Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Once upon a time in the late '60s, a writer named Nancy Friday noticed that almost no research had been conducted on female fantasies. Despite scoffing from editors (“Women don't even HAVE fantasies!”), Friday interviewed women about their stories. In 1973, she released these sexy tales in her book, My Secret Garden, which promptly threw censors into an uproar. Women thinking about strangers when they came? Women staring at men's crotches when they walked down the street? Unacceptable!
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Voyeurs are often culturally depicted as Peeping Toms — creepy men who stand outside your window while you change your clothes or blow your boyfriend. A study done by the Karolinska Institute (yep, the people who give out the Nobel Prize) surveyed almost 2,500 Swedes, and 7.7% said they enjoyed watching other people have sex (although only 4% of the 7.7% were women). Still, female voyeurs are a strong presence on sexual-exploration websites like Fetlife and The Experience Project, where women plaintively state things like, "I thought something was wrong with me for thinking about this! Does anyone have any ideas about how to tell my husband?"
Sometimes, ladies just like to watch men masturbate. But, a lot of women enjoy seeing their partners have sex with other women. Sure, group sex and threesomes can fulfill some of these urges, and Craigslist and OkCupid are full of couples looking for the elusive unicorn: the hot, bisexual girl who is willing to participate in a couple’s sexual fantasies without damaging or interfering with their relationship. But, some women simply prefer to watch; maybe they don't enjoy sexual contact with women, maybe they want to see their partner have sex from a different angle, or maybe it’s like watching real-life porn. The fact of the matter is: More women than ever are looking for ways to make this fantasy come true.
Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Monica, 31, LA
Monica identifies as polyamorous, but has been interested in voyeurism for as long as she can remember. “It just seems fun — another sexy thing you can do with your partner, like bondage or threesomes. My sex motto is probably ‘Let's try everything, and if there's something we don't like, we don't have to do it again.’” Kink-friendly counselor Jamie, based in Toronto, says, “Adding another person can stimulate your primary relationship.” Plenty of steamy sex with your partner can follow a voyeuristic experience.
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Monica’s partners are usually interested in sexual exploration, and she has had many dates that ended in group sex or “surprise” threesomes. As for voyeurism, it has an unexpected plus side: Sometimes, Monica is simply too tired to participate directly in sex. If that’s the case, she encourages her partner to have sex while she watches. “So, I still get to feel turned on and part of the fun, but I can lie around and be lazy and drink wine.” Sounds like a fun night to us!
One difficulty with voyeurism, Monica notes, is finding other women to participate. Many potential participants are nervous about accidentally crossing boundaries, even when they have been assured that everything is above-board. Monica goes on OkCupid sometimes, but finds she has the best luck meeting women at swingers parties, play parties, or BDSM-focused events, where people “understand the situation a lot more readily,” Monica says. Jamie adds, “The kink community has a specific version of this fantasy: The women are called ‘cuckqueans,’ and they particularly enjoy being humiliated while their partners have sex with another women. If you’re looking for partners in BDSM circles and this is a fantasy that appeals to you, use ‘cuckquean’ as a search word to get more options.”
Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Robyn, 47, NC
Robyn can remember the exact moment she realized she was interested in watching: “I was sitting on the couch with my boyfriend, watching porn. [In the scene,] the woman and her husband went to a party and she noticed him flirting with someone else — and watched them go at it. I felt it like a pulse of electricity.” Robyn doesn’t like the term “voyeur,” though. The word is still technically included as a sexual dysfunction in the DSM-V (the diagnostic manual used by psychologists), and many people who enjoy the practice don’t enjoy the label. “To my mind,” Robyn explains, “voyeurs are sneaky. I'm not interested in spying through a crack in the closet door.”
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This aversion to sneakiness makes sense: Robyn once had a negative experience with an ex-boyfriend who cheated on her. Although they were in an open relationship and Robyn would have been willing to participate in a group scenario, the guy had an affair behind her back. “My husband, on the other hand, has been really honest, and I think his openness helped me recover,” she explains. “I don't have to worry that he's doing something with another woman that he'd never do with me, because I can watch them myself.”
Jamie points out that, with good communication about what’s going on, voyeurism can expand the boundaries of your current relationship. “It’s also a good way for women to experiment with bisexuality,” she adds. “Depending on the agreement, she can participate at her own speed — or just watch. It can be very low-stress and calming.” To find interested sexual partners, Robyn and her husband turn to their friends. Sometimes, asking people you already know — and are comfortable with — about exploring sexual fantasies can feel much safer than trying to engage with strangers. “If we want to ask somebody to join, we talk about it first, so nobody gets confused or pressured,” Robyn says. “It's a pretty trusting thing — to have sex in front of someone else, and to be the third person in a couple's sex life. We try to make every woman who does this with us feel comfortable and appreciated.”
Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Lara, 25, NY
Lara sees her sexuality as tied to her political identity; for her, voyeurism is part of a feminist ideal. “It’s reclaiming the concept of sexual gaze,” she explains. “So many activities are designed around male sexuality: What does the man want, what does he like to see? Mainstream porn is all about men watching women — women performing for men. Being a voyeur flips that and lets me be in charge of what I want to see. It's empowering.” Lara also enjoys participating in group sex, but prefers to watch her partners.
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Interestingly, Lara finds herself more sexually attracted to men who are willing to experiment: “Men who can be sexually performative are generally very arousing to me.” Since we know the arousal cycle for women includes emotional components as well as seductive stimuli, it is not uncommon for women to get turned on by watching others become aroused. Jamie says, “A lot of women in my practice are more shy about expressing sexual preferences than men. This doesn’t mean women aren’t having those fantasies...just that they are less likely to say anything about them without a lot of inquiry or modeling.” Sometimes, a woman might not even know she had a certain fantasy until she sees someone else enacting it.
“I'm most interested in seeing just a straight-up sexual interaction between two people who aren't afraid to acknowledge my presence in the room,” Lara adds. “It doesn't have to be penis-in-vagina sex, either. Serious making out is fine, or going down on each other. I actually don't like it when people try to put on a show; I like it when people just do what they would normally do, only with me watching. I don't want to see porn moves or that part of the Kama Sutra where you need to balance on one foot. I want to see real people, having fun. That's what turns me on.”
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