The Inevitability of Unsolicited Dick Pics

When does freedom to express your desires cross the line into assault?

Rachael Hope
Sep 19 · 8 min read
Photo by nappy from Pexels

Delving simultaneously into online dating and the sex-positive community has provided an interesting juxtaposition. One of these is extremely focused on, and supportive of, consent culture. The other is a minefield of all different kinds of assaults, the most common of which is the unsolicited dick pic.

Caroline Roche, chief of staff at the dating app Bumble, got it right when she classified unsolicited dick pictures as “digital sexual harassment.”

Describing dick pics, explicit promises, and descriptions of lewd acts as assault makes some people uncomfortable. In 2019, our society has become one of technology, apps, and digitally-enhanced human interaction. I don’t think masking behavior with a phone or computer screen make it more acceptable. It’s no less gross or reprehensible just because it’s typed and not out loud; our digital lives are our lives.

As a woman who is open to meeting new people and dating, dick pics seem inevitable. In her article on Vox, Anna North makes this observation:

To be precise, 41 percent of women ages 18 to 36 said in a 2017 YouGov survey that they’d gotten at least one unwanted penis picture. Like many things that men do, such pictures are often treated like an insoluble problem, something women just have to accept if they want to keep living in the world.

She’s right. Like being propositioned, like having a list of stories about the times we didn’t get raped, like the inability to take our eyes off our drink, dick pics are a foregone conclusion.

How has this become commonplace? Is this just another aspect of the rape culture that makes women carry their keys between their fingers in parking lots at night? Is this another place we are expected to make excuses for men who exhibit selfish, inappropriate, entitled behavior?

I used to make excuses too, about “men being men,” or tell myself that that particular man was an exception. The frequency and casual nature with which these things happen changed my mind. Caroline Roche, chief of staff at the dating app Bumble, got it right when she classified unsolicited dick pictures as “digital sexual harassment.”

Why we are so accepting of dick pic culture, and why do men think it’s okay? If someone walked up to me on the street and behaved this way, my feelings would be radically different. The only reason a person should send sexually explicit content is if the person receiving it has said “please send me some sexually explicit content.”

Women who post personal ads or use dating apps (or honestly, just exist in general) are aware of the potential to be exposed to strangers’ genitals at all times. With every new connection, every text message, every email, comes the chance that we might be punched in the eyes with a penis we didn’t ask to see.

My first instinct is almost always to question myself (thanks, patriarchy!). I go back and read my ads and messages, wondering if I’ve somehow invited this. The answer is always that I didn’t do anything to ask for what I got. The only reason a person should send sexually explicit content is if the person receiving it has said “please send me some sexually explicit content.”

Different men have different tactics for explaining their proclivity for sharing their penises, erections, fetishes, and fantasies with women they’ve just met.

Some men like to say they’re just being friendly.

Last week, a guy sent me a picture of his semi-erect penis. When I responded “If you are having a normal conversation with someone what is the thing that makes you decide that definitely what that woman wants is a picture of your penis?” His answer? “Just being friendly and open. Sorry.” Wait, what? Putting your dick in someone’s face isn’t friendly. It’s actually assault. If we were at the grocery store and you did that you would get arrested. The fact that a woman has a Kik account doesn’t magically change anything.

Some men like to act like they just can’t help it.

A few weeks ago on Kik, a stranger told me in his 3rd message that I was “pretty hot” and in his 9th asked “U wanna see what ur pic did to me?” After my response (“NO”), he sent a photo of the lower half of his body, sprawled across a toilet seat, his erection centered in frame. He then told me that I had “done that to him,” that I should not “act like u don’t like it,” and told me it was painful.

When I asked what picture he’d seen of me anyway, he replied that the pic that had turned him on SO much he went CRAZY with desire and lust and couldn’t resist sending picture of his penis I explicitly declined was my profile picture. A PG shot of my face. Just by existing and having a human face, I forced him to get turned on.

I’m not heartless, so I told him it sounded like a personal problem and that if it was hard for more than 4 hours he should go to the ER. Priapism is serious, I wrote, they can use a big needle to drain the fluid. We find our fun where we can, right?

Some men like to feign cluelessness.

They pretend that they don’t know that what they’re doing is inappropriate, rude, or unsolicited. I had a 44-year-old grown adult who asked me,
“Is it rude to say I’d jerk off to u,” as if posing it as a question made it less offensive.

