Life Style

What is Voyeurism, When Does it Become Voyeuristic Disorder?

Sex may permeate our popular culture, but conversations about it are still associated with stigma and shame in Indian households. As a result, most individuals dealing with sexual health issues or trying to find information about sex often resort to unverified online sources or follow the unscientific advice of their friends.

To address the widespread misinformation about sex, is running this weekly sex column, titled ‘Let’s Talk Sex’, every Friday. We hope to initiate conversations about sex through this column and address sexual health issues with scientific insight and nuance.

The column is being written by Sexologist Prof (Dr) Saransh Jain. In today’s column, Dr Jain explains the difference between voyeurism and voyeuristic disorder.

Voyeurism can be defined as an interest in observing unsuspecting people while they undress, are naked, or engaged in sexual activities. The interest is usually more in the act of watching, than in the person. This condition typically develops in adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in men than women.

Voyeurism itself isn’t a disorder. When a person becomes so consumed by voyeuristic thoughts that they become distressed, are unable to function or act on their urges with respect to a person who hasn’t given their consent, it becomes a disorder.

Voyeuristic disorder is a type of paraphilic disorder. A paraphilic disorder is a condition that is characterised by strong and persistent sexual interest, urges, and behaviours that are typically focused around inanimate objects or children. Some people with this condition might also experience thoughts of harming themselves or others during sexual activities.

Symptoms of Voyeuristic Disorder

The most common symptoms of voyeuristic disorder include:

• Persistent and intense sexual arousal from observing people perform sexual activities

• Becoming distressed or unable to function as a result of voyeuristic urges and fantasies

• Engaging in voyeurism with a person who has not given their consent

• This condition often occurs alongside other conditions like depression, anxiety and substance abuse

• Some people with this condition might also perform sexual acts on themselves while observing others engaging in sexual activities.

Causes of Voyeuristic Disorder

No particular causes have been identified for voyeuristic disorder, but certain risk factors could increase a person’s likelihood to develop this condition, like:

• Sexual abuse

• Substance abuse

• Hypersexuality

• Sexual preoccupation

• Unable to get orgasm

• Psychiatric disorders

Voyeuristic Disorder Diagnosis

A medical doctor or a licensed therapist can make a diagnosis of voyeuristic disorder. A person has to be at least 18 years old before they can be diagnosed with voyeuristic disorder. This is because it might be difficult to distinguish between the disorder and genuine sexual curiosity in children.

A medical professional will look for certain things before making a diagnosis, such as:

• Having recurrent and intense desire to watch people

• Experiencing these desires for over a period of six months

• Acting on sexual urges with a person who doesn’t give their consent

• A sense that these desires get in the way of one’s social or professional life

However, people suffering from this condition are rarely diagnosed until they are caught committing sexual offences as a result of their condition. This is because they are unlikely to share their condition with a medical professional or a loved one. If you notice symptoms of voyeuristic disorder in a loved one, help them get the help they need. Early treatment will prevent the condition from degenerating to a point where the person might commit a sexual offence.

Voyeuristic Disorder Treatment

Like most other mental health conditions, voyeuristic disorder is treatable. The key is recognising when you need help, which can be hard for people with paraphilic disorders. It can be effectively treated with either psychotherapy, medication or both, depending on the severity of a person’s condition.


Medication to treat depression can be effective in the treatment of voyeuristic disorder by helping suppress impulsive behaviour. Also, your medical therapist can prescribe medication that reduces testosterone which could also be used to treat this condition. A reduction in your testosterone levels will also cause a drop in your sex drive which might help suppress voyeuristic urges.


Different forms of psychotherapy could help a person with voyeuristic disorder overcome the condition. Cognitive behaviour therapy can help them learn to control their impulses and understand why their behaviour isn’t socially acceptable. Therapy can also teach them coping mechanisms to help overcome sexual urges that are voyeuristic in nature.


The key to coping with voyeuristic disorder is to first recognise that you need help and then reach out. You can start with confiding in a parent, friend, or loved one who will be supportive and can help you get the treatment that you need. It’s often hard for people with this condition to recognise they have a problem that needs to be treated until they get in trouble. Just speaking with them and helping them realise the gravity and consequences of their condition is a good start to convincing them to seek treatment.

If the thought of voyeurism turns you on, you’re not alone. It is a fairly common sexual interest. But, it’s essential to understand that having voyeuristic desires isn’t a bad thing as long as you are fulfilling them in a right way that doesn’t violate or bring harm to anybody else and is not interfering with your daily functioning.

Unless voyeurism involves the consent of all parties, it’s both a problem and a crime. If you believe you or someone you know has a voyeuristic disorder, talk to your doctor. They can help you get treatment.

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