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"Mercury and Herse", scene from The Loves of the Gods by Gian Giacomo Caraglio, showing Mercury, Herse, and Aglaulos

Voyeurism is the sexual interest in or practice of spying on people engaged in intimate behaviors, such as undressing, sexual activity, or other actions usually considered to be of a private nature.[1]

The principal characteristic of voyeurism is that the voyeur does not normally interact directly with the subject of his/her interest, who is often unaware of being observed. The essence of voyeurism is the observing but may also involve the making of a secret photograph or video of the subject during an intimate activity.

The term comes from the French voyeur which means "one who looks". A male voyeur is commonly labeled as "Peeping Tom", a term which originates from the Lady Godiva legend However, that term is usually applied to a male who observes somebody secretly and, generally, not in a public place.


  • Techniques 1
  • Medical issues 2
    • Definition 2.1
    • Historical perspectives 2.2
    • Prevalence 2.3
    • Characteristics of voyeurs 2.4
    • Current perspectives 2.5
    • Treatment 2.6
  • Criminology 3
  • Legal status 4
  • In popular culture 5
    • Photography 5.1
    • Films 5.2
      • Manga and light novels 5.2.1
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


A voyeur may use a number of strategies to observe others without them being aware of it. The voyeur may observe the subject from a distance, or use stealth to observe the subject with the use of peep-holes, two-way mirrors, hidden cameras, secret photography and other devices and strategies. Secret photography may involve the use of normal cameras, but with the photographer being concealed. Sometimes the camera itself may be disguised or concealed. The use of telephoto lens enables the distance from the subject to provide concealment.

Although spy cameras small enough to fit inside a pocket-watch had existed since the 1880s,[2] advances in miniaturization and electronics since the 1950s have greatly aided the ability to conceal miniature cameras, and the quality and affordability of tiny cameras (often called "spy cameras" or subminiature cameras) has now greatly increased. Some consumer digital cameras are now so small that in previous decades they would have qualified as "spy cameras", and digital cameras of twenty megapixels or more are now being embedded in some mobile camera phones. The majority of mobile phones in use are camera phones.

Certain image capturing devices are capable of producing images through materials that are opaque to visible light, including clothing. These devices form images by using electromagnetic radiation outside the visible range. Infrared and terahertz-wave cameras are capable of creating images through clothing, though these images differ from what would be created with visible light.[3][4]

Medical issues


Classification and external resources
ICD-10 F65.3
ICD-9 302.82

The American Psychiatric Association has classified certain voyeuristic fantasies, urges and behavior patterns as a paraphilia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) if the person has acted on these urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.[5] It is described as a disorder of sexual preference in the ICD-10.[6] The DSM-IV defines voyeurism as the act of looking at "unsuspecting individuals, usually strangers, who are naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity".[7] The diagnosis would not be given to people who experience typical sexual arousal simply by seeing nudity or sexual activity.

Historical perspectives

There is relatively little academic research regarding voyeurism. When a review was published in 1976 there were only 15 available resources.[8] While there has been more research since then, there is still little information on the topic. This is particularly surprising considering the increase in use of the term voyeur and the group of people it can encompass. Historically the term voyeur was used specifically to describe people who fit within the DSM description. However society has accepted the use of the term voyeur as a description of anyone who views the intimate lives of others, even outside of a sexual context.[9] This term is specifically used regarding reality television and other media which allow people to view the personal lives of others. This is a reversal from the historical perspective, moving from a term which describes a specific population in detail, to one which describes the general population vaguely.

One of the few historical theories on the causes of voyeurism comes from psychoanalytic theory. Psychoanalytic theory proposes that voyeurism results from a failure to accept castration anxiety and as a result a failure to identify with the father.[7]


