Real Dick-Pic Senders Explain Why They Do It

Photo: DK Images/REX USA.
If you’re a woman who has used an online dating site, there’s a good chance you’ve had to confront an unsolicited, cringe-inducing photo of a potential suitor’s junk. You know how it goes. You're chatting with some guy on Tinder, wondering if things will progress to a real date, and then, bam, there it is: a random, disembodied picture of his penis. This happened to Kate, 26, a publicist in Boston who used Match.com, OkCupid, and Tinder for eight months before meeting her current boyfriend. She said she got dick pics she didn’t ask for on every single one of those sites.
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Acording to a recent Match.com study, sexual photos from guys are the biggest turnoff for women. "I felt visually assaulted every time I checked my phone for updates," Kate told me over drinks. "I just felt dirty after using my phone! That's the same device I use to communicate with my parents and my cute little nephew. I couldn't get off those dating platforms fast enough." And, Kate is not alone: 45% of women have received R-rated photos from men online. Dating-site studies tend not to provide data about unsolicited versus solicited pictures, but anecdotally, it's safe to say that a lot of those pics were unwelcome.
Just to be clear, I’m not the kind of girl who clutches my pearls in horror over the very idea of an R-rated pic. Many women love taking, sending, and receiving sexy pics — and that’s great. I’m talking about a very specific problem: the online equivalent of the subway flasher. This is someone who lobs a dick pic your way without ever having received any indication that this would be welcome. At its worst, this is sexual harassment. At its best, it's a bummer — since it means you wasted your time chatting with a jerk.
To investigate the psychology of the dick pic, I spent weeks plumbing the depths of Craigslist and Reddit message boards like /r/sex and /r/okcupid, chatting with guys who have admitted to sending unsolicited dick pics out of the blue to women they’ve just met, either online or in person. Many were willing to engage in a candid, thoughtful discussion about their motivations. Read on to hear their side of the story.

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This article was originally published on October 7, 2014, and has been updated throughout.
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Photo: DK Images/REX USA.
It’s harassment, and they know it.

A few candid guys looked back at their behavior and were willing to acknowledge that sending an unsolicited dick pic was a way to assert their power by making a woman squirm. Many of these guys have struggled to get a woman’s attention, and sending a dick pic is a sure way to get a reaction.

John*, 34, put it like this: “I used to send dick pics to basically anyone who would have them… It's definitely an expression of power in some sense. It's the epitome of your masculinity; it's what makes you a man — what good am I but it?”

Peter, a 27-year-old from San Diego, was more up-front:

“I think that 'lashing out' towards women on online dating sites, whether harmless annoyance or genuine harassment, is caused by being ignored so thoroughly by so many women. After a while, women on these sites aren't people with feelings; they're just thousands of profiles who all seem to dislike you for completely unknown reasons. Dick pics are, I think, a very specific form of this harassment — probably from guys who are more on the narcissistic side and perhaps overly confident about their bodies... The end goal of this little game is to elicit some kind of reaction — good, bad, or otherwise.”

Laurel House, a dating coach (and longtime online dater), agreed: “There’s definitely a component of power tripping involved here. They want to see how uncomfortable they can make a woman. There’s a creepster element, too, just seeing how many people they can freak out. These kinds of guys just want a response, so I recommend just not responding — and blocking them, rather than retaliating in some way... If the guy is looking for a response, even if you write back expressing disapproval — ‘Ew, I can’t believe you did that!’ — these guys are only going to push further.”

*Obviously, everyone I talked to requested anonymity.
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Photo: DK Images/REX USA.
They think you want a dick pic, even if you didn't ask for one.

Many of the guys I talked to expressed basic confusion over how to know whether a woman wants a dick pic. (Pro tip: If she asks you for a dick pic, she wants one.)

Apparently, guys blame porn for this lack of clarity: They watch a lot of porn on their laptops, smartphones and tablets — the very same devices they use to meet women online — and claim to conflate these two visual and sexually charged online modalities. Gerry, a 23-year-old from Frederick, Maryland, said: “I’ve mostly sent [dick pics] after a few flirtations back and forth with girls I’ve met online who seemed to want to hook up. Who wouldn’t want to be sent free porn?”

Roger, a 31-year-old from New York, put it similarly: “Any guy who’s watched porn would not be fazed by random boob and vagina pics. So, why are women so offended by a random dick pic?”

House agrees that porn plays a role: “Porn culture has evolved with smartphone culture: It’s really hard to unravel the two. With the increased accessibility of porn and the simultaneous ease of communicating with people digitally, some guys think it is totally normal to send dick pics. Nudity has become so pedestrian."

