An introduction to sexual deviance

Sexual deviance refers to abnormal sexual expression. Though it’s difficult to define what is normal or abnormal in sexual relationships, some sexual behaviours are documented as abnormal. Here, we discuss three types of sexual deviations: exhibitionism, fetishism and voyeurism.

An introduction to sexual deviancefeet fetish

A type of paraphilia, feet fetish is when one is unusually obsessed with feet.

Paraphilia, what does it mean? 

Sexual deviance refers to a variety of abnormal sexual expressions. The technical term for a sexual attraction of an unusual nature is paraphilia.

Paraphilias are defined as abnormal feelings, behavior and thoughts of a sexual nature that involves unusual situations or objects. It is distressing to the individual and interferes with his work or day-to-day functioning. Sometimes it is difficult to define what is normal or abnormal in sexual relationships, but some paraphilias are clearly documented as abnormal sexual feelings, urges or behavior. The person may be aware of the problem, but may not be able to do anything about it.

Three types of paraphilia: exhibitionism, fetishism and voyeurism:


Exposing one’s genitals in public, either in a public place or in front of people is called exhibitionism. Exhibitionists are also known as ‘flashers’ as they flash their private parts in public. Exhibitionists have uncontrolled, intense and strong sexual urges, which causes them to expose their genitals often to a stranger who has no clue what’s about to happen. Actual sexual contact with the other person is rare, although the flasher may masturbate in public to draw attention to himself. The cause of exhibitionism is usually childhood sexual abuse or a traumatic event in childhood.  Exhibitionism is diagnostic when the activity causes severe distress to the person and interferes with his day-to-day life.


It is also known as sexual fetishism or erotic fetishism. The object or situation of interest is called fetish and the person is called a fetishist. In fetishism, the individual has sexual urges when looking or touching an innocuous object like underwear, shoes or lingerie. The fetish may replace the sexual act or may be a part of the sexual experience with a partner who is willing to satisfy the request. Sex without the object is generally not liked or wanted and hence a sexual relationship with a partner or spouse is not given priority. A related paraphilia called partialism is when an individual is obsessed with a certain body part like breasts, buttocks or feet. Obsession with the feet is also called foot fetishism while obsession with fat people is called fat fetishism.


Voyeurism is the act of watching a person undress or indulging in a sexual encounter without their knowledge. It is also called scopophilia, which literally means ‘love of watching’. This practice involves getting sexual gratification by viewing other’s implicit or explicit sexual behavior. The voyeur may also masturbate when this happens. Voyeurs are also called ‘peeping toms’ because of their behavior. Voyeurism is referred to as ‘ peeping’ and the voyeur does not attempt or want sex with the person they are spying on. Because the voyeur intrudes into a person’s private space, it is considered a criminal offence in some countries like U.K. and Canada.

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Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician

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