Voyeurism has high prevalence rates in most studied populations. Voyeurism was initially believed to only be present in a small portion of the population. This perception changed when Alfred Kinsey discovered that 30% of men prefer coitus with the lights on.[7] This behavior is not considered voyeurism by today's diagnostic standards, but there was little differentiation between normal and pathological behavior at the time. Subsequent research showed that 65% of men had engaged in peeping, which suggests that this behavior is widely spread throughout the population.[7] Congruent with this, research found voyeurism to be the most common sexual law-breaking behavior in both clinical and general populations.[10] In the same study it was found that 42% of college males, who had never been convicted of a crime, had watched others in sexual situations. An earlier study indicates that 54% of men have voyeuristic fantasies, and that 42% have tried voyeurism.[11] In a national study of Sweden it was found that 7.7% of the population (both men and women) had engaged in voyeurism at some point.[12] It is also believed that voyeurism occurs up to 150 times more frequently than police reports indicate.[12] This same study also indicates that there are high levels of co-occurrence between voyeurism and exhibitionism, finding that 63% of voyeurs also report exhibitionist behavior.[12]

Characteristics of voyeurs

Due to the prevalence of voyeurism in society, the people who engage in voyeuristic behaviors are diverse. However, there are some trends regarding who is likely to engage in voyeurism. Please note, that these statistics apply only to those who qualify as voyeurs under the definition of the DSM, and not the broader modern concept of voyeurism as discussed earlier in this article.

Early research indicated that voyeurs were more mentally healthy than other groups with paraphilias.[8] Compared to the other groups studied, it was found that voyeurs were unlikely to be alcoholics or drug users. More recent research shows that, compared to the general population, voyeurs were moderately more likely to have psychological problems, use alcohol and drugs, and have higher sexual interest generally.[12] This study also shows that voyeurs have a greater number of sexual partners per year, and are more likely to have had a same-sex partner than general populations.[12] Both older and newer research found that voyeurs typically have a later age of first sexual intercourse.[8][12] However, other research found no difference in sexual history between voyeurs and non-voyeurs.[11] Voyeurs who are not also exhibitionists tend to be from a higher socioeconomic status than those who do show exhibitionist behavior.[12]

Research shows that like almost all paraphilias voyeurism is more common in men than in women.[12] However, research has found that men and women both report roughly the same likelihood that they would hypothetically engage in voyeurism.[13] There appears to be a greater gender difference when actually presented with the opportunity to perform voyeurism. There is very little research done on voyeurism in women, so very little is known on the subject. One of the few studies deals with a case study of a woman who also had schizophrenia. This limits the degree to which it can generalize to normal populations.[14]

Current perspectives

Lovemap theory suggests that voyeurism exists because looking at naked others shifts from an ancillary sexual behavior, to a primary sexual act.[13] This results in a displacement of sexual desire making the act of watching someone the primary means of sexual satisfaction.

Voyeurism has also been linked with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). When treated by the same approach as OCD, voyeuristic behaviors significantly decrease.[15]


Historically voyeurism has been treated in a variety of ways. Psychoanalytic, group psychotherapy and shock aversion approaches have all been attempted with limited success.[8] There is some evidence that shows that pornography can be used as a form of treatment for voyeurism. This is based on the idea that countries with pornography censorship have high amounts of voyeurism.[16] Additionally shifting voyeurs from voyeuristic behavior, to looking at graphic pornography, to looking at the nudes in Playboy has been successfully used as a treatment.[17] These studies show that pornography can be used as a means of satisfying voyeuristic desires without breaking the law.

Voyeurism has also been successfully treated with a mix of anti-psychotics and antidepressants. However the patient in this case study had a multitude of other mental health problems. Intense pharmaceutical treatment may not be required for most voyeurs.[18]

There has also been success in treating voyeurism through using treatment methods for obsessive compulsive disorder. There have been multiple instances of successful treatment of voyeurism through putting patients on fluoxetine and treating their voyeuristic behavior as a compulsion.[9][15]


Non-consensual voyeurism is a form of sexual abuse.[19][20][21][22] When the interest in a particular subject is obsessive, the behavior may be described as stalking.

The United States FBI assert that some individuals who engage in "nuisance" offenses (such as voyeurism) may also have a propensity for violence based on behaviors of serious sex offenders.[23] An FBI researcher has suggested that voyeurs are likely to demonstrate some characteristics that are common, but not universal, among serious sexual offenders who invest considerable time and effort in the capturing of a victim (or image of a victim); careful, methodical planning devoted to the selection and preparation of equipment; and often meticulous attention to detail.[24]

Little to no research has been done into the demographics of voyeurs.