But, House cautions that just because it may feel pedestrian for the sender, that’s not necessarily true for the receiver. “When a woman receives an unsolicited dick pic, it feels more like being exposed to a creepy flasher than being given the gift of free porn. If a woman saw a flasher on the street, she would immediately call the police. It’s a visual assault.”

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Photo: DK Images/REX USA.
Some guys actually believe they are being thoughtful.

In what is basically a massive failure of the imagination, these guys assume that you will truly appreciate that unsolicited dick pic — because, after all, there is nothing they would love more than to receive an an unexpected, naked picture of a woman. Gerry says: “I like pictures of vaginas from women. Why don't women like pictures of penises? I don't get it.”

Tommy, a 32-year-old from New York, used a more literary explanation: "Anais Nin once said, 'We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.' I would be over the moon if some woman sent me a picture of any nudity whatsoever, so I assume that women feel the same way.”

Couples counselor and psychologist Jonathan Alpert explained this reasoning, saying, “Men and women are socialized differently, and men are, for the most part, more genital-oriented. Men also seem to feel somewhat disconnected from their penis. I hear patients who say things like, 'What’s the big deal? It’s just my penis, it’s not like I’m showing my face.'"

Alpert adds that “this is a big problem that extends into relationships. Men seem to be able to separate sex from emotion more easily. I counsel couples who are experiencing sexual difficulties, and a lot of the time guys are so focused on physicality and they neglect the emotional aspect of the relationship. The bottom line is that guys need to stop thinking with their penis on online dating sites and learn to entice women with their brains.”
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Photo: DK Images/REX USA.
They think they'll get a pic from you in return.

Sometimes, the rationale for un-requested dick-pic-sending is something more aggressive. A few of the guys I spoke to explained it as an act of coercion — the online equivalent of the (misguided) belief that if you buy a woman a drink at a bar, she "owes" you something sexual in return. Billy, 23, from Syracuse, NY, was succinct: “I'd really like it if that woman would send me a picture of her genitals, so I'll send her a picture of mine.”

House said she’d experienced this in her own dating life: “I’ve had guys send me explicit pictures and expect me to send them pictures back...men think, 'I’ve shown you mine, so now you need to show me yours.' Some men want to see how far they can push a woman or how uncomfortable they can make her. Will she send a picture of her boobs?” House has cautioned women against letting this flawed logic make them do something they’re uncomfortable with. “Sure, some women like sending nude pictures of themselves, but...others do not feel comfortable. Some do it because they feel pressure.”
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Photo: DK Images/REX USA.
One complicating factor: A number of women are actually okay with unsolicited dick pics and respond encouragingly when they receive one.

These women (who are totally entitled to like what they like!) muddy the waters, since one positive response makes guys think there is a chance that every dick pic might work in their favor, with every woman.

“There’s a numbers game involved here. It’s so easy to mass blast pictures to women on your list. If you show your penis to 100 women...maybe one of them [will think], ‘That’s a good-looking guy and a good-looking penis. I’m going to go have sex with him.’ I’ve seen people do much worse things at bars and score,” says Tom, 25, from Maryland.

Jonathan Alpert said that the numbers game might work if guys really cast a wide net: “There’s the great hope that some women will fall for this. From my experience, a few do — but they are in the very small minority. It also depends on the type of site you are on. A lot of the mainstream sites are not all about sex, so you cannot expect it to go over well.”
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Photo: DK Images/REX USA.
That being said, if you’re against receiving unsolicited dick pics, you’re definitely not alone.

On the flip side, if you don’t enjoy getting dick pics you didn’t ask for, you aren’t the only one. Model Emily Sears says she got so many inappropriate messages that she took to contacting her dick-pic-senders’ girlfriends and female family members to make sure they were aware of the guys’ behavior.

In fact, there are even whole Instagram accounts devoted to publicly shaming these men. @byefelipe, an Instagram account that had over 406,000 followers at the time of writing, was started by Alexandra Tweten to document the harassment women face online — from dick pics to other graphic messages.

Tweten explained in a post for Ms. Magazine that she created the account to “A) [Commiserate] with other women (you can’t be a woman online and not get creepy messages from men); B) [Let] men know what it’s like to be a woman online (it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows!); and C) To expose the problematic entitlement some men feel they need to exert over women in general.”

If you’ve received one dick pic too many and are feeling harassed, be sure to make use of the report button.
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