Sitting in a coffee shop with a group of female friends, I check my phone when… “Dick-pic!” With the first “Ooh Gurl!” came exclamations of “Let’s see it! “, “Share!”, “That’s disgusting!”, and good humour devolved to outrage and then real anger. Asking “Why is this such a problem?” as the only guy in a group of pissed off, early 20-something women was not perhaps the best idea. What made me, a gay male, want to write this article was the response from one of my friends. She said that it just confused her. She didn’t know how to react, what she was supposed to feel. Honestly, I am just as perplexed.
Why are we sending dick-pics?
Dicks Through Time
Evocative and graphic artwork of male genitalia has existed since the beginning of human record. There are cave paintings carbon dated to 30,000 BC of figures engaging in sex are placed next to scenes of hunting, horses running, plants and the day to day of life. To the pre-historic, sex is not obscene but part of the day-to-day. Cultures from Ancient Rome, Egypt, Viking to Polynesia often entangle sexuality and worship with figures of spirits, playful fauns, and aggressive deities of love and fertility. Marble and bronze works throughout history showcase large phalluses and bountiful curves as things to worship and revere.
Kings and Queens didn’t have the time to travel months on end to court each other. Instead, they sent elaborate paintings that showed the sum of their wealth, power and lands in jewellery, rich ermine and silks. Artists would be commissioned by the court to send these paintings out to every eligible partner for strategic marriage. Herny VIII’s portraits are famous for the ever-increasing size of his codpiece after each failed marriage.
In fact, men in the Tudor Age walked boldly down the street advertising their suitability as a mate and provider by the size and elaborate decoration of their codpieces.
Today art forms such as nude photography show a grace and elegance in the male and female form. Dramatic shadow, composition, and silhouette can entice and suggest so much to the viewer, and each viewer’s opinion is different. So if the penis, the humble dick, can be portrayed across time in so many varied and positive lights, why do most women hate dick-pics?
Why are they so offensive?
In comparison to the works of art from the past, today’s dick-pic takes a fraction of the time to take and send. Within a few moments, one man can send a picture of his junk to hundreds of women, fishing for a response. Often, it’s one of the first forms of contact. Generally, the guy sending it is in the passion of the moment. The receiver isn’t. They’re at work or relaxing, and the protrusion of the dick is a violation of their social and personal boundaries. While the sender may be wearing rose-tinted glasses thinking he is sending a masterpiece, to a stranger a dick-pic can be a form of sexual harassment. Unwanted, unasked for, it can scare and intimidate the receiver.
One of the most common sentiments is that a dick-pic can also be demeaning. The picture itself says “I should be enticing enough for you to respond to me. This penis is on equal ground with your degree, career, hobbies and other parts of your personality. I don’t have to get to know you because you can’t resist it.” When the dick-pic, as an opening message, doesn’t live up to expectations, it comes across as belittling. The format itself is also impersonal. The image is quick to take and easy to send. There’s no foreplay or conversation. The craftsmanship and artistry seen in previous ages aren’t here in the dick-pic. The response then becomes, “Everything that I value within myself is meant to be validated by that? No thanks.”
Why do guys send them?
Still, guys around the world send them anyway. Despite women universally and openly declaring they hate it, there must be reasons as to why the dick-pic is still around.
A major factor is the fear of sexual rejection. Nobody wants to invest themselves emotionally, sharing their job, education, hobbies and interests only to get turned away when their clothes come off. So, it can be hypothesised that the dick-pic is an informal introduction that registers sexual interest at the start, before getting into the down-and-dirty that is dating. The premise of the popular late night TV show Naked Attraction is based on this. Contestants chose potential dates by seeing if they are sexually attracted to each other by viewing each other naked from the neck down before finding out any personal information. The show has been praised by people of all genders and preferences commending the show’s innovation in exploring stress-free first dates, and its bravery and promotion of body confidence of its contestants. However, there has been equal consternation on unnecessary nudity and the show’s shallow premise, for the most part, it is viewed as light-hearted fun. This could be due to the show’s balanced exposure of both genders. It’s not just tits on display for male enjoyment, its dicks as well with all sexualities invited to perv.
When writer Kerry Quinn began sending her own ‘vag pics’, she received overwhelmingly positive responses. The boldness exhibited by her was loved by the men she approached, who wanted to meet her, go for coffee, have sex. However, what was interesting was that once the pic had been sent, they otherwise defaulted back to stereotypical flirting.
“It’s important to note that within gay male circles, this behavior is very common, and is not viewed as a problem. In fact, many men are happy to get such pictures, and usually respond in kind. That’s important. because it offers some confirmation that many men want to receive such pics, and are really hoping their recipient will enjoy it and be turned on.” – Psychology Today
When Dicks Go Bad
Dick-pics can also be sent with pure bad intention. With the veil of anonymity the internet provides, senders can avoid the consequences they’d normally face for say, flashing someone in the street. Even if satisfaction isn’t derived from intimidation or exhibition, “shock value” is a way for men to get attention.
For some, negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Men and women want the same thing out of a relationship – validation for the things that matter to them. Most also want a sympathetic sexual relationship, but can be either too afraid or just don’t know how to start the conversation. What is needed is better dialogue between men and women to communicate their wants sexually. Even with the best of intentions, what is deployed to remove the fear of sexual rejection or inspire mate suitability often only provokes offence in the receiver and belittlement in the sender. Could a woman ask for a dick-pic and not be judged?
“The shaming and suppression of female sexuality is part of the issue here, as men don’t feel they understand what women actually want sexually, and women don’t feel they can express it safely.” Psychology Today
Pictures of dicks aren’t the problem. The dick-pic is the problem. What can make the dick-pic so ineloquent and offensive is its misapplication as a courting ritual.
The platform is an essential part of courtship with a dick-pic. As a gay man, I have multiple spaces available to me to explore different elements of my love interests. I have Grindr for hookups, Tinder for dating, OKCupid for a life long partner. These different platforms give context to and allow me to decode the message behind a dick-pic. On Grindr I can assume it is sent with interest and is also a compliment. “I like the look of you enough to expose myself in the hopes that you think the same of me”. Even if I don’t enjoy the dick-pic itself, I can still appreciate the sentiment. On Tinder, the platform is geared towards dating. I get the chance to know someone, their job, music they like, books they’ve read, all before we trade numbers and get more “personal”. With Tinder an immediate dick-pic would be crass and rude and the social etiquette would make it unacceptable. Every guy I’ve matched with respects and understands the different types of behavioural rules for each platform.
Dating apps available for the heteronormative are limited and the rules vague. For the majority, Tinder is the go to, and it can be for dating, for hook ups, for long term partners, for threesomes and more. With so many agendas all being served in the one app, it is difficult to understand one another’s motivations. Another problem is when people mistake Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as dating apps. If the dick-pic is to work with heteronormative society there need to be clearer platforms for different needs, like hookups or dating. Men shouldn’t throw their dick around like a hungry artist with their portfolio. Women should be allowed to want them and have designated places to go get them. These new platforms have to be well known and easy to engage with, so that men and women both understand what is appropriate. I’m glad to say I’m not the first to have this sentiment – the new French dating app Fruitz has a similar ideology. Users choose an anecdotal fruit that matches their desires; the Watermelon for ‘fun without the seed’ involves casual relationships with condoms, for example. With the rules laid out, women and men can find what they want.
Dating apps available for the heteronormative are limited and the rules vague. For the majority, Tinder is the go to, and it can be for dating, for hook ups, for long term partners, for threesomes and more. With so many agendas all being served in the one app, it is difficult to understand one another’s motivations.
If Dick-pics are here to stay; we need better Dick-pics
We are still learning to communicate in this new online medium with the same prehistoric instincts. It’s the difference between class and crass. A one-second dick-pic cannot compare to well-executed art. Dick-pics need to evolve.
Madeleine Holden coined the phrase “dick is abundant and low value.” Ultimately, the understanding is that there is a lot of competition out there for the pool of available potential mates. If you want to compete in the marketplace by posting dick-pics then you had better up your game. Holden runs an online website where she critiques dick-pics. Most dick-pics have no personality, just badly lit ill-framed penis. If its goal is to entice a potential mate it first has to be enticing. Holden will critique the artistic values of your offering and give tips on better composition. What’s more, one of the mantras of her website is “100% ANON, NO SIZE SHAMING”, as she shows the dick-pic is not a competition of size and shape, but an artistic expression. Holden also proves that the dick-pic is not just for men, as she critiques women with strap-ons, trans models, and anyone who feels empowered by the exposure and intimacy a dick-pic can offer. Projects like Critique My Dick Pic elevate the medium.
Dick-pics need to be contained in the right medium where social rules concerning consent are well established. Educating the public about the differences between courting rituals and trolling is going to be an ongoing struggle. Communicating through the dick-pic medium should express the level of respect you wish to hold for the other person and the relationship you ultimately want to have, without being a dick.
Illustrations by Tyrrell Illustrations
Illustrator in print, drawing and animation. Fantasy nerd, Historical re-enactor, Dog walker, Eater of pies.