By Anju Miura

We are glued to our phones, fascinated by the lives of other people — their pictures, their thoughts, their relationships. Oftentimes, we hope others will do the same for us, too.

This habit seems like it may come from human interest. However, our gratification from getting an inside look into people’s personal lives, whether they be strangers, friends or celebrities, could be an indication of our voyeuristic nature.

What is voyeurism?

Voyeurism is a sexual interest that involves spying on people engaged in intimate behaviors, such as undressing, sexual activity or other private actions. The American Psychiatric Association has classified certain voyeuristic fantasies, urges and behaviors that typically involve distress as “Paraphilic Disorder,” according to DSM-5.

Voyeurs normally do not typically interact directly with their subjects, who are often unaware of being observed.

It sounds terrifying and disgusting in its technical definition. You may think you’re exempt from voyeurism, but not so fast. Many genres of entertainment such as social media, reality TV and pornography point to voyeuristic desires, even if they’re not as extreme or perverse as paraphilia.

Voyeurism is ultimately defined as the sexual observance of someone without their consent, and the entertainment we consume is designed in respect to this practice. While we may not always get sexual gratification from social media, reality TV or porn, we receive gratification from the inside peek into people’s lives.

Often, it is the sexual appeal of Instagram influencers and porn stars that draw us in. We have to admit our guilty pleasure — the urge to look in when the curtains are left slightly open.

Social media

In our digital age, we live in a world saturated by social media — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, you name it. We are connected to so many people, both those we are close to and those whom we have never met before.

About 70 percent of Americans use social media to connect with each other and entertain themselves, according to the Pew Research Center.

We are so curious about others’ lives that we may feel left out if we don’t get the latest updates. We want to know how a friend is doing, where our classmates went last weekend and how your ex’s new boyfriend looks like.

Misplacing our phones or experiencing crappy dorm WiFi always frustrates us, as our Internet access is interrupted. The fear of “missing out” overwhelms us, and anxiety arises by restricting ourselves from social media access.

We also willingly post our personal information online. We indicate our preferences by liking, swiping, re-posting and commenting. We love to tag the places we visit and show everyone what we eat and let others know we had SO much fun this weekend (even if we didn’t).

We are not only voyeuristic, but also like it when others are voyeurs in our own lives.

Reality television

A wide range of viewers have been fascinated by reality shows, such as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “American Idol.” Depicting petty moments of everyday life, reality TV is popular because it recognizes and fulfills our voyeuristic desires.

Lemi Baruh, an associate professor at Koç University in Istanbul, authored an article that studied the correlation between the consumption of reality TV shows and audiences’ voyeuristic tendencies, defining a new voyeurism that is distinct from a psychological disorder and paraphilias.

As Baruh’s article explained, “voyeurism can be considered as a common tendency that exists among all individuals to different degrees,” and one way people may express this is through consuming reality programs.

We all enjoy any chance to see what we otherwise cannot. We want to know what others don’t want us to know. By providing a glimpse of others’ lives, reality TV shows may reflect our desire to snoop on others.


Social media and reality TV shows may evoke our hidden, suppressed voyeuristic nature — but let’s not forget about porn.

From iconic covers of Playboy Magazine to explicit videos on major porn sites, the majority of materials that are intended to sexually arouse us include a third person point of view. Although pornography is a somewhat normalized source of entertainment, watching strangers engage in sexual intercourse seems pretty weird … are we perverts?! And is this normal?

We may not be so obsessed with watching strangers live or engage in intimate behavior to the extent of a psychological disorder. But our entertainment preferences hint at — and fulfill — our voyeuristic desires.