Legal status

Voyeurism is not a crime in common law. In common law countries it is only a crime if made so by legislation. In Canada, for example, voyeurism was not a crime when the case Frey v. Fedoruk et al. arose in 1947. In that case, in 1950, the Supreme Court of Canada held that courts could not criminalize voyeurism by classifying it as a breach of the peace and that Parliament would have to specifically outlaw it. On November 1, 2005, this was done when section 162 was added to the Canadian Criminal Code, declaring voyeurism to be a sexual offense.[25]

In some cultures, voyeurism is considered to be a sex crime. In the United Kingdom, non-consensual voyeurism became a criminal offence on May 1, 2004.[26] In the English case of R v Turner (2006),[27] the manager of a sports centre filmed four women taking showers. There was no indication that the footage had been shown to anyone else or distributed in any way. The defendant pleaded guilty. The Court of Appeal confirmed a sentence of nine months' imprisonment to reflect the seriousness of the abuse of trust and the traumatic effect on the victims.

Another English case in 2009, R v Wilkins (2010),[28][29] resulted in a man who filmed his intercourse with five of his lovers for his own private viewing, being sentenced to imprisonment for eight months and ordered to sign the Sex Offenders Register, where his name would remain for ten years.

In a more recent English case in 2013, Mark Lancaster was found guilty and sentenced for voyeurism, after having tricked an 18-year-old student into traveling to a rented flat in Milton Keynes, where he filmed her with four secret cameras dressing up as a schoolgirl and posing for photographs before having sex with her.[30]

In the United States, video voyeurism is an offense in nine states and may require the convicted person to register as a sex offender.[31] The original case that led to the criminalization of voyeurism has been made into a television movie called Video Voyeur and documents the criminalization of secret photography. Criminal voyeurism statutes are related to invasion of privacy laws[32] but are specific to unlawful surreptitious surveillance without consent and unlawful recordings including the broadcast, dissemination, publication, or selling of recordings involving places and times when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a reasonable supposition they are not being photographed or filmed by "any mechanical, digital or electronic viewing device, camera or any other instrument capable of recording, storing or transmitting visual images that can be utilized to observe a person."[33]

Saudi Arabia banned the sale of camera phones nationwide in April 2004, but reversed the ban in December 2004. Some countries, such as South Korea and Japan, require all camera phones sold in their country to make a clearly audible sound whenever a picture is being taken. Secret photography by law enforcement authorities is called surveillance and is not considered to be voyeurism, though it may be unlawful or regulated in some countries.

In 2013, Indian Parliament made amendments to the Indian Penal Code, introducing voyeurism as a criminal offence.[34] A man committing the offence of voyeurism would be liable for imprisonment not less than one year and which may extend up to three years for the first offence, and shall also be liable to fine and for any subsequent conviction would be liable for imprisonment for not less than three year and which may extend up to seven years and with fine.

Voyeurism of a sadistic nature

In popular culture


Some fine art photographers such as Richard Kern and Don Chase have displayed a fascination with the forms of secret voyeuristic photography.


Voyeurism is a common plot device in both serious (e.g. Rear Window, Klute, Blue Velvet, Disturbia) and humorous (e.g. Porky's, Animal House, Semi-Pro, Gregory's Girl, American Pie) films. Voyeuristic photography has been a central element of the mis-en-scene of films such as Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, and Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup.

The 2002 television movie Video Voyeur: The Susan Wilson Story is based on a true story about a woman who was secretly videotaped, and subsequently helped to get laws against voyeurism passed in parts of the United States.[35]

Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, As She Goes to Bed by William Etty. This image illustrates Herodotus's version of the tale of Gyges (see: candaulism).

Non-pornographic reality television programs such as Survivor and The Real World are prime examples of voyeurism, where viewers (the voyeur) are granted an intimate interaction with a subject group or individual. Although not necessarily "voyeurism" in its original definition, as individuals in these given situations are aware of their audience, the concept behind "reality TV" is to allow unscripted social interaction with limited outside interference or influence. As such, the term still maintains its sexual connotations.

Manga and light novels

The manga Colorful and Nozoki Ana are both devoted almost entirely to voyeurism. Also, in the light novel series Baka to Test to Shōkanjū, Kōta Tsuchiya is subject to voyeurism, explaining why he is referred to as "Voyeur".

