I don't remember the first time I got a dick pic. It was probably in college, and I can guess the friend-with-benefits who probably sent it. I also think, knowing our relationship, that it was something I asked him to send rather than the other way around.
Apparently I'm in the minority. Though Ke$ha once sang "Show me where your dick's at," the consensus seems to be that women don't appreciate random pictures of cocks. Science backs up this assertion. According to the National Library of Medicine, 72 percent of the adults who visit porn sites are male while only 28 percent are female.
The same study also showed that men reacted more strongly to being shown clips of erotic films and sexual photos than women, especially when other men chose the stimuli. To wit, when men picked films that focused on intercourse or specific body parts, they enjoyed them more than women did. And when women chose films focusing more on foreplay or depicting faces and bodies, they showed higher signs of sexual arousal than men.
In short, show a man a single disembodied boob and he'll be totally cool to jerk off to it. Show a woman one isolated ball, and she's going to want another ball, then a dick, then the face belonging to the dick and then some idea of the man behind the face. "I don't want to see a penis out of context," comedian Jen Kirkman jokes—sort of—as part of her act. "I'm just going to zone out. It's not a turn on for me. I need a story."
I love Jen Kirkman. And I believe in science. But I don't hate dick pics.
Sometimes you just want to see a dick. Like, for instance, when it's been a while. When I first moved to Los Angeles and my then-boyfriend still lived in Manhattan, dick pics were my lifeblood. Being unable to be with the person you want to be with is awful. You miss things—like the way they smell or their voice or the funny way they sing in the shower. Or their dick. It was a nice part of my boyfriend that was fun and useful. Sometimes I wanted to say "hi" to it with my eyes and remember that it existed out there somewhere, waiting for me.
Yet I freely admit that pinning my interest in dick pics on the long-distance nature of our relationship is a cop out. My college fuck buddy lived one neighborhood over from me in Boston, and I still requested that he send me pictures of his dick. I even gave him specific instructions on how to send it, asking for him to include his hand or his stomach.
I considered my art direction helpful—and I think he did, too. Men are severely limited when it comes to positions for their junk to look appealing. They can't leave it limp like a flag outside a courthouse after a judge dies. But there are only so many options once it's hard. Put it next to a soda bottle for comparison? Seems braggadocious. Include some of your presumably ripped lower body in the shot? Seems self-indulgent. Balls? Seems gross. No balls? Seems like you've got something to hide.
There's also a line of thinking among women that dicks are ugly—or at the very least, funny looking. But personally, I don't think penises are inherently laughable (even as puppets) or shame-worthy (even as puppets). Nor do I think genitalia (male or female) looks particularly gross. So I don't like when "empowered" women claim penises are ugly any more than I like when bros say vaginas look like cans of ham. Like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography, I know a good-looking cock when I see one, and I'm happy to say that I've seen some attractive penises in my life.
But again, I seem to be in the minority—especially anecdotally. A survey of the women in my life revealed that most of them have received a dick pic, whether invited or uninvited, but that they weren't huge fans of them. Many felt similar to Kirkman: They thought penises weren't attractive. Or that not even their boyfriend's penis was contextual enough for them. (Which is how I interpreted Kirkman.)
With my ex-boyfriend in New York, I often had to cajole the dick pic out of him in a stark, almost funny reversal of typical gender roles. "Baby, please," I'd beg. "Send me one of what you look like right now." Or, more bluntly: "Let's Skype. Tilt the computer down." Back when we shared a city, I was constantly taking pictures of him with my phone—sitting in bed without a shirt on, brushing his teeth, strumming his guitar, lounging naked post-sex. I liked keeping them as mementos of this person I loved who I could look at whenever we were apart. He shyly obliged, but he didn't preen or pose for the camera. Even he wasn't sure why I wanted to photograph him in various states of undress. When I tried to explain to him why I liked it, he'd mostly get self-conscious. He explained men weren't used to that type of objectification from their girlfriends. (He only once took similar pictures of me.)
