For better or for worse, most of us are being watched in some form or another at this point in our shared digital life. Our clicks and preferences are registered by our internet service providers and algorithms, we’re on CCTV in stores and on streets, and your conversation is recorded when you call for tech support.
Before any of this, though, there was already another way that watching and being watched played a role in some peoples’ lives: people who like watching others in a sexual context (or like other people watching them). Voyeurism is still a big part of a desire profile for many people, and technology has made it all even more dynamic and complicated. What’s voyeurism all about, and what does practicing it look like in our era?
What is voyeurism?
In simple terms, voyeurism means getting off on watching somebody else in a sexual context — sometimes voyeurism can be invoked with connotations of nonconsensual watching, but that doesn’t have to be the case. This can be a mild interest, like finding it exciting if your sex partner stands up and gets off the bed to slowly remove all her clothes for you, or masturbates in front of you. It can also be a stronger kink, where someone feels a strong need to incorporate it into their sex life or feels less satisfied by sex that doesn’t include any watching or observing.
Strongly related to voyeurism is exhibitionism — the phenomenon of getting off on someone watching you, or even performing for them to watch. Although technically this is different, or a counterpart to the dynamic — like dominant and submissive, or sadist and masochist — people may colloquially refer to both exhibitionism and voyeurism together as voyeurism.
Is voyeurism wrong or bad?
Although, again, voyeurism can have connotations of being nonconsensual — think of a “peeping tom” peering in through someone’s window to watch them undress without their knowledge, or someone hacking a webcam to spy on someone — people can be (and most are!) into voyeurism totally consensually, and disgusted by the idea of nonconsensual watching. (It’s important to remember that any kind of nonconsensual activity, including watching, isn’t really about sex and isn’t a valid “kink” or sexual interest — it’s about power, control, and violation.)
That said, both voyeurs and exhibitionists may sometimes fantasize about voyeuristic scenarios with more complex implications when it comes to consent. This isn’t the same as actually harming anyone or violating their privacy; fantasies aren’t a direct printout of our sexual selves, and what turns us on is often “taboo” and not something we’d ever want to do in real life.
Why do I (or my partner) like voyeurism?
It’s a good question, and there’s no single answer — like any sexual activity, even “vanilla” ones, a hundred people who like the same activity may all like it for wildly different reasons.
For some, voyeurism may feel exciting because it feels like it has an element of control — the person watching gets to remain totally calm, cool, and collected, and remain unseen if they wish to (or at least not the center of attention) while getting to experience something they enjoy, and the other person in the dynamic is more vulnerable. For others, voyeurism may feel like it’s about security — they can stay “safe” and not worry about performance anxiety or what they look like as long as they’re primarily watching. Voyeurism can also feel flattering — someone allowing you to watch them or even perform for you can feel like an intimate gift, and like they trust you very deeply.
What about exhibitionists, people who enjoy voyeurs watching them? Exhibitionism can feel sexy because it feels taboo or forbidden; especially for women, who may have been cautioned against being too sexual or “showing off” their whole lives. It can also feel flattering and help us feel very desirable — someone wanting to watch you closely and intently can feel very special and ego-boosting.
How can I bring voyeurism into my sex life in a healthy way?
Although you may be all in on the concept of voyeurism, it can be less clear how you’re actually supposed to do it. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- As part of foreplay, ask your partner to masturbate in front of you — this can be really hot and have the added benefit of giving you more info about how they like to be touched
- If you’re partnered, ask your partner to send you photos or videos throughout the day when you’re apart
- If you and your partner are long-distance (or even if one of you is on a trip, or just over at their own apartment) you can try sex on video or FaceTime, asking the other person to strip for you, touch themselves, or use toys on camera
- Try a voyeurism-based roleplay — maybe your partner is the sexy neighbor across the courtyard that you’ve seen through her window, and the two of you are playing out the scenario of what happens when you can’t take it anymore and finally come to knock on her door
- Outside of a partnered dynamic, some porn or adult entertainment hubs can provide “amateur” content that feels like it’s providing an authentic window into someone’s sex life that may feel satisfying. Live streaming platforms like Chaturbate will also let you watch someone perform live on camera.