I Received My First Dick Pic On a Dating App
So that happened.
For those of you who have read my recent stories, you know that I’ve been going through it, on a personal level, for a hot minute. Five months ago, my marriage of eighteen years disintegrated when my husband quit marriage counseling and announced he no longer cared enough to try and stay together.
I lived in our basement for a while, moved into my own place, struggled with missing my children, and then wondered, out loud, how I was supposed to find quality men to date at my age. Or frankly, just any men at my age. Or maybe just any men, regardless of age.
Nearly two months ago, I decided to get on a dating app and try my luck. I found one that I was comfortable with, and took great care in creating a descriptive profile complete with pictures that I felt truly captured my personality and what was important in my life. I wanted to attract the right kind of attention. I wanted to meet new people, go on real-life dates, and someday, when I felt ready, get into another committed relationship.
I had heard the tales of women receiving unsolicited dick pics but I didn’t think it would happen to me. Somehow, the men who would visit my profile would be better than that, because my profile was better than that. It honestly never occurred to me that anyone would be so bold. So aggressive. So utterly disrespectful.
I was wrong. One morning at 8:30 a.m., just days after putting myself out there online, I opened the app to see a message from a thirty-five-year-old New Jersey man. He opened with “Hello beautiful. My name is Patrick.”
Normally, I completely ignore messages from people who come on to me with a reference to my appearance. Usually, those are the guys who don’t bother to read anything on my profile and base their interest in me solely on my pictures. However, this time I clicked on his profile to see what he was all about. His pictures were funny and I could tell he was a little full of himself. He seemed like the kind of guy who would be fun for about a minute and then you’d have nothing to talk about — so I didn’t respond.
He must have noticed that I viewed his profile, because five minutes later he sent a second message. Only this time there were no words. It was a picture of his large, erect penis protruding through the front of a pair of red boxer shorts. I was startled, to say the least. And then much to my surprise, a little impressed and a little turned on, which made me angry with myself. Wasn’t I supposed to be outraged?
I am a feminist. I don’t like to be wolf-whistled, groped, grabbed, and generally treated like there is nothing more to me than my body. I don’t like feeling as though my worth is tied up in being sexually attractive to men. I do not believe that the male gaze empowers me or is necessary for my happiness.
As a woman who is now entering middle-age, I have been more than happy to see much of the attention from men fall away as the years have passed. I have been happy to age into my role as an elder and a mother. As someone who has lived and loved and lost. As someone who has stories to tell and has gathered a bit of wisdom along the way. As someone who is ready for a different phase of life.
Just when I was ready to settle down into this role and write a few books and watch my children leave the nest and someday become a grandma, my husband flew the coop, and there I was all on my own. Trying to grapple with being single and dating again. Forced to reconcile my desire for companionship, sex, and love with the feeling of becoming a commodity. After all, I was “on the market” once again. And two minutes after dipping my toes into the dating pool, I encounter the ultimate in online dating aggression — the dick pic.
I probably did the wrong thing next, in fact, I’m sure of it. I responded to the picture in a haughty and teasing way. I gave the perpetrator a sarcastic compliment and told him I’d save the picture for my own pleasure later (I didn’t). I wanted him to know that his picture had not had the intended purpose — to shock and humiliate me. At least I assumed that was the purpose. I honestly didn’t know.
He acted offended by my attitude. He acted like a hurt little boy who had been reprimanded by his mother. Then he turned the tables on me and started asking questions about me, my likes and dislikes. He didn’t behave like I had imagined that a man who sends dick pics would behave. We talked back and forth for a few minutes like regular people, I didn’t act like someone who had been sexually assaulted. I couldn’t reconcile his behavior in my mind.
Curious about his motivation, I decided to ask why he would send such a picture to someone without their consent. I wanted to understand why men do these things, why they think it’s okay. At the same time, I was also beginning to worry that my engagement with him was teaching him that it was okay. That it wasn’t really a big deal. I worried that my attempt to show him he was powerless over me was failing big time. If he were truly powerless, I wouldn’t have responded at all, right?
His response threw me. He said the picture was an ice-breaker. An attempt to make us more comfortable with each other. Whoa. I didn’t expect that. An ice-breaker? Really? Then he asked for me to reciprocate and send him a picture. I refused. Within moments he sent a second picture and I blocked him from my profile. I deleted the pics and our conversation. I was ashamed and shaking as I closed the app.
Two weeks later, even though I thought he was blocked, he was able to send yet a third picture with the same opening line. Hello Beautiful. This time I reported him to the app and blocked him again. I’m not sure what happened, but I received an email that my complaint had been registered and they were looking into it. From that time, until I recently disabled my profile, I hadn’t heard from him again.
My experience with the “dick pic” phenomenon sparked a number of opposing feelings for me personally, which I believe illustrate the difficulty in standing up against perpetrators of visual sexual violence or any sexual violence for that matter. I also believe that women like me, who have been victims of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, are often slower to recognize signs of abuse and assault when they happen.
We have been trained to believe it is normal to be treated as objects of men’s sexual desires. We have been trained to believe that men can do what they want to us without consequences. We still have a hard time standing up for ourselves and reporting incidents when they occur. We believe ourselves to be complicit in our own abuse and are ashamed to admit it. We don’t want to make men angry. We don’t want to be seen as bitches who don’t get the joke.
Ways I Discounted My Own Feelings
- I was embarrassed that I was a little turned on by the photo. How could it be assault?
- I was confused by the perpetrator’s lack of remorse and obvious hurt feelings. Did I misunderstand what he was trying to convey with the image?
- I couldn’t reconcile the idea of a sexual predator also asking questions about me, and appearing to be a nice guy. Was he just misunderstood?
- I felt panicked when he asked for a picture. I felt like I had to comply. Did I owe him something by conversing with him instead of ignoring him?
- I didn’t become truly enraged until he sent the second picture. Why did it take so long? Wouldn’t real abuse be obvious immediately?
- I was scared when blocking him didn’t work and I received a third photo. Only then did I do what I should have done from the beginning and reported him. Since I was so slow to accuse, did that mean that I lost my right to do so?
I waited for weeks before writing this story. I thought about giving it a humorous slant, but then realized that nothing about this story is actually funny. Dick pics are not harmless, they are not funny, they are not a rite of passage for women venturing into online dating. Dick pics are a form of sexual assault, the same as unwanted groping or being “flashed” in a public setting. I realized that because I was ashamed of how I initially handled the situation, I must write this story for other women who have felt the same way.
As women, we must get past our discomfort with speaking truth to power. We must quit blaming ourselves and start holding men accountable for their actions. We must stop normalizing sexual assault. But in order to do all of that, we must first believe that we are worthy of better. After fifty years, I am still learning and growing, but it is never too late.