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The word voyeur is French, meaning "one who views," from the verb voir, "to see." Another popular word for Voyeur is Peeping Tom. Hence, a voyeur is someone who watches other people’s private moments or activities. Thus, it has to do with spying or watching others secretly.


The term voyeur is said to originate from the Lady Godiva legend. Lady Godiva was known for her generosity to the church and the people. She was a 11th Century noblewoman married to Leofric, the powerful Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry. As the story goes, Leofric had imposed heavy taxes on the citizens of Coventry. Lady Godiva, concerned about the people, repeatedly asked her husband to reduce the taxes. In the end, Leofric said he would reduce the taxes only if Lady Godiva rode naked horse back through the centre of town. Lady Godiva then ordered the people of Godiva to stay in their houses while she stripped and rode naked around the town. But one man named Tom could not resist opening his window to peep at her. While doing so, this “Peeping Tom” was struck blind. After her ride, her husband Leofric held up his side of the bargain and reduced the people’s debts. This is the origin of the word Peeping Tom.


There has been very little research on the topic of Voyeurism. The little which is known about the history of Voyeurism is from the Psychoanalytic theory. This theory was first laid out by Sigmund Freud in the 19th Century; however, there have been a number of refinements since then. According to this theory, Voyeurism results from castration anxiety as a result of being unable to identify with the father. In his book, The Three Theories in Sexuality, Freud discusses sexuality in infants and that being the origin of sexuality in people. According to him, certain childhood instances may compel a person to behave as a voyeur. This was not to mean that Voyeurism is a normal behavior. Freud states that certain deviations from normal sexual development could lead to the development of the Voyeuristic tendency. This book and topic had widely criticized then as it is today.


Beginning from the mid 1980s Psychiatry focused on the biological and genetic aspects of mental illnesses. This largely narrowed the scope of Voyeurism. Many researches related Voyeurism to any defects present on the body of the Voyeur. Slowly researchers equated Voyeurism to an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder based on the similar symptoms observed in the voyeurs and their response to drugs used to treat OCD’s. Later on Voyeurism was added to the list of paraphilias in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual by the American Psychological Association. Research also began showing that Voyeurism may be less of a psychological problem all together.

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