I'm 21. I have a girlfriend ("Naomi") of more than 2 1/2 years. We have a daughter who's 1 1/2 years old. We lived together for most of our daughter's first year. It didn't work well for many reasons. We moved apart, then later broke up, but were physically intimate again within weeks of the breakup. Slowly, by the end of 2002, we were in love again and now we're back together. I have an issue that I'm embarrassed by and too afraid to discuss with Naomi. But I am also not able to just let it be. I'm sort of an exhibitionist. I have been since I was about 13. I'm very turned on by the idea of women looking at me when I'm wearing little or no clothing. When Naomi and I lived together, it was in an apartment complex and I would often purposefully leave myself near a window where I could be seen by women passing by. I did it often, but tried to make it look innocent enough, like I was just changing clothes or something. Though I did it often, very rarely, if ever, did the women ever notice. The window wasn't in their direct line of vision.
What's more, I've pulled some similar tricks around Naomi's mother (whom I find physically attractive), her cousin, and an old female friend of mine and that friend's roommates. The incidents involving Naomi's mother and cousin appeared innocent enough to them that they felt no need to make an issue of it. So my behavior has never been blatant or bad enough that I've gotten in trouble with anyone. It's always been discreet, and it's always been behind Naomi's back. All these incidents are also fairly old. The most recent major incident was about 10 months ago. But I don't think the desire to behave as such has passed.
Thinking about those incidents still turns me on. The opportunity just hasn't presented itself lately and I'm not daring enough to try anything nondiscreet. Still, I feel guilty about my behavior. I feel I was being unfaithful to Naomi because I was doing things that she would not approve of or would be very weirded out about. And I wouldn't like her doing something like that to me. I've researched exhibitionism a bit and, depending on what you read, it's either a fetish to be played with, or a paraphilia to be treated by therapy and maybe medication. I'm not sure what to think. I don't do it to little kids, don't do it overtly to people in public, so I'm not sure exactly how ethically bad or illegal the behavior is. I can't seem to make inner peace with it and get it past me, because it's still a turn-on. I don't think I have the time, money or even much desire to seek therapy. Though if more time and money were there, more desire probably would be. I don't see how I could go about "playing" with the fetish without either doing it behind Naomi's back -- which I'd feel guilty about -- or involving Naomi somehow. The prospect of bringing it up with Naomi scares me. What should I do?
Since you've done the research, and you're quite aware of what this is and how it affects you, I don't think you're in any imminent danger of becoming some monstrous pervert who has to be locked up. Still, it's causing you inner turmoil, and will continue to do so until you find someone you can really talk to about it. I hear you saying that you really do want to find someone to talk to about it, and I think you may be using a perceived shortage of time and money to put it off. You say if those barriers were removed, your desire for therapy would probably increase. So let me urge you to ignore for a moment the practical barriers, and set about finding a counselor to talk to; if you have a health plan, it will probably pay for a visit. There are also free mental-health clinics in many cities where you could schedule an appointment.
Chances are, just being able to talk about it will ease some of the guilt you feel about it. The kind of thing you describe does not sound so pathological. Especially when you are young and flush with the intoxicating erotic power of your body, wanting others to see and admire you sexually is not so unnatural or strange. It could be as innocent as a young boy wanting his mother to see and admire him riding his bicycle. But forcing it on others is where you have to draw the line. You should ask your counselor how to bring it up with Naomi. Perhaps if you told Naomi that you fantasize about being admired for your body, about showing it off, that might be a way into the conversation, without overly alarming her.
Just don't tell her you flashed her mama.
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Want more advice from Cary? Read Friday's column.