What Is Frotteurism?

Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, PhD, LCSW, CST on October 25, 2017Written by James Roland on October 25, 2017

Overview

A person who becomes sexually aroused by rubbing against a nonconsenting person, usually in a crowded place, may have a sexual disorder called frotteurism. Frotteurism is a type of a paraphilic interest or paraphilia. A paraphilia is a strong sexual attraction to atypical objects, situations, fantasies, behaviors, or individuals.

Frotteurism isn’t a well-understood condition. It’s unclear how common it is in the general public. Some research suggests that as many as 30 percent of men may have engaged in frotteuristic acts at some time. Among adult males being treated for paraphilic disorders, about 10 to 14 percent of them have frotteurism.

Symptoms

Frotteurism specifically deals with the fantasy or actual behavior of making sexual contact with others in a public place. Usually, this involves rubbing one’s pelvic area or erect penis against a nonconsenting person.

Frotteurism is clinically defined as engaging in these behaviors or having these fantasies over a period of at least six months. If these thoughts or actions interfere with daily functioning, you may be diagnosed with frotteurism.

Frotteurism is different than toucherism. That’s a condition in which a person becomes sexually aroused by grabbing or rubbing their hands on the breasts, buttocks, or genital areas of a nonconsenting person in a crowd.

Causes and risk factors

There are no scientifically proven causes or risk factors for the disorder. There are some theories, however.

A person who accidentally rubbed against someone in a crowd and became sexually aroused may want to repeat that experience. This episode could replace more traditional means of achieving sexual arousal.

Childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse or an anxiety disorder, can keep a person from having normal psychosexual development. People with this condition may feel that contact with a stranger is a form of foreplay and intimacy.

Another possible reason for this behavior is that a person may have trouble with affectionate and sexually intimate behavior. This could be caused by abnormal brain anatomy that affects their emotional health and impulse control.

Signs of paraphilias are often evident before adolescence. Someone who is preoccupied with sex may be at a higher risk of frotteurism.

Males between the ages of 15 and 25 are the most likely to have this condition. The condition has also been noted in some older, socially insecure men. Women are commonly the target of these behaviors.

Seeking help

Frotteurism is a sexual disorder and should be treated as a medical condition. Having these feelings is not your fault, but acting on them can harm others and yourself.

If you believe you have frotteurism, tell your healthcare provider or seek out a mental health professional. Acknowledging your feelings and seeking help are the first steps to treating your condition. You should not feel embarrassed about feelings or thoughts you can’t control.

Diagnosis

When talking to a therapist or other mental health professional, it’s important to be as honest as you can be about your feelings and behaviors. The only way you will get help is if your therapist knows the extent of your condition.

Therapists use several types of questionnaires to make a diagnosis. The first session usually starts with a review of your medical and psychological history. If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental condition, it’s important to share that information with your therapist. Your therapist will talk with you about your sexual history, including any unusual behaviors. You will also be asked about your current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Treatment

In many cases, people seeking a diagnosis have already been charged with a sexual offense or similar crime. You may be seeking treatment because you recognize your problem or because someone close to you suggested you get help.

Treating frotteurism usually includes psychotherapy and behavior therapy. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, focuses on identifying triggers for frotteuristic behavior and coming up with strategies to redirect your thoughts and feelings. The goal of behavior therapy is to teach you how to control your impulses and not touch another nonconsenting person.

Taking medroxyprogesterone acetate, a female hormone, may help reduce your sexual impulses, too.

Complications

Seek help before you start acting out on your desires. Frotteurism is a type of sexual assault. Unwanted contact with others could lead to your arrest.

You may also cause distress in the people you touch. It’s also possible that frotteurism could lead to more violent sexual contact with others. Having frotteurism increases your risk for other paraphilias, such as exhibitionism. Exhibitionism is a strong desire to display your genitals in public.

Outlook

Frotteurism can be treated successfully, though not everyone with a paraphilia can be completely cured. Frotteurism is considered to be in full remission if you go five years without an episode or urge. Many people with this condition don’t believe they have a problem, so it’s important that friends or family members form a support network to help keep them on track. Ongoing therapy with a mental health counselor may also be necessary.

What if you’re on the receiving end of frotteurism?

If you are touched without your consent, and you know who is responsible, confront the person immediately. Persons with this condition usually aren’t looking for a conflict or an actual interaction with their targets.

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