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Voyeurism refers to watching people undress or engage in sexual activity usually without their consent. Research shows that voyeurism often develops during adolescence or early adulthood. Voyeuristic disorder is a subcategory of paraphilic disorders (an intense and persistent sexual interest in atypical sexual targets or activities), which causes significant distress, functional impairments, and/ or harm to oneself or others. It is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and is defined as “urges to observe an unsuspecting person who is naked, undressing or engaging in sexual activities or in activities deemed to be of private nature.” The specific cause of voyeuristic disorder remains unknown, but certain risk factors, according to the DSM-5, have been noted as potentially increasing a person’s likelihood to develop the condition, including:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Substance abuse
  • Hypersexuality
  • Sexual preoccupation

In America, the prevalence of voyeuristic disorder is estimated to be as high as 12% in men and 4% in women. Common symptoms of voyeuristic disorder include the following, provided by Psychology Today:

  1. Persistent and intense sexual arousal from fantasizing or watching an unsuspecting person naked, disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity
  2. Experiencing sexual pleasure from watching people defecate
  3. Eavesdropping on a highly erotic conversation
  4. Masturbating or having sexual fantasies while watching a person, without any interest in sexual intercourse
  5. Severe distress and dysfunction in social and professional lives
  6. Violating a person’s privacy in their home, locker room, or similar areas
  7. Watching people engage in sexual activity without their consent
  8. Entering an area illegally to watch people in their intimate moments
  9. Filming or photographing a person without their permission
  10. Feeling frustrated or stressed when one can’t engage in voyeuristic behaviors
  11. Inability to get sexually aroused without watching others
  12. Inability to resist voyeuristic activities even when its detrimental to their health and well-being

The diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-5 indicate that to be diagnosed with this condition a person’s voyeuristic urges and behaviors must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning for at least six months. Additionally, the minimum age for a diagnosis of voyeuristic disorder in any individual is 18 years due to puberty and the corresponding age-appropriate sexual curiosity and activity.

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