So for me, a good dick pic isn't as much about narrative as it is about familiarity.
In other words: If a woman doesn't think a penis is pretty in pictures, it might be because she doesn't know that penis. It's like when your friend posts Instagram photos of people you've never met. You'll scroll by because you have no outside attachment to these people. Though I'm often curious about dicks I don't know, it's the dicks I do know that capture my attention. I like to think about who that dick's attached to, the ways that person excites me—whether physically or intellectually—and the good times that dick and I have shared. (I'd classify that as lust, not story.)
But getting a dick pic from a guy you just met is also worth it, because it could save you time. If I'm slightly attracted to someone, I'd sometimes like to know what their penis looks like before I interact with said penis. I don't enjoy surprises. Consider it like Googling them before a first date. Some people would consider it a faux pas; others would consider it totally necessary. That penis might be a serial killer!
I also don't buy into the stigma of the naked body being something we have to hide. Yet the paranoia surrounding dick pics is understandable. In response to this piece, one female Playboy staff member said, "If a woman asks a guy for a dick pic, she's basically planning to blackmail him."My reaction: The dick pic has as much power as we allow it to have. If you don't view someone seeing your genitals as inherently the worst thing that could ever happen, then photos of your junk have no power over you.
Politicians who have dick pics leaked are immediately expected to resign with their head hanging low (pun intended). But what does Anthony Weiner's dick have to do with how well he does his job? (Provided that those are consensual photos of his dick floating around the internet.) You could say it illustrates poor judgment or that he's distracted—or that it was mainly inappropriate because the dick pics were sent to someone other than his wife. But plenty of people send dick pics without being terrible people. Why is it that we're more likely to cry foul—or feel offended enough to form an angry mob—by a politician who shows someone his penis than by one who attacks another country? That second guy, he can stay in office, but HOW DARE someone text a photo of their cock!
This isn't an invitation to start sending every woman you know random dick pics. Like any sexual act, consent and communication are key. ("Every day dick pics are thrust into the faces of unwilling female recipients & they're widely hated for this reason," the woman behind the popular Tumblr blog, Critique My Dick Pic, recently scolded. "Dudes (& it is invariably dudes): DON'T DO THIS. Ever. Foisting your penis onto someone who hasn't consented to see it is hostile, rude & deeply unsexy. Irrespective of how marvelous you think your dick (or dick pic) is, if you're sending it to someone who hasn't consented to see it, they will be nothing but unimpressed.")
And it might be true that some women really can't get into a picture of a penis—even when they've solicited it. But I'm also uncomfortable with the idea that the dick pic is never sexy. It can definitely be sexy—a precursor for what's to come. (Again, pun intended.) As a woman, I have visual needs, too. I want to see it among my text messages and get a shiver of excitement.
But again, am I copping out? I recently discovered the male-stripping subreddit r/ladybonersgw, which has 43,000 presumably female followers. (That number seems large to me; could it be that every woman in my life is lying to me about her distaste for dick pics?) It's the sister sub to r/gonewild, where the women of Reddit strip for karma points, validation and comment love. I once showed r/gonewild to a male friend who was immediately furious at me. "Now I have to sit here all day and look at all these naked pics so thanks a lot," he said. (He was kidding. Mostly.)
I can relate.
I don't know any of the men who post to LadyBoners. I've never seen their dicks before in person, and I probably never will. That said, I've been spending a lot of time lately clicking through the endless supply of naked boys found therein. And it seems that I linger the longest on photos that include a bit of chest hair, some beard scruff, a hint of a smile and attractive hipbones in boxer briefs. Isn't that a form of familiarity? Men who are "my type." Or maybe my familiarity argument is just a crutch—or bullshit that I tell myself so as not to seem that different from my friends (or like a guy). After all, it turns out that a photo of an exposed penis from a guy who looks slightly lumberjack-esque is all I need to get me going.
Gaby Dunn is a writer, journalist and comedian living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @gabydunn.
Photo by Picture Press/Alamy