Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Marilyn Monroe was an exhibitionist

Of course it shouldn't be surprising to learn that an actor is an exhibitionist. Such a trait is helpful to an actor.

But what exactly is exhibitionism? Don't we all want to be looked at, sometimes? How often do children call out "look at me"?

On a clinic level, "exhibitionism" means more than just wanting to be looked at. According to the Merck Manual of Psychiatric Disorders exhibitionism is a paraphilia:
Exhibitionism is characterized by achievement of sexual excitement through genital exposure, usually to an unsuspecting stranger. It may also refer to a strong desire to be observed by other people during sexual activity. 
Exhibitionists (usually male) may masturbate while exposing or fantasizing about exposing themselves. They may be aware of their need to surprise, shock, or impress the unwilling observer. The victim is almost always a female adult or a child of either sex. Actual sexual contact is rarely sought. Age at onset is usually the mid 20s; occasionally, the first act occurs during preadolescence or middle age. About 30% of apprehended male sex offenders are exhibitionists. They have the highest recidivism rate of all sex offenders; about 20 to 50% are re-arrested. Most exhibitionists are married, but the marriage is often troubled by poor social and sexual adjustment, including frequent sexual dysfunction. Very few females are diagnosed as exhibitionists; society sanctions some exhibitionistic behaviors in females (through media and entertainment venues).

For some people, exhibitionism is expressed as a strong desire to have other people watch their sexual acts. What appeals to such people is not the act of surprising an audience but rather of being seen by a consenting audience. People with this form of exhibitionism may make pornographic films or become adult entertainers. They are rarely troubled by this desire and thus may not have a psychiatric disorder.
As it says, exhibitionistic behaviors in females is sanctioned by society. And I'm sure it helps that MM was beautiful. Not only did many people not mind her exposing herself, but they'd pay good money for it too. So what might be classified as a psychiatric disorder in some people is a lucrative career for others.

Even the Merck manual acknowledges that there are at least two expressions of exhibitionism - genital exposure, usually to an unsuspecting stranger; and have other people watch their sexual acts, but it seems to me that what Marilyn was doing doesn't quite fit either category, and yet it certainly seems that she could be classified as exhibitionist.

Two items from the Donald Spoto biography:
"I dreamed that I was standing up in church without any clothes on and all the people there were lying at my feet on the floor of the church, and I walked naked, with a sense of freedom, over their prostrate forms, being careful not to step on anybody."  (p. 24) 
Quite simply, Marilyn posed nude because it pleased her to do so. The shy girl who tended to stutter during first takes on a movie set remembered (or was creating) the dream of her childhood: she was naked and unashamed before her adorers. Proud of her body, she often paraded unclothed at home; indeed, a casual visitor to Palm Drive might glimpse her naked passing from bedroom to bath to swimming pool to cabana. “I’m only comfortable when I’m naked,” she told reporter Earl Wilson. Yet in her nudity she was both innocent and calculating. (p. 152 )
Monroe wasn't having sex in front of others, and she wasn't surprising strangers with her nudity, but it's clear that she enjoyed being naked and liked being seen naked.

It seems that exhibitionism is classified as a disorder only when it's done by amateurs in awkward, transgressive social situations. But was Monroe any less of an exhibitionist, in the sense of enjoying being seen naked, than any garden-variety flasher?

And is there a difference between an exhibitionist and a narcissist? I'll have to look up "narcissist" next.

2 comments:

  1. Discussions about whether exhibitionism is a mental health issue, need to take into account that homosexuality was also listed as a mental health condition just a few short years ago. Exhibition lies on a continuum that varies by culture. A degree of self pride in ones body is very healthy, and getting pleasure from seeing others respond to our bodies can be affirming. The issue arises when self exposure becomes a form of harassment or threat.

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  2. Coincidentally, homosexuality being listed as a mental health condition is one of the issues addressed in my play NORMA JEANE AT THE PAYNE WHITNEY PSYCHIATRIC CLINIC.

    http://www.mergatroyd.org/normajeane

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