Exhibitionism refers to exposing bare female breasts and/or buttocks of either a male or female. When genitalia is exposed the behavior is more commonly described as indecent exposure. Exhibitionism is an overall psychosocial concept that, when applied to physical actions, denotes two separate phenomena.
The first, colloquially referred to as flashing, involves the exposure of a person’s “private parts” to another person, in a nonthreatening manner, in a situation where these would not normally be exposed, such as in a social situation (in front of other people) or in a public place. The act of flashing, particularly when done by females involving the breasts but also when involving her vagina and also her buttocks, may be at least partially sexual in intention, i.e. to prompt the sexual arousal of those being flashed (in turn giving the flasher an ego boost). However, flashing may also simply be intended to attract the non-aroused ‘attention’ of another or others, or for shock value.
The second, indecent exposure, involves the same sorts of exposure done in a threatening manner or in a manner perceived by those being exposed-to as threatening. Indecent exposure, when it is assessed to be this, is sometimes prosecuted under laws designed to criminalise it, such as public nuisance laws and indecent-exposure laws. Such laws vary by locality worldwide, including within different parts of the United States.
There is somewhat of a double standard here as concerns the two different types of exhibitionism, since “indecent exposure” has a tendency in the Western world to be equated with a male exposing his genitalia to a female, when such acts are perceived by the female as threatening, while at the same time a female exposing her breasts (“flashing”) to male or female viewers is almost always seen as nonthreatening and in fact is often even requested to occur by those wanting to see bare breasts, such as the non-parade-related celebrations surrounding Mardi Gras and other similar festivals.
Exhibitionism is not automatically a compulsion, but some people do have a distinct psychological tendency to sexually expose themselves, whether it is to “flash” (the nonthreatening form) or to “indecently expose” (the threatening form). When it is a compulsion, it is a condition sometimes called apodysophilia.