Female exhibitionism: Identification, competition and camaraderie



The ancient figure of Baubo plays a pivotal role in the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone with an exhibitionistic act that brings Demeter out of her depression. The Baubo episode raises questions about the meaning of female exhibitionism, suggesting divergences from earlier psychoanalytic conceptualizations as either a perversion or a compensation for the lack of a penis. In line with contemporary thinking about primary femininity, such as that of Balsam or Elise, the authors propose a more inclusive understanding of female exhibitionism, which would encompass pleasure in the female body and its sexual and reproductive functions. They argue that female exhibitionism can reflect triangular or “oedipal” scenarios and the need to attract the male, identification with the mother, competition or camaraderie with other women, a sense of power in the female body and its capacities, as well as homoerotic impulses. The authors posit a dual early desire and identification with the mother that underlie and characterize female sexual development. The authors present clinical data from adolescent and adult cases of female exhibitionism which illustrate these Baubo-like aspects and discuss the technical issues that are involved in such cases.