Well, yes. It is, in fact, rude to tell someone that you want to masturbate to them. When confronted with that, the answer is usually a variation of “I’m so bad at this” or “I always say the wrong thing,” as if there is not a conscious choice they could make to act better.

Some guys try to be tricky.

These ones try to entice you into asking them about their penis instead of bringing it up directly, like in this OK Cupid exchange:

Guy: How are you doing?

Me: Okay. Tired.

Guy: I’m tired too laying in bed kinda playing

Me: Playing what?

Guy: My penis alone as usual

Me: Do you walk up to strange women on the street with your dick in your hand and tell them you’re lonely?

Spoiler alert, the answer was no, he doesn’t. I’ve received emails from men who describe themselves as lonely, apathetic, bad at building relationships, all ending with how much they need sex. Is our bar really so low as humans that we think that all it takes to make a romantic connection is pity?

Then we are back to the explicit ones. The ones who want to tell you in great detail what nasty things they’d like to do to you, how much they like to cum (“A LOT”), or how they’d like to eat you (“nice and slow”). Somewhere in the same message, they tell me they are “very nice all the time,” does that mean you consider this type of email nice?

This is a very small sample of the messages I’ve received. It doesn’t include:

  • Countless times being called sweetie, sexy, dear, honey, etc. by strange men.
  • Being told within the first 15 messages that someone is horny, then asked to send pictures, look at their pictures, or to please call them/video chat/come over.
  • The guys who have asked first but then still sent me pictures of their dick after I said no.
  • The guy who implied that we should have sex in front of my kids.
  • The guys who have asked me what turns me on, how big my boobs are, what I like in bed, whether I like big dicks etc. within 5 minutes of messaging me
  • The man who replied to my non-explicit, non-sexual personal ad on a polyamory subreddit with a 730 word missive describing what he fantasized about doing with me (to me) titled “Cum All Over My Bearded Face!”

I have so many questions about this bizarre dick pic culture we’ve allowed to manifest. What is the goal of sending women random pictures of a penis? What is the actual statistical success rate? Is the point just to know you exposed yourself and get off on it? Or do these men actually think that showing me their penis will make me immediately run to them to get on it? Has this worked for them in the past as a method of getting laid? What went through their mind the first time they ever decided to send an unsolicited dick pic? Is being pitiful really a good reason for someone to have sex with you anyway?

The internet and dating/chatting apps are not inherently bad. Online dating can be a blessing for busy people, introverted people, and shy people. Also for people who like being in their pajama pants. I met my boyfriend through a personal ad I posted on Craig’s List and he’s amazing. I’ve made great connections through OK Cupid, Craig’s List, and even Adult Friend Finder.

But in order to make those connections, I had to wade through piles of self-entitled, sexually explicit crap. Women are dealing with this on a daily basis. Why aren’t we doing something about it?

This month, someone is trying. In early September, Texas became the first state to pass legislation making sending sexually explicit photos a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Because the Texas law is so broad, Morris added, it could make it a crime to send a photo to a doctor for diagnosis, or to send a photo of oneself breastfeeding a baby.

The law may also face trouble in court, experts say. Sending nude pictures “enjoys the protection of the First Amendment because it is not a true threat, incitement, or negligent defamation of [a] private person,” Danielle Citron, a law professor at Boston University and vice president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, which fights revenge porn and other online abuse, told Vox in an email.

But the problem the Texas law is trying to address is serious and real, Citron said: “as a culture we know that getting unsolicited nudes can be emotionally taxing and harassing.” -Vox

Clearly the legislation isn’t without questions or potential issues, but it sure feels like a step in the right direction. This isn’t about nude photos at large, it’s about consent — having the choice of when and how you are exposed to another person’s bodily sexuality.

This is a part of our culture, and it’s time to stop letting boys and men think that this is an appropriate way to behave. That unwanted advances come first, and apologies come second if at all. That you don’t need to think about getting to know someone or even knowing their name before you literally put your penis right in their face. It’s time for culture to change.

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Rachael Hope

Written by

I’m that friend who sometimes shares too much, but I’ll also share my fries and dessert with you. Body/sex/fat positive babe. Insta @rachael.hope.writes

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