Understanding Voyeurism using the Diathesis Stress Model

Ralph Yancy's image for:
"Understanding Voyeurism using the Diathesis Stress Model"
Image by: 

According to The American Psychiatric Association- DSM-IV-TR (2000), the paraphilic focus of Voyeurism involves the act of observing unsuspecting individuals, usually strangers, who are naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity.  The act of looking is generally referred to as “peeping”.  The act of looking is for the purpose of achieving sexual excitement, and generally no sexual activity with the observed person is sought.  The voyeur usually achieves organism by masturbating, which may occur during the voyeuristic activity or later in response to the memory.  Often these individuals have the fantasy of having a sexual experience with the observed person, but in reality this rarely happens.  In its severe form, “peeping” constitutes the exclusive form of sexual activity.  Voyeurism usually occurs before the age of 15.  It is important to note, that the course of voyeurism tends to be chronic.

 The following is the diagnostic criteria for Voyeurism (302.82):

 1)      The disorder must be observed or experienced over a six-month period.  There is intense sexually arousing fantasizing accompanied by sexual urges, or behaviors involving the act of observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity.

2)      The person has acted on these sexual urges, or the urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty (American Psychiatric Association-DSM-IV-TR (2000).

In considering voyeurism as a disorder, it is important to understand the client’s vulnerability or susceptibility to the disorder.  This can be better understood using the Diathesis-Stress Model.  The premise underlying the “diathesis-stress” model is that a person is more likely to suffer an illness if he or she has a particular diathesis and is under a high level of stress (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2008).

 As proven by many cases, the application of the Diathesis-Stress Model reveal that much of the stress experienced by clients suffering from a disorder (s) is family-based.  In an article written by Evans (1988), using a family systems approach, explain how shame, lack of boundaries, and dissociation are the direct result of chemically dependent, abusive and incestuous families.  That said, it does not take much to assume that a patient or client suffering from voyeurism may be the victim of family dysfunction. It is not atypical to discover that clients suffering from voyeuristic behavior experienced higher levels of family-based stressors. Children witnessing the sexually permissive behavior of parents or caregivers are shamed.  This shame interferes with the developmental process, impacting later sexual development and/or intimacy.  Evans (1988) maintains that without developmental boundaries one cannot begin to establish a positive identity or healthy expression of intimacy.  It would be interesting to determine whether or not a genetic component is responsible for voyeurism.  

Empirical support for the applicability of the diathesis-stress model is robust and has warranted preventive interventions targeting those at highest risk of developing negative health outcomes (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2008).

 Could Substance Abuse impact voyeuristic behavior? The primary feature of Substance Abuse is a maladaptive pattern of substance use manifested by recurrent and significant adverse consequences related to the repeated use of a substance (American Psychiatric Association- DSM-IV-TR (2000).  The impact of Alcohol Abuse (305) and Cannabis Abuse (305.20) on voyeurism will be discussed.

 Research reveals how alcohol normally, and to the level of abuse, diminishes sexual inhibition.  Aldous (2008) observed male fruit flies after alcohol intoxication. The male mating behavior, normally heterosexual, became homosexual after extended periods of alcohol exposure.  Whether or not latent homosexuality exists in fruit flies is debatable, as a matter of fact, it is probably a mute point, as insects probably respond on a primary level i.e., solely reproductive.  Nonetheless, alcohol consumption (exposure in the case of the flies) significantly reduces sexual inhibitions.

 Cannabis use or abuse has been linked to increased sexual drive for a long period of time historically.  Cannabis use and sexual arousal both produce similar physiological responses, such as increased hear rate, heightened sensitivity, changes in blood flow and respiration ( Necco, 1998).  Moreover, neurochemistry, hormonal systems, and brain regions such as the temporal lobe are affected by both marijuana and sexual arousal.  Based on this, it is not difficult to understand how a client suffering from Voyeurism (302.82) would not psychotherapeutically benefit from cannabis use or abuse.  In reality, it would only exacerbate the symptoms.

 In Western cultures (e.g., The United States and Europe) open practices of voyeurism is generally frowned upon. The disorder of voyeurism is negatively regarded in these cultures, as is in many other international cultures.  However, underground acceptance and recognition of the disorder exists.  According to Block and Geis (n. d.), since these cultures are prohibited from exercising public displays of voyeurism, practices based on voyeuristic curiosity is relegated to under-ground activities, such things as party-line eavesdropping, and pornographic involvements e.g., attending movie theaters, and reading/viewing magazines with voyeuristic, sexual content.

 In Japan, children are severely punished for any peeping activities (Block & Geist, n. d.).  As a result, that country’s police hardly ever report any adult voyeuristic behavior.


Aldous, P. (2008). Randy flies reveal how boozeafects inhibitions. New Scientist Life, 3 Retrieved August 30, 2010, from

 American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR, (4th Ed.). Arlington, VA. 

Block, H. & Geis, G. (n. d.). The sexual offenses. Self-Defender Net. Retrieved August 30, 2010, from

 Evans, S. (1988). Shame, boundaries and dissociation in chemically dependent, abuse and incestuous families. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 4(2), 157- 179.

 International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (2008). Diathesis-Stress Model.  Retrieved August 30, 2010from

 Neco, T. (1998). Marijuana and sex: A classic combination. Cannabis Culture Marijuana Magazine, 14. Retrieved August 30, 2010 from


More about this author: Ralph Yancy

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow