We have laws against flashing. If a man catches a woman’s attention on the bus and then displays his naked penis to her, this is indecent exposure and punishable by law. Unfortunately, our laws are slow to catch up to the digital era, and penalties for cyber-flashing have not yet be made into law. (And, as it is often the case, our sexnegative culture has created stilted laws that focus on the wrong thing.)
Porn, Nakedness and Body-Positivity
Our culture is often driven and shaped by technological advances. Just like in the 1980s porn blossomed as an industry with the advent of the VCR, in the early 2000s, consumer digital cameras and video equipment created a massive amount of homemade porn. Digital equipment brought on three massive shifts: It eliminated the need to awkwardly interact with the teenage clerk at the photo lab, hoping that they do not refer one to the manager to discuss the content of one’s rolls of film. It encouraged impulsive shooting, as there were no longer film developing costs attached. And it provided the user with instant gratification.
As users began sharing their homemade pictures and film this “second wave” of homemade porn nearly destroyed the porn industry. Why would one pay for porn when so much of it was available for free? But at the same time, it also destigmatized porn. Clearly, porn stars weren’t the only ones getting freaky in front of a camera. In the decade that followed, porn actors saw the pros (less stigma, more acceptance, more crossing-over into mainstream movies and more post-porn opportunities) while at the same time finding fewer opportunities for work in the porn industry and lower pay for that work.
All in all, I believe the shift to decentralized, homemade pornograpyhy helped our culture. Destigmatization of sexual behavior is a good thing. Decentralization of a narrative is also a good thing – it allowed us to see the many flavors of people’s sexuality, going a good mile into reducing the closed feedback loop created in the porn industry (“we only produce this type of content because our audience consumes only this type content because we only produce this type of content”). Homemade porn also allowed us to see all sorts of human bodies, all ages, all shapes and sizes, which is huge for body-positivity and to reduce the potentially toxic effects of porn – the constant exposure to bodies which are atypically gorgeous, young bodies, fantasy settings and extreme sex acts conditioning viewers’ brains to only respond to those stimuli, potentially causing dysfunction in commonplace settings, facing average bodies, bodies older than 30.
The problem with homemade porn, as is often the problem with most large-scale decentralized human activity, was consent. While industry porn required an actor’s written consent for shooting and for distribution, homemade porn fostered a) voyeur pornography (upskirts, changing-booth porn, nude beach voyeur filming) and b) non-consensual distribution (eg: “revenge” porn).
Nakedness is not the problem
Our laws focus on “public indecency” instead of focusing on consent. Public indecency is a vague, culture-specific, changeable construct. Public indecency laws impact a young mother breastfeeding in public. They affect naturists, and can make a convicted sex offender out of someone simply urinating in an alley (I’m not advocating peeing in alleys, I just don’t think it’s a sexual offense).
But a bigger problem than the people such laws, such an outlook, wrongly target is the behaviors this does NOT target. Non-consentual distribution of homemade porn is not wrong because of nakedness, it is wrong because of lack of consent. Each of us should have a right to choose who we show which parts of our bodies to. When hackers illegally infiltrated Jennifer Lawrence’s photo storage and shared naked photos of her, the problem was not the nakednes, the problem was the malicious distribution of her images without her consent.
Unsolicited Dick Pics
…All of which sets the context for us to discuss unsolicited dick pics (let’s call them UDPs for short).
The advent of smartphones inevitably brought on two cultural shifts – the “selfie” culture (a tendency to impulsively take photos of ourselves) and the sharing culture (impelled by social media, texting and our connected, hive mentality). We used to think of taking photos of us with friends, or in a particular setting. Now we take photos of our food, our new hairdo, and (spare us!) our duckface. We used to think of keeping photos and sharing them with family. Now we are immediately compelled to share them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter. So it was inevitable that someone would think, “hey, I could take a picture of my penis,” and it was inevitable that someone would think, “hey, I could send this picture to [blank].”
A new aspect of consent
There is inherently nothing wrong with your penis. There is inherently nothing wrong with you taking a picture of your penis. There is inherently nothing wrong with you sharing a… WAIT, actually this last one is where we get in trouble.
All the distribution channels we discussed earlier require discussions on consent from the person being photographed or recorded. Consent on the part of the viewer was a given, since the user had to log on to a website, or visit a forum, or do a search in order to access those files. This new distribution channel requires a NEW conversation on consent – consent from the viewer.
