Sunday mornings are for catching up on everything I've been putting off all week. So, for me, that's drinking more water—two whole glasses!—and responding to all those texts I left on read for days. It's also time to try to get my dating life in order which means, as a gay man living in 2018, opening apps like Grindr and Growlr to see who's looking for love. It also means dealing with the mental stress of constantly being asked for nudes.
Here's how it usually goes: I open the app and scroll through the unread messages that hit my inbox from the week before. Eventually I'll come across a message that simply reads "pic?" and I'll start to feel that anxiety creeping in. What does this guy want from me? Convinced that it's always good to start a conversation with a potential suitor on a more "innocent" front, I send them a pic of my face instead of... you know... the whole package.
And then, almost immediately, I'm blocked. So much for finding love online.
Online dating was supposed to be convenient. Who actually has the time to get out of their house and meet people in real life anymore? It's also worth nothing that it's also a far safer way to date if you're LGBTQ in a country like Indonesia, where the old standbys—gay bars, so on—are increasingly raided by the authorities.
But instead of connecting people, online dating apps have created a hook-up culture that has normalized sending naked photos of yourself to total strangers. Nothing gives me more anxiety than a request for nudes. Sure, I might obsess over my bio (am I being too wordy?) or my conversations (did I reply too soon? not soon enough?). But none of that even compares to the stress of nudes.
Now, before you get all fired-up and start calling me a prude, I am not trying to shame anyone who participates in the act of sending dick-out selfies. In fact, our history with sending nudes (and sexting) can be traced all the way back to the 17th Century, when someone would actually paint this stuff and then deliver it by horse or something. As long as there have been ways to send an image, there have been nudes (even if those nudes took an artist and like a month to produce.)
Nudes are also really useful for people in long-distance relationships. It's hard to keep that spark of intimacy going across time zones and international borders, so a couple nudes go a long way. Posing naked for someone you love can be a really romantic gesture, in the best of circumstances.
Watch: The Mobile Love Industry
But, to me at least, there's no romance in sending nudes on a dating app. Here's why: I am a single, queer, masculine-presenting guy who is attempting to date on an app that prizes a very specific kind of toxic masculinity. People on these apps want, in no specific order, washboard abs, bubble butts, and big dicks. Anyone who doesn't possess all, or some, of these features is left out. Hell, even those of us who possess this "ideal" look, but don't feel entirely comfortable immediately exposing ourselves like that can end up blocked before the first date.
So, against my better judgement, I participate. When someone asks for nudes, I give in to the pressure and hit send. Then the conflicted feelings start to bubble to the surface. One study of gay men's dating habits found that a lot of us feel depressed minutes or hours after sending nudes to a potential hookup. They feel guilty for engaging in such a shallow and explicit interaction.
But other studies found that the exchanging of nudes it an important way to establish trust—basically you are trusting this other person not to forward your dick pics to all their WhatsApp groups and they are trusting you not to do the same. It straddles a line between intimacy and objectification, between self-love and self-deception, that's hard to parse.
I know the feeling of post-nudes blues well. And it makes me wonder, why are nudes a foundation of trust? Why do complete strangers, people who don't even put images of their face in their profile, feel entitled to shots of your naked body almost immediately? And why do I, after knowing how bad hookup app culture actually is, keep coming back?
I asked some friends how they feel about it. Some told me they felt validated when the recipient of one of their nudes said the images turned them on. Others said it was a pre-requisite for casual sex and that there was no way around it. Some found it fun. Some said they didn't care. And a few told me they purposely don't send them, not out of shame, but to maintain a level of mystery.
It's taken me a long time to love my body. I already hated the way I looked long before I had my first cellphone or heard the word "selfie." I would focus on my lack of body hair, my big tummy, and wish I could just vanish. Once I was slightly older and had my own phone, this need to be on the internet constantly only amplified these feelings of self-hatred. If, one day, I found myself loving my flaws, all this body positivity immediately vanished when a guy on a hook-up app expressed disappointment in how I looked. No amount of self-love was ever going to counter an internet culture this toxic.
This year, I vowed to make 2018 the end of nudes. No matter how badly I needed that hookup, I would resist the urge and keep my hands off the camera app. Well, I failed. But I still ended up sending way less nudes than in the past, so small victories, right?
Are my interactions better without nudes? Well, only sometimes. Am I happier? It depends on the day. Do I see more people promoting more body types in gay culture now? I'm not sure. The only thing my abstinence from nudes has taught me is that the longer I can go without asking for validation from others, the longer I can give it to myself.