We all get our kicks in weird and wonderful ways—as long as those are between consenting adults, your kinks are nothing to be ashamed of. But some sexual fetishes pose greater logistical challenges than others. Take exhibitionism, for instance.
For some people, the thrill of being watched or knowing that someone could catch you at any moment adds extra frisson to sex. But having sex in public poses a couple of fairly substantive problems: First, depending on where you live, it’s almost certainly illegal, like in the US, where sexual activity in public is unlawful under indecent exposure laws. Second, even if you don’t get caught by the police, there’s the possibility a member of the public will film your outdoor licentiousness and upload it to social media, consigning you to a lifetime of infamy, and maybe even lead to you losing your job. Finally, there are issues of consent at play—having an unwilling party witness your sexual activity goes against the necessity that everyone involved feels good about and agrees to take part in what's going down.
Public sex, also known as exhibitionism, isn’t an uncommon fetish, but it’s trickier than other fetishes to navigate in an ethical manner. Aside from the chances that being caught would affect your life, career, and criminal record negatively, catching you in flagrante could be traumatizing for other people. So how should you indulge your taste for sex outside of the bedroom in a safe (and hot) manner? Let's…take a look.
What is exhibitionism, anyway?
“Exhibitionism is often thought of as flashing, or sending unsolicited intimate pictures,” explains psychosexual and relationship therapist Dr. Aoife Drury. “As such, it has a bad reputation. But exhibitionism also falls into those who enjoy having sex in the open—not [necessarily] wanting to get caught, but liking the risk—or sharing images with consenting adults, or going to nude beaches. It’s quite a broad term.”
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It’s important not feel embarrassed or ashamed about your desires. “There’s nothing inherently unethical about exhibitionism,” confirms psychologist Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey. “The only time it would be unethical if you were exhibiting yourself in a place where people haven’t consented, for example, in front of families, children, or the general public.” However, if you’re having sex in an appropriate area—like a sex club, for instance—Dr Bisbey says, “No problem.”
How do I practice exhibitionism responsibly?
“Although exhibitionism can be perceived as controversial,” says Drury, “Like most fetishes, there are healthy and unhealthy ways of expressing it. It can be a healthy kink to integrate into your sex life under safe and consenting conditions.” She emphasizes that it’s important to disconnect yourself from any lingering or residual feelings of shame about public nudity in order to enjoy exhibitionism fully. “As children, we’re taught that showing off our flesh is wrong at an early age and most of us are encouraged to cover up,” she explains. “This, along with poor sex education and stigma, can cause shame for those with a fetish, especially one as misunderstood and broad as exhibitionism.”
So, what is the best path forward for the responsible exhibitionist? Sex clubs are an obvious way to go. “Check out the club carefully first,” says Bisbey. She advises getting a tour beforehand to make sure it’s reputable. When you’re satisfied you want to give it a try, be clear about your limits. “Do you want to meet someone new and have sex there?” she asks. “If so, be clear about safe sex and what you will do and won’t do.” Take it slowly, especially if you’re venturing there alone, without a trusted lover or friend. “Watching others the first time you go to the club is a great way to become comfortable, or consider going on a weeknight, when it’s quieter.”
How can I have sex in public safely?
If sex clubs aren’t really your bag, think carefully about where you choose to have sex. “Don’t have sex in public where you could be seen by children or a family, as this is a good way to get arrested,” Bisbey explains. If you’re in the mood to get amorous in a restaurant or bar, ensure you have an exit plan: a window you can climb out of, or a back entrance you can use, should management come knocking. Be aware of your surroundings: Having no idea what’s going on around you generally is an unwise and unsafe move.
If you’re having sex in nature, beware! “If you are in the woods, be careful of irritating or poisonous plants and hostile or poisonous animals, and pay attention to the weather so you don’t get sunburn or frostbite,” Bisbey says. Finally: if you feel like having sex in the office, don’t. “Don’t have sex at work unless you are prepared to lose your job.”
The main thing to keep in mind is that, while you're taking a risk, that shouldn't mean risking the well-being of others you might encounter.