There is a news item every now and then about some man showing his genitalia to an unsuspecting female, or of a man masturbating with full display of his organ in public places. It is also not uncommon for women who travel daily by public transport, to encounter men who rub their organ against their body and try to derive sexual pleasure out of it.
All these experiences are very shocking and traumatic for the victims and such behaviour and activities have serious social and legal consequences. Such incidents happen worldwide, are generally ignored by women and not reported. If these incidents ever come to limelight, these men are called 'perverts' or 'flashers', are abused or beaten up by the crowds and handed over to the police.
If we see it from psychology/psychiatry point of view, such people come under a group of mental health disorder, called Paraphilic disorders. Paraphilias are abnormal sexual behaviors or impulses, and is characterized by intense sexual fantasies and strong urges.
When these sexual behaviors involves someone exposing his or her genitalia to an unsuspecting stranger, it is known as Exhibitionism or "Flashing". An Exhibitionist may sometimes masturbate while they are exposing themselves in public, or they will masturbate while fantasizing about exposing themselves.
Some of them are aware of their actions and have the conscious desire to shock their targets; whereas, others fantasize that the target will also get sexually aroused by this indecent exposure. Some of the individuals with this disorder may purposefully arrange to be observed by other people while they are having sex. Most of the people who suffer from Exhibitionistic Disorder are males and nearly all of the targets of exhibitionists are women, underage girls or underage boys.
Second type of disorder is Frotteurism, in this problem, the person is driven by fantasies, urges and behaviors to derive sexual pleasure by touching the targets inappropriately or rubbing against a non-consenting person. There are many other disorders in this category e.g. Voyeuristic Disorder (the person gets intense sexual arousal from observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, in process of disrobing or engaging in sexual activity), or Sexual Masochism Disorder (undergoing humiliation. bondage or suffering), Sexual Sadism Disorder (inflicting humiliation bondage or suffering) Pedophilic Disorder (sexual focus on children), Fetishistic Disorder (using non-living objects or having highly specific focus on non - genital body parts).
Basically all these Disorders are characterized by deviant sexual behaviors which are socially unacceptable and legally consequential. These abnormal behaviors cause significant distress and impairment to the Paraphilic in their personal, social and professional life. They experience a feeling of mental anguish or distress which is in addition to the trauma and seclusion they suffer socially or culturally due to exhibitionistic behavior.
Psychology of a Flasher: Many theories have been put forward for developing Paraphilia, none can claim to conclusive. But, some of the causes may be:
Emotional abuse in childhood.
Having been brought up in a dysfunctional family.
Testosterone, the hormone that influences the sexual drive in both men and women, has been found to increases the susceptibility of males to develop deviant sexual behaviors.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) sometimes also causes total change in personality and Exhibitionism starts in some patients.
Researchers at Harvard have discovered that patients with multiple paraphilias have a much greater likelihood of having had ADHD as children than men with only one paraphilia.
Treatment for these disorders is possible with Psychotherapy, Group therapy and Couple therapy and medication, leading to positive changes in the person suffering from these disorders.
Law implementation agencies like police officials must be educated to understand the problem and address it from remedial point of view. Psychological help must be taken to reform them, so that there is enduring change in that person's behaviour and lasting solution to the problem.