Most sex addicts, no matter what their behaviors consist in (prostitutes, anonymous sex, serial seductions, pornography etc.) will tend to sexualize other people they look at. You might say that sex addicts view the world through sex colored glasses. But this does not mean that they are voyeurs.
Voyeurism is a distinct category of behavior that characterizes certain sex addicts. And although most people who identify as sex addicts have more than one type of behavior, research by Patrick Carnes and others found that there were 10 distinguishable types or clusters of addictive behavior of which voyeurism was one.
In addition, the range of sexually compulsive behaviors can be roughly grouped into three “levels” based on how violating, how risky and how illegal they are. On this continuum, compulsive masturbation, pornography addiction and obsession with sexual hookups would be at level 1 and child molestation, incest and rape would be level 3. In the middle (level 2) are behaviors like voyeurism, and exhibitionism.
Essential elements of voyeuristic behavior
Voyeurism involves the illicit viewing of sexually stimulating imagery. This can be done in a variety of ways, and many voyeurs engage in a variety of voyeuristic behaviors. The behaviors commonly include:
Watching people through their windows (with or without binoculars)
Viewing online images and videos of people who do not know they are being looked at
“Up-skirting” i.e. viewing women’s bodies by means of a hidden camera positioned to film up their skirts
Webcam sites designed for viewing unsuspecting people
Hidden cameras in bathrooms or locker rooms or other places in which people can be filmed and sometimes viewed remotely.
The distinguishing characteristics of the voyeur are that the viewing is illicit, that it is visual, that there is an unknowing victim, and usually that there is some kind of way for storing videos and images such as on computers, in flash drives etc. A key feature of the voyeuristic experience is that something is being stolen.
I have had a voyeur client tell me that he is not aroused by pornography of the usual kind in which people are knowingly and deliberately trying to arouse the viewer. What he is interested in is images and videos of people who are “innocent”, people who either are unaware that they are being taped or are unaware that someone may be watching them who finds them highly sexually arousing.
This emphasis on the illicit and the stealing of something from an innocent victim can lead to the voyeur becoming interested in underage people even when he or she did not start out with a preference for children or underage people. In this case it is the greater innocence of the teen or young person and hence the greater feeling of illicitness that makes this material highly arousing.
Voyeurs are notorious for their stash. If they video tape people they become in effect pornographers. They keep stashes in various places to guarantee their availability.
What voyeurism is not
Voyeurism is not the same as pornography addiction. All kinds of sex addicts view all different kinds of pornography but they do not require the element of “stealing” or an unsuspecting victim in order to find it arousing. That said, porn addicts, like any addicts can escalate. They can over time seek more and riskier stimulation, and one way to achieve that is to look at images that involve covert intrusion or illegal images.
Voyeurism need not involve masturbation or orgasm. Many voyeurs do not masturbate while spying on people but may masturbate later when recollecting the experience or viewing the cache of material.
The stash that the voyeur collects need not be in concrete form, it may be largely or only in his brain. I have heard voyeurs talk about adding things to their mental “data base”.
Voyeurism is not the same as ogling women, cruising, or sexualizing random people in the addicts visual field. And it is not the same as what some addicts call “scanning” for sexually interesting people to look at. Many addicts with various addictive behaviors also do this kind of sexualized looking but
Voyeurism is not necessarily illegal but it may be. But it always involves unacceptable behavior.
Voyeurs are often not that interested in having sex with a real partner.
Despite the fact that voyeurs do not want to be the one being video taped or looked at on a webcam, voyeuristic behavior and exhibitionistic behavior (which also involves an unwanted intrusion with an unsuspecting victim) can sometimes be found in the same addict.
In spite of the very powerful pull that voyeurism has over addicts, they can and do recover with appropriate treatment.