Context and Intimacy
One of the many reasons why consent is important is that we viscerally react differently to certain stimuli depending on the context and the level of intimacy we are experiencing. We also react differently if we have signed up for a specific stimulus than if it is forced upon us. We may be ok going for a dip in the swimming pool, but we’re not ok being THROWN into the pool (and this one is even more nuanced – we might be ok being thrown in the pool as a prank or joke, by a person we know well enough, trust well enough, like well enough to make this acceptable. We might be ok if interactions between us have indicated we’d be open to such an unexpected dunk).
There’s Nothing Wrong With Your Dick
Where many women go wrong, in trying to push back against the barrage of dick pics, is when they get into body shaming. Affronted by the non-consentual act, they seek to express “THIS IS NOT OK” in an emphatic way, and the easy target is to ridicule the penis by shape, color, size. This is deeply counter-productive. Firstly, it misses the main message – what is wrong is not that the sender has a penis. And the size, color or shape of that penis is immaterial. We do not object to the picture because the dick is not big enough, not hard enough, not pretty enough, not straight or curved enough. You do NOT need to “try harder to impress us.” What is NOT OK is not the penis – what’s not ok is the presumption of shared intimacy, the out-of-context non-consensual act, the dunking us into the pool of your dick without our consent. (Which, unlike the pool, does not get us wet.)
Recently, someone shared the video “Dickpiccito” – a parody of the popular song “Despacito” focusing on unsolicited dick pics. While funny, the video misses its mark because it derails into bodyshaming.
Yes, penises (peni? pene?) are weird-looking. They do look like a jalapeno sometimes. But we still like them. For that matter, vulvas (vulvae?) are weird-looking too. They look like tacos, clams, or whatever popular food analogy you can think of. And we still like them. There is nothing wrong with your dick. What is wrong is for you to expose us to it without consent, without context, without intimacy.
So, when is it ok to send a dick pick?
It’s ok to send a photo of your dick if:
- You have the type of intimacy with the person that a naked photo of your wang will not shock them
- You have asked them “would you like to see a dick pic?” – and have received enthusiastic agreement (or have received a direct request for one).
Why do men send unsolicited dick pics?
Some men think, “My penis is so awesome that it will win her over.” If your penis truly is awesome, a percentage of women will be greatly swayed by its awesomeness. In a consensual, intimate, contextual setting. But not through an unsolicited dick pic. The UDP has layers. It says, “this is this man’s penis.” It also says, “this is the type of man who randomly sends extremely personal, invasive content without asking permission.” It also says, “this is how this man sees me – he objectifies me, does not care for my consent, and is willing to forego my comfort for his personal gratification.”
As one woman eloquently put it, “The problem is not that he has a dick, it is that he IS a dick.”
Some men think, “I would love it if that woman sent me a photo of her vulva!” and think the Golden Rule applies. It does not. Just because you like apples doesn’t mean I like apples too. Find out what I like, and BELIEVE me when I tell you what I do not like. And without getting deep into gender debates, it often works out that men respond differently to images of female nudity than women do to images of male nudity. There are nuances in how men and women experience sexuality.
Recently a woman actually made a social experiment and sent photos of her vulva to several men, expecting the same level of rejection she feels about UDPs. As this writer could’ve foretold her, it didn’t go as planned. And she was called out on it by an article on the Washington Post.
How effective are CONSENSUAL dick pics?
Within an intimate, contextual, consensual settings, many women would find a photo of your penis acceptable. But is that a good strategy? It might not be. If your penis is indeed spectacular, then you risk being objectified, desired only because of your jewels. If your penis is not her specific cup of tea (and tastes vary greatly), then it could spell trouble for you. If she likes curvy ones and yours is too straight, if you are proud of its girth but she finds it intimidating, if she thinks your glans is “odd-looking” because she’s only been with two guys and both had a different shape, then you could be lowering your chances. Why not let things progress naturally, get into a sexual scenario, have her already sexually aroused and in a generally welcoming mood, before the big reveal takes place?
Romance Pays Off
Men are often quick to reject, deride or dismiss a woman’s need for romance. To do this can be very counter-productive. Just as men know what drives them, what gets them aroused, what starts their engines, women are aware of their own sexuality too. Generally speaking, both demographics enjoy sex. But here’s an important nuance, both demographics enjoy PLEASURABLE sex. And both demographics like orgasms.
For many women, a slow buildup often leads to a more intense, more pleasurable sexual experience. For some women, foreplay does not start fifteen minutes before intercourse, as he massages her breast – it starts four hours earlier, at the restaurant, as he compliments her dress. It starts a day earlier, as he offers to cook dinner. It starts three days earlier, as he texts something sweet about how she’s on his mind. Each of those have started a chain reaction leading to more intimacy, more vulnerability, more trust, more comfort, more arousal. Leading to a state where she is quite eager to not only see your dick, but do nasty things with it.
Romance us. It pays off.