See also



  1. ^ Hirschfeld, M. (1938). Sexual anomalies and perversions: Physical and psychological development, diagnosis and treatment (new and revised edition). London: Encyclopaedic Press.
  2. ^ "Secret watch camera, c.1886". 2007-04-16. Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  3. ^ "New security camera can 'see' through clothes". CNN. April 16, 2008. 
  4. ^ Lugmayr, Luigi (Mar 9, 2008). "ThruVision T5000 T-Ray Camera sees through Clothes". I4U. 
  5. ^ "BehaveNet Clinical Capsule: Voyeurism". Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  6. ^ "ICD-10". Retrieved 2008-09-13. 
  7. ^ a b c d Metzl, Jonathan M. (2004). "Voyeur Nation? Changing Definitions of Voyeurism, 1950–2004". Harvard Review of Psychiatry 12 (2): 127–31.  
  8. ^ a b c d Smith, R. Spencer (1976). "Voyeurism: A review of literature". Archives of Sexual Behavior 5 (6): 585–608.  
  9. ^ a b Metzl, Jonathan (2004). "From scopophilia to Survivor: A brief history of voyeurism". Textual Practice 18 (3): 415–34.  
  10. ^ "The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Exhibitionism, Voyeurism, and Frotteurism". Niklas Langstrom. Retrieved 2013-04-04. 
  11. ^ a b Templeman, Terrel L.; Stinnett, Ray D. (1991). "Patterns of sexual arousal and history in a ?normal? Sample of young men". Archives of Sexual Behavior 20 (2): 137–50.  
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Långström, Niklas; Seto, Michael C. (2006). "Exhibitionistic and Voyeuristic Behavior in a Swedish National Population Survey". Archives of Sexual Behavior 35 (4): 427–35.  
  13. ^ a b Rye, B. J.; Meaney, Glenn J. (2007). "Voyeurism: It Is Good as Long as We Do Not Get Caught". International Journal of Sexual Health 19: 47–56.  
  14. ^ Hurlbert, David (1992). "Voyeurism in an adult female with schizoid personality: A case report". Journal of Sex Education & Therapy. 
  15. ^ a b Abouesh, Ahmed; Clayton, Anita (1999). "Compulsive voyeurism and exhibitionism: A clinical response to paroxetine". Archives of Sexual Behavior 28 (1): 23–30.  
  16. ^ Rincover, Arnold (1990). "Can Pornography Be Used as Treatment for Voyeurism?". Toronto Star. 
  17. ^ Jackson, B (1969). "A case of voyeurism treated by counterconditioning". Behaviour Research and Therapy 7 (1): 133–4.  
  18. ^ Becirovic, E.; Arnautalic, A.; Softic, R.; Avdibegovic, E. (2008). "Case of Successful treatment of voyeurism". European Psychiatry 23: S200.  
  19. ^ "Sexual Violence: Definitions". Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  20. ^ "Child Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet: For Parents, Teachers, and Other Caregivers". National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  21. ^ "Sexual Assault Fact Sheet". Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  22. ^ "What Is Child Sexual Abuse?". National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  23. ^ Hazelwood, R.R.; Warren, J. (February 1989). "The Serial Rapist: His Characteristics and Victims". FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: 18–25. 
  24. ^ The Criminal Sexual Sadist
  25. ^ Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46) s 162
  26. ^ Section 67 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003; brought into force by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (Commencement) Order 2004
  27. ^ (2006) All ER (D) 95 (Jan)
  28. ^ (2010) Inner London Crown Court, R v Wilkins.
  29. ^ "BBC Radio producer jailed over sex tapes". BBC. 4 March 2010. 
  30. ^ Brown, Jonathan; Philby, Charlotte; Milmo, Cahal (2013-07-19). "Computer consultant Mark Lancaster jailed for 16 months for voyeurism and trafficking after using 'sex for fees' website to dupe student into having sex with him". The Independent (London). 
  31. ^ Peeping Tom Law & Legal Definition
  32. ^ "Invasion of Privacy Law & Legal Definition". Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  33. ^ "Stephanie's Law". Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  34. ^ "Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013". Government of India. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  35. ^ Making Video Voyuerism A Crime

External links

  • UK law on voyeurism
  • Proposed US Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2003
  • Video Voyeurism Laws
  • Expert: Technology fosters voyeurism
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