Whether it’s upskirt porn or Tinder swiping for the hot people we have no intention of ever meeting in real life, we all engage in various degrees of voyeurism. Some of it can be harmless, but most of the time, voyeurism is associated with perversion and illegality. So what’s a voyeur to do about these impulses?
Strictly speaking, voyeurism is a paraphilia, meaning it is a sexual condition in which the person is aroused by something abnormal and/or problematic. People (mostly men) are constantly arrested for filming others without their knowledge when they’re in a restroom, undressing in their bedroom, and in other intimate situations. “Upskirt” is an entire genre where men film under women’s skirts. The subject often doesn’t know they are being watched. In real life, voyeurism can be illegal and sexually abusive.
Our culture loves voyeurism, though we might not always connect it to being sexual right away. The best example is our culture’s love for reality shows. When the first “real” reality show, The Real World – aired on MTV – with the notion of seven strangers living under one roof excited the entire nation. Who was going to hook up with whom? Reality shows still get people’s attention today because “anything can happen.” But let’s be honest, what’s the “anything” you expect to happen, exactly? Now consider the success of Jersey Shore. Sure, there was drama, but what was the drama usually about? Sex. Now consider Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Why was Kim Kardashian on anyone’s radar to begin with? Because of a sex tape she never expected the entire world to see.
And that’s just television. We also do this on social media. We Facebook-stalk attractive people before introducing ourselves in real life. Instagram models now make a living off ads because they’ve learned that people heart any picture as long as it’s aesthetically pleasing. And then there’s the fleeting Snapchat with its ten second pictures and videos that disappear after twenty-four hours. We are now inviting people watch us, sometimes even for money, because we’ve learned that people will try to watch us anyway.
Voyeurism isn’t a product of the evils of the internet. There’s a history. Just take film, for example.
Grace Kelly is easy on the eyes, but Hitchcock’s Rear Window explores our curiosity for watching others. Film scholars not only attribute this movie as one of Hitchcock’s best, but also as one of the best films of all time. The movie is about a photographer who breaks his leg and passes the idle time by looking into his neighbors’ windows through his camera. While the story does become about a possible murder, there is still emphasis on the window of a beautiful and sexy dancer, which our lead, Jeff, nicknames Miss Torso. His watching of Miss Torso is never regarded as problematic in the story.
Blue Velvet is a psychological horror and film noir. There’s a scene where Jeffrey Beaumont is caught spying on the sexy Dorothy Vallens (she sings “Blue Velvet” in a sleazy club, for crying out loud). He is literally hiding in her closet. When he’s caught, she demands that he undress by pointing a knife to his genitals. The role reversal and discomfort highlight what women feel when they’re ordered to undress by men. However, Beaumont is rewarded for undressing, and by extension for his voyeurism, with fellatio. Oral is rudely interrupted by Frank Booth, who sexually assaults Dorothy. To be clear, the voyeur in this scenario is not the bad guy. Now keep in mind that this David Lynch movie is acclaimed as one of the best movies of the 1980s.
All professional pornography, vintage and modern, is meant for voyeurism. We, the audience, the ones that will never be in the same room as the highest ranking porn star on PornHub, are the voyeurs. This is the main reason why pornography is for entertainment, not sexual education. The creators of pornography film with the audience in mind, not the performers. Sasha Grey was not attracted every single man and woman she signed a contract to have sex with on camera, but she acts as if each one is the best sex of her life for our benefit. It’s a fantasy.
Professional pornography offers some relief, if you do your research. The voyeur could stick to watching videos by respected production companies, in which it’s obvious that the subject is acting like she doesn’t know she’s being watched. Sure, the storyline is cheesy and predictable and the acting is less than Oscar-worthy, but the voyeur isn’t watching for quality control, he just wants to get off.
CONSENT. CONSENT. CONSENT.
So what gives? Is voyeurism good? Is it bad? There’s no denying that voyeurism does get some people off. Is there a way to be a voyeur without infringing on a subject’s privacy?
In the end, it comes down to consent. You shouldn’t film people without their knowledge, but role playing with an excited and consenting partner that you are watching them from your closet isn’t a bad thing. Couples with unconventional relationship parameters sometimes watch their partner with a third person. (This being different from a threesome because the voyeur doesn’t participate.) Point is, there are healthy and legal options for people who just like to watch.
We’ve created a culture where being watched is rewarded by brand ambassadorship, sponsors, reality shows and fifteen minutes of fame. So much so, that business success as a consolation prize for being watched against your will (such as Kim Kardashian’s launch into fame) should no longer be an acceptable argument for watching people against their will. Those who want to be watched in any capacity will let you know. If you’re breaking the law to get yourself off – don’t. If you recognize that you are a voyeur, you should take the time to research ways to enjoy yourself legally.
Gem Blackthorn is QMT's Sex Columnist, and the author/curator of Lust Thrust Thursdays. Send her your submissions and questions at sexsexsex [at] queenmobs.com