Ashley*, 24, is a frequent visitor of numerous subreddits and Twitter accounts with monikers like "jacking" and "CocksDaily," all of which have one thing in common: They're dedicated to satisfying viewers' cravings for penis photos.
"Pretty much 90 percent of what I look at [when I masturbate] is dick pics," she told Broadly. "I don't like porn because I have to see the men's stupid faces, whereas with a dick pic, I can imagine whatever I want or even find a dick pic that looks like my boyfriend's."
Kate, 24, prefers a subreddit whose name stands for "ladyboners gone wild." "Sometimes dick pics make me nostalgic for dicks from my past and remind me of good experiences I've had with dicks," she said. "It is cool to see the vast variety of different penises that are out there. I'll be like, 'Wow, that's an interesting-looking foreskin!' 'Huh, I've never seen a scrotum like that before!' 'Jeez, I wonder what a curve that extreme would feel like!'"
With the rise of online dating, Snapchat, and other digital photo-sharing mediums has come the scourge of the unsolicited dick pic. The phenomenon has spawned advice articles, numerous investigations into the psychology of those who engage in this behavior, countless listicles featuring women "brilliantly shutting down" the men who send such unwanted images, and new understanding of the nature of sexual harassment in the digital age. The general consensus is that sending an unwanted dick pic is at best gross and at worst sexually aggressive; Ryan Reynolds has even said he "can't think of anything more threatening to send a woman than a picture of a penis."
Of course, a dick pic is not inherently unpleasant or threatening: As with any sexual interaction, what matters is consent, says sexuality educator and therapist Aida Manduley, MSW. "Unsolicited dick pics can be a lot like catcalls—ways to assert power, express entitled sexual interest, cut the receivers down to objects, center the sender's own ego and prowess, get some rise or reaction out of another person, punish someone due to their sexuality (especially when men send these to lesbians), gratify a sense of exhibitionism, or even try to force the receiver into sending a nude as well," they explained.
I don't like porn because I have to see the men's stupid faces, whereas with a dick pic, I can imagine whatever I want.
Superdude4agze, a moderator of the subreddit /r/penis, sees such forums as healthy alternatives to non-consensual dick pics—but he doesn't think they'll replace them. And he's probably right, according to Manduley: For those who send unsolicited dick pics, lack of consent is part of the appeal. "The online forums for sharing dick pics with consent will only really be helpful to those people who care about being consensual with these photos in the first place," they said.
While online dick pic-sharing forums may not give all men an incentive to stop sending photos of their genitals to women without permission or warning, they can provide a healthy outlet for guys to explore their exhibitionist sides. "I have never wanted to send an unsolicited shot of myself naked, and have always posted my nude pics on sites like Tumblr," said Robbie, 34, who posts dick pics on several subreddits. "It's a lot more fun if people seek you out and like your pics."
For people like Robbie, dick pic forums can be sex-positive, body-positive environments—and another benefit, noted Manduley, is that they "help people normalize a variety of genitals."
In pop culture, dick pics are often treated with an exaggerated squeamishness—in an episode of Girls, for instance, the protagonist and her friends derisively pass around an explicit missive from her hookup buddy, and, in a viral video of women reacting to dick pics, women disparagingly describe the pictures they've received with phrases like "huge monstrous elephant dick" and "more balls than dick."
The majority of the reception is warm and inviting. I'd [say] 98 percent-plus of the comments are about how nice the poster's member is.
Such reactions belie an excitement, on many women's part, to visually interact with penises on their own terms. "The majority of the reception is warm and inviting," said Superdude4agze. "I'd [say] 98 percent-plus of the comments are about how nice the poster's member is and what the commenter would like to do with it."
Ben*, 21, gets "validation and arousal" from the Reddit and Tumblr users who shower his junk with praise. Robert*, 31, relishes comments like "you naughty sexy handsome tease of a bastard" and "the things I would give to have you nibbling the spot underneath my earlobe while your hands play with my breasts."
The fact that these sites aren't exclusively housing idealized penises appeals to their viewers, too. "What I like is that they aren't fancy, made-up porn dicks that are not realistic," said Ashley. "Some of these guys are very flawed and human, and I love that. From birthmarks to beer bellies, they mimic men that I have and will sleep with, so it's easier for me to relate."
When dick pics are requested from someone privately or actively sought out online, they can help women explore a side of their sexuality that's not always acknowledged due to dominant stereotypes that they're less sexual or less visual. When all parties enjoy them equally, the act of sharing dick pics can be a positive experience. "It feels reclamatory or even feminist to [look at dick pics] when I feel like doing it, because it's an act of choice and agency, unlike when unsolicited dick pics are sent to me," said Kate. "Dicks are fantastic when I've consented to interact with them."
Ashley believes more women appreciate dick pics than we realize, but many either feel weird about liking them or have had bad experiences with them. "I hope women are no longer ashamed for acknowledging what they're into," she said. In a way, perhaps our polarized reactions to dick pics prove that our sexual tastes depend on context and, most importantly, consent. Maybe dick pics, like casual hookups, are another thing more women might be able to enjoy if creepy guys didn't ruin it for them.
"If, culturally, society was set up in such a way that women's rights and desires were more respected, and if we had more ease with which to discuss sexuality, it would be easier for women to express what they like," said Manduley, "whether it's dick pics, bondage, or nose-boops mid-sex."
* Names have been changed