This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The dick pic; so widely disseminated—yet so universally scorned. How many message threads end abruptly after an unwitting recipient lays eyes on a glaring, one-eyed schlong? From Weinergate to Tony Clement; the urge to send dick pics is apparently so compelling that caution is thrown to the wind, even when the personal, social, and political ramifications are enormous.
These lewd dispatches are rampant (half of all women between 18-36 reported on having received one), but those who openly admit to sending them are few and far between. And while many women rightly view this as a form of harassment, it does not appear that dick pic senders see it that way—often slapping the lurid photos into otherwise benign conversation. Are they desperate? Do they do it for validation? Shock? Thrills? Comic relief? Or is there something darker at play? Beyond a painful inability to read the room; what is their deal? Why do men do this?
Thankfully, a new study presented at the Society For The Scientific Study of Sexuality in Montreal last November, has suggested some answers. It is believed to be the first empirical investigation of its kind into the phenomenon of the dick pic, drilling down to unearth the reasons why straight men send unsolicited pictures of their dicks.
More than 1000 self-selecting straight men, ages 16 to 75, were recruited from various social media sites, a university-based research participant pool and Amazon Mechanical Turk to take part in the study. They were measured on levels of narcissism, exhibitionism, benevolent and hostile sexism, and endorsement of sexual behaviors—basically to ascertain if they were oversexed. They were asked about their motivations, and what they hoped the outcome would be. Nearly half (48%) of those surveyed admitted to having sent an unsolicited dick pic in the past. The majority of the dick pic-senders were white, married or in a serious relationship, had some college/university education, and the average age of the sender was 31 (The average age of the non-sender was 33, however, so it doesn’t appear as if age is a factor).
“In a nutshell,” study lead Dr. Cory Pedersen, of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, said, “men who had reported having sent unsolicited dick pics showed higher levels of narcissism relative to men who had never sent such images. They also demonstrated higher levels of both hostile (overtly negative views of women) and benevolent (woman-on-a-pedestal) sexism.”
They were also measured on their opinions around sexuality, based on hypothetical musings that men who send dick pics must be oversexed. “There was no difference between the two groups in the extent to which they watched porn, or masturbated or fantasized,” says Pedersen. “The dick pic-ers were not more ‘sexual’ in nature.”
Additionally, they were measured on misogyny ( Do you send these images because you dislike women), public exhibitionism (Have you ever exposed your genitals to someone that you know but who didn’t ask you to in a public setting?) and sexual satisfaction ( I send these pictures and then I can masturbate knowing that a woman is looking at a picture of my dick). “There was some endorsement for all of those other categories,” says Pedersen, “but they were very low.”
Pedersen honed in on two major reasons why men are motivated to do this. The first was a transactional mindset; they send these images in the hope that they’ll get some nudes in return. Or, fingers crossed, it will lead to a RL hookup. “The second most popular reason was what we called partner hunting,” says Pedersen. “They believe sending dick pics is an appropriate form of flirting with someone, this is how you let someone know that you’re interested in them, that you’re attracted to them. That you want to have a connection with them.”
When asked what they were hoping to get out of sending these images, a whopping 82 percent of respondents were hoping to make the person who received the image feel “sexual excitement .” “This is quite contrary to the popularly endorsed belief that men send these pics hoping to get shock,” says Pedersen. “They believe they’re going to turn someone on. The top three hoped-for reactions were positive; men were hoping for sexual excitement from the part of the recipient, they hoped the recipient would feel attractive, and they hoped the recipient would feel valued.” Given the #MeToo climate we find ourselves in, this obliviousness is astonishing. The individuals sending these unsolicited photos could stand a dose of empathy—and a clue.
Pedersen agrees there’s likely some projection at play; that’s how they would feel if they received a nude photo from a woman. “I would hypothesize it would only take one or two positive endorsements; ‘Hey! That’s a nice dick!’ for that to be reinforcing enough to continue that type of strategy,” Pedersen said. “Humans are prone to pay attention to things we already believe to be true, and to ignore things that disabuse us of our ideas. If we get one positive endorsement we think; hey, this is working! We ignore all of the women who reply with you’re gross.”
“While we do not dispute or deny that consent is sexy, and that it is an important part of all sexual interactions, our data suggests that the large majority of men are not sending these images because they hate women, or because they want power or control,” says Pedersen. “That runs contrary to a lot of feminist discourses that men do this because they hate women; that is not what we found.”
This, in and of itself, is kind of enheartening. “It runs contrary to our popular culture’s views on this subject. Nonetheless, no matter what anyone takes from this information; consent is sexy. if somebody wants to see your penis, they will probably let you know.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.