on non-consenting people, Collins says these are signs that the behavior could be becoming a problem and recommends seeking the help of a sex therapist or a mental health professional.
The bottom line
Voyeurism can be an exciting way to expand your sexual horizons so long as everyone involved is enthusiastically consenting. Whether you’re watching yourself or your partner masturbate, attending a sex club and viewing couples and groups have sex, role playing a scene with a partner, or watching live cam porn, there are plenty of safe, responsible ways to explore voyeurism.