What is a Voyeur? Explain It Like I’m Five

by Chris Von Wilpert, BBusMan • Last updated January 11, 2024

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What is a voyeur?

A voyeur is someone who gets aroused by spying on people while they are in intimate situations, like having sex, changing their clothes, or taking a shower, for example. Voyeurism is considered to be a criminal activity, unless it’s consensual.

Voyeur fast facts

  • Voyeurism is different from watching porn movies that are made with consent.

  • A voyeur usually invests in equipment to secretly film people or observe them from a distance.

  • It’s hard to tell if voyeuristic porn movies are real, but there are some sites that claim to have authentic hidden cam and leaked videos and photos.

  • Extreme forms of voyeuristic behavior can be a signal of underlying mental issues. 

  • The term Peeping Tom originates from a medieval legend.

Screenshot of a voyeuristic movie of a woman who’s walking in the subway with short pants. Photograph: CandidCreeps

What is some typical behavior of a voyeur?

Not all voyeurs behave the same, but they typically do the following:

  • A voyeur actively observes unsuspecting people who are usually engaged in private activities, like undressing or having sex.
  • A voyeur may buy equipment that makes it easier to spy on people without getting caught. For example: binoculars, camera equipment with zoom lenses, recording devices that can be hidden, and so on.
  • Voyeurs may install hidden cameras in places where people are likely to undress, such as hotel rooms, dressing rooms, public toilets…
  • Some voyeurs stalk people to find out their routines and increase the chance to observe them during intimate moments.
  • A voyeur may also peep through windows and keyholes, or open doors in dressing rooms of sport facilities.
  • They may take up-skirt pictures or record videos of, for example, cleavages, in subways, shopping malls, clubs, and other public spaces.

Are people who watch voyeuristic porn movies voyeurs themselves?

No. Porn is a form of adult entertainment and people can watch fantasies taking part with them in real life.

Someone who watches voyeuristic porn movies isn’t a voyeur by default. This is like heterosexuals who watch gay or lesbian porn. They may like it for reasons that have nothing to do with their sexual orientation or desire to experience the actions themselves.

The opposite is also true. Some people who obsessively watch hidden cam porn movies or leaked sex tapes can be voyeurs or have tendencies to become one in reality.

Why is a voyeur called a Peeping Tom?

The term Peeping Tom originates from the medieval legend of Lady Godiva. Her  husband, Earl Leofric, raised taxes and she didn’t like that. In order to convince her husband to lower them, Lady Godiva rode naked on a horse, through town. 

Everyone had to stay indoors and shut their windows during her ride through Coventry. One man, called Thomas, couldn’t resist the temptation and peeked through the window shutter, and depending on the version of the legend, he became instantly blind or dead.

The message was that looking secretly at someone naked is wrong and dangerous.

The term peeping Tom for a voyeur originates from a version of the legend of Lady Godiva. Photograph: “Lady Godiva” by John Collier via Wikimedia Commons

What are the motivations behind voyeuristic behavior?

The goal of voyeuristic behavior is to get sexually excited, but there are also other motivations at play:

  • A voyeur can get a kick from feeling in control and having power over people who are not aware they are being observed. 
  • The illegality of voyeurism is another motivation. Voyeurs know they are breaking the law and risk getting caught, which can cause an adrenaline shot. 
  • Some voyeurs can feel isolated and engage in spying people to feel a sense of intimacy and emotional connection.
  • Curiosity about how others look naked can be another motivation. This explains why deepnude apps are immensely popular.
  • In extreme cases, voyeuristic behavior can be triggered by psychological disorders, such as anxiety, hypersexuality, antisocial personality disorders, depression, etc.

Is watching porn a form of voyeurism?

In most cases, the answer is no. Voyeurism happens without consent, and porn movies and images are normally made with the consent of the models or actors. If that is not the case, porn is non consensual and it can be considered voyeuristic.

For instance, deepfake porn can be considered as a form of online voyeurism. Although these images and movies are not real, they are created without consent and often with a sexual intent.

There are also porn movies with real people that are recorded or published without consent. Watching them doesn’t make someone a voyeur. But in extreme cases, it can inspire some people to act out the fantasy in reality.

Is voyeurism considered illegal in some countries?

The legality of voyeurism depends on the local legislation, the actions and the context in which it takes place. The most important aspect is whether voyeurism happens with or without consent. 

In the UK, for instance, non consensual voyeurism is a criminal offense. In the US, secretly filming people is illegal in twelve states and perpetrators can be registered as sex offenders. India has also installed acts that forbid voyeurism.

Sometimes, voyeurs get convicted because they violate privacy rules that are not directly addressing voyeurism.

Is online porn with voyeurs real?

Some explicit images and movies are indeed created by voyeurs. But sometimes, it is hard to tell if these movies are produced by amateur voyeurs, AI, or professional studios that pretend these are real voyeuristic movies. 

Legit porn platforms take measures to remove this type of content, but they often have categories with leaked tapes or hidden cams.

One extreme form is called OIBEV, which stands for “Online Image-Based Evaluative Voyeurism”. In lay-man’s terms, these are slutpages where people post pictures of women without their consent and other users can comment on them.

Hidden cams in dressing rooms are hard to detect and can expose people in intimate moments. Photograph: HiddenCameraDressingRoom

How does voyeurism impact the individuals being observed?

Non-consensual voyeurism can have severe consequences for people who are being observed by a peeping Tom. 

  • Their privacy is violated during their most intimate moments. 
  • Losing control over who’s watching can make victims of voyeurism feel vulnerable. In severe cases, they can feel abused because they unwillingly became someone’s sexual fantasy.
  • Voyeurism can impact the mental health of victims. This can lead to anxiety, depression, paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Voyeurism can make victims insecure about themselves and cause trust issues. 
  • Voyeurism that takes place in someone’s home or an environment they regularly visit can force someone to move to another place or town against their will.
  • Voyeuristic images or videos that are shared or leaked can severely damage the reputation of victims. In those cases, voyeurism is a form of revenge porn.

How can someone protect themselves from being a victim of voyeurism?

It’s impossible to avoid becoming a victim of voyeurism, but you can minimize the risks with these tips: 

  • Close the curtains, doors, and windows in your home, or wherever you spend the day.
  • Avoid having sex or undressing in public places.
  • Disable the webcam on your laptop so online voyeurs cannot secretly watch you.
  • Ensure that security cameras at home cannot be hacked and film you in, for example, the bathroom.
  • When visiting a hotel or any other lodgement, check the room for hidden cameras. These are becoming increasingly popular and harder to detect, but you could consider using a hidden camera detector device or app. 
  • Report any suspicious behavior to the authorities. Think, for example, of someone who is following you, or hiding in the bushes.
  • Speak up when you feel uncomfortable about someone who’s taking pictures of you without your consent.
  • When you are in public places, stay alert about your surroundings to spot voyeurs more easily.

Nude beaches are frequently visited by voyeurs because they can take images and record movies of naked people without much effort. Photograph: NudeBeachDreams

Can voyeurism be considered a mental disorder?

No. Voyeurism isn’t considered a mental disorder. However, if the behavior of a voyeur takes extreme forms, it can show there are underlying mental health problems. 

Some voyeuristic behavior can raise concerns and may be a sign that the help of a professional is needed. This is usually the case when it happens frequently and the voyeur becomes obsessed.

There are many conditions that can cause compulsive voyeurism. The most common ones are anxiety, depression, hypersexuality, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and personality disorders.

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