The Psychology of Exhibitionism: Why Men Force Women to Watch
On Friday, Louis C.K. confirmed the accounts and said he was "remorseful."
"These stories are true," he said in a statement. "At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly."
Experts say masturbating in front of women without their permission is typically about exerting control, not an attempt at seduction.
"Exhibitionism is not about sex. It's about purposely provoking shock and fear in a female," said sex therapist Dr. Alexandra Katehakis, clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, who has not treated Louis C.K. "The shock on a woman's face that he's torturing is where the arousal lies. It's in her humiliation."
And droves of women have shared stories of similar incidents allegedly happening to them on social media since the Louis C.K. story broke.
Part of the problem for exhibitionists, says Rob Weiss, a sexologist and author of "Sex Addiction 101," is that they don't necessarily see their behavior as wrong — possibly because it's not as physically intrusive as other forms of sexual assault, such as inappropriate touching or rape.
"I've worked with a number of these men in treatment. They don't really understand the experience of the victim at all, because in their minds, it's like, 'I'm just being sexy, cool, I didn't really disturb her because she didn't complain,'" Weiss, who also hasn't treated Louis C.K., said.
In reality, seeing a man engage in such behavior can be so shocking, it often leaves a woman frozen in her tracks. Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov, the comedians who told The New York Times about a 2002 hotel room incident with Louis C.K., said they were screaming and laughing when it happened, but didn't leave.
That plays into the high exhibitionists get, said Katehakis. While it's difficult to recover from the shock of such a situation, defying a sexual predator of any kind is a turn-off to them, she added.
"If somebody's about to attack a female, she's taken defense classes or she looks him in the eye and yells back at him, that isn't arousing to him. What's arousing is the fear, the humiliation. It's an act of rage against women," she said.
The experts said the roots of exhibitionism often hearken back to childhood experiences — neglect or abuse, or a formative sexual experience.
While not all powerful men abuse their power with such transgressions, putting a stop to exhibitionism or any other sexual deviance can be particularly difficult if the offender is in a position of power, they said.
"The person who's the victim doesn't really have a choice, because they feel like they won't get the job," Weiss said. "Men in power just have a lot of opportunity."
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