Neha, a homemaker living in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, was 33 years old when she first went naked in a public setting. Before then, her only other exposure to exhibitionism was when her husband shared photos of them naked on Tumblr.
All that changed one vacation when they were driving down a highway.
“I was wearing a little yellow dress and my husband asked me to take it off and go down on him. I did it to turn him on, but I realised that I was getting aroused by it too,” Neha, who requested anonymity to prevent her family from finding out about her controversial escapades, told VICE. “I was nervous but also exhilarated, and felt this adrenaline rush. I think a rickshaw driver saw us too.”
In India, as in many other countries, “indecent exposure” is illegal under the country’s stringent obscenity laws.
But Neha, who goes by the username r/sexyindainwife on Reddit, is a self-identified exhibitionist, or someone who derives sexual pleasure from exposing their naked body in a public setting. She speaks candidly about her experiences online, which has made her a popular figure in India’s secret exhibitionist groups, where many curious young Indians admit to seeking her advice.
“It [exhibitionism] gives me this feeling of liberation and makes me feel totally comfortable with my own body,” she said.
Though it’s sometimes confused with nudism, exhibitionism is not just about going naked, but also about the sexual gratification people derive from the act. Exhibitionism is widely considered socially deviant behaviour, and a common perception in India is that it’s a “mental disorder”.
Typical images of exhibitionists are of shady men lurking in isolated corners, waiting to prey on young women by flashing their genitals. While multiple cases of exhibitionism have been reported as traumatising by victims, India also has an underground exhibitionist community for whom the thrill lies in stripping specifically for a consenting partner in a public setting. And getting away with it.
“I usually do it when I am driving in a car with my husband, or when we are at an isolated resort located on a hill,” explained Neha, who proactively scouts for empty-ish corners of parks, beaches, and hills to get down and dirty in.
“I don’t care much about another adult catching me naked, but there’s always a chance of getting into legal trouble.”
Given the legal repercussions their fetish can invite, the community often thrives in discreet online spaces that allow for more consent and safety. These NSFW online groups have anywhere between 200 to 74,000 members. Here, they share naked photos as well as their offline experiences, provide tips on safe places to strip in, and seek fellow exhibitionists to pair up with for a literal dressing-down in public.
Tumblr was the main site of sexual expression in the early 2000s, until all NSFW content was banned on the platform. Reddit has several private communities for Indian exhibitionists, like r/indiansgonewild, though some have also been taken down for nudity and obscene content. Today, websites like Bongocams, Tango Chat, Strip Chat, and Omegle are also popular spaces for exhibitionists to express their sexual freedom. Some have also began experimenting on OnlyFans to earn money.
“My exhibitionism led me to camming, so now I get paid to do what turns me on,” said Roohi, a 24-year-old software engineer from the western Indian city of Wardha, who insisted on using a fake name for privacy concerns. While India has strict laws prohibiting the distribution of porn, webcamming is a legal grey area that is rarely reported for obscenity.
For many Indian exhibitionists, underground sex parties are also an ethical – though still technically illegal – way to express themselves.
“The first time I tried exhibitionism was at a private sex party in Goa,” said a 25-year-old student from Mumbai, who uses the online username Sky and wished to withhold his real name so as to not attract punitive action.
He pointed out that most exhibitionists he knows have embraced open relationships, allowing them to explore other fantasies like participating in orgies or swinging. “We also like wearing revealing clothes generally,” he pointed out.
“Even though it is dangerous for them, India’s Reddit groups for exhibitionists are filled with women,” said Sky, who was also introduced to the community by his girlfriend, adding that women like Neha are “icons.”
Most exhibitionists who agreed to speak to VICE were women too. Those we talked to said that if they’re careful about the spaces they engage in, women can actually get away with flashing far easier than men can.
“I’ve flashed my boyfriend in dark crowded clubs, and caught a few random men staring at me, but none of them had a problem with me doing it,” said Sarah, a 22-year-old student from Delhi, who requested anonymity to avoid legal repercussions and protect her identity from her family.
“Except this one time when a girl got angry because she saw her boyfriend glancing at me.”
According to sexologist Timaree Schmit, the difference between male and female exhibitionists is their perceived level of threat. "We consider a girl getting up on a bar flashing her tits as party behavior, not a sex crime,” she told VICE.
But this can also quickly go south in a country with worryingly high levels of moral policing.
In November 2020, the police in India’s coastal tourist state of Goa arrested model Poonam Pandey for partially stripping and shooting “obscene” content in a public place. However, her arrest was met with outrage when social media users pointed out that around the same time, Indian actor Millind Soman had also posted a photo of him running naked on a Goa beach that was largely lauded as #fitnessgoals.
Following the outrage, Soman too was charged by the police for obscenity. But social media users felt the incident exemplified India’s sexist tendencies.
Some female exhibitionists even told VICE that they were drawn to exhibitionism because they came from sexually repressed families which didn’t discuss sex and forbid their female relatives from wearing clothes considered too revealing.
“In India, exhibitionism is a result of suppressed sexual impulses,” psychologist and trauma expert Seema Hingorranny told VICE. “Sex is a taboo and so, many exhibitionists deal with the shame they feel about their sexuality by showing the world their sexual organs.”
Hingoranny added that in most cases she’s worked on, the kink stemmed from a distorted view of sexual expression and a lack of shame or guilt over the traumatic effects it could have on other people.
But for some women who do engage in exhibitionism, they believe there are ways to do it safely and ethically.
Vixen, a 31-year-old lawyer who identified herself only through her online pseudonym to avoid legal backlash, has been reported for obscenity multiple times and even had her Reddit account temporarily suspended.
She has been a part of the online exhibitionist community in India for more than a decade, and has even been described by one Redditor VICE spoke to as “the wildest of the lot”. But the backlash she has faced offline prompted her to lay down some ground rules in real life.
“I have had sex on balconies, in rooms with glass windows, cars and on virtual cams,” she tells VICE. “But my basic rule to avoid traumatising people is to never do it in a space with children or schools around, and to never completely disrobe in public.”
Vixen also cautions against trolls who pose as women to trick users into sharing photos.
“You have to always follow a verification process and see if they continue communication,” she advised. Vixen and other people from the community shared how they often ask people they meet online to jump on to a phone call or share a voice note.
Neha advises following some basic etiquette rules in the online space as well. “When uploading naked content, it’s always a good idea to hide or blur faces, tattoos, and other identifying features,” she says.
While exhibitionism can quite easily turn into a traumatising experience for an unsuspecting viewer, some of its desi advocates argue that when done ethically through consensual online spaces or by taking your surroundings into account, it can be a liberating experience to help you achieve true intimacy.
“Doing it with a partner gives you a support system,” said Neha. “When we go on vacations, we meet other people from the online communities, and play games like strip poker or give each other wild dares. These are the people who know the real me.”