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Dick pics have been getting a lot of flak lately. Ryan Reynolds was recently praised all over the Internet for saying he “can't think of anything more threatening to send a woman than a picture of a penis.” Feminists in particular have been down on dick pics; Jezebel and Bustle have both chimed in with guides on when to send them (the answer: basically never; even an untrimmed bush is a disqualifier).
Don’t get me wrong: It’s important to obtain consent before exchanging NSFW photos, as with any sexual act. Any photo containing nudity of any sort, male or female, constitutes sexual harassment when it’s unsolicited. But I have solicited dick pics. And I’m feeling a bit slut-shamed for that right now.
In the media and in conversations with other women, I’ve seen objections to dick pics go beyond contempt for sexual misconduct and border on slut-shaming and body-shaming. This anti-dick-pic crusade not only patronizes women by trying to protect them from something they may actually like, but also stems from a few problematic assumptions. Here are a few of the beliefs I’ve noticed lurking behind today’s anti-penis-photo sentiment:
1. Women are not visual.
Of course, women are not the only people who receive dick pics. But often, I hear the argument that dick pics are a lost cause because women do not get sexually aroused by looking at images. Advocating one offensive stereotype after another, anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher told The New York Observer, “I think that a man wants to see a woman’s body and a woman may want to see a man in the picture with … a Rolex watch or a business suit or a pair of cool jeans.”
Well I, for one, enjoy all sorts of images as sexting aids, dicks included — and I could not care less what kind of watch the owner of the dick is wearing. If I’m fantasizing about someone, his dick is presumably somewhere in the fantasy, so laying it all out in front of me just helps make the mental image more vivid. And if I’m sleeping with someone, well, why would I put something in my body that I didn’t want to look at? That just doesn’t make any sense.
Some people don’t share my reaction, and that’s okay. But according to science, at least some do! One study showed that images of erect penises consistently increased blood flow to most straight women’s vaginas.
To which I say, DUH. After all, it's a body part many of us enjoy incorporating into our bedroom routines.
2. Penises are unsightly.
The sex-positivity movement has done a pretty good job challenging the assumption that vaginas are unattractive, but penises have received less affirmation. Dicks have been slammed in ways that we would never slam vaginas.
In the viral video “Women React to Dick Pics,” women’s responses ranged from “Hopefully he has a good personality” to “I fucking hate you.” What if we told people with vaginas that “a cringe-filled ‘ewww’” characterized others’ reactions to the sight of their genitalia? I think we’d see that for what it is: body shaming. But when we say these things about dicks, it’s feminist?
If people really couldn't stand to look at penises, we wouldn't see drawings of them all over bathroom stalls, outsides of buildings, and the Internet. Just saying.
3. Penises are threatening.
“In terms of sexy, it’s just a rung below a picture of yourself committing domestic terrorism,” Ryan Reynolds said in his famous anti-dick-pic rant. Um… excuse me? A body part is equivalent to domestic terrorism?
Again, nonconsensual sexual acts are threatening, but penises contain no inherent threat, at least no more than vaginas. They can actually be very sensitive and vulnerable. If we view them as aggressive, maybe it’s because of the stereotype that males are more aggressive.
Still, I have to acknowledge that the perception that women dislike dick pics didn’t come from nowhere; it largely comes from those who have received them. So, why do some women seem turned off by dick pics, even when they have asked for them? Maybe the ones they’re receiving just aren’t very artfully constructed. In the simultaneously hilarious and insightful Tumblr Critique My Dick Pic, Madeleine Holden gives advice on optimizing dick pics based on criteria like lighting, positioning, and inclusion of non-dick body parts. All dicks have the potential to turn someone on, she argues, if they’re presented the right way.
Or maybe, some people just don’t like dick pics. There's nothing wrong with not wanting photos of male genitalia on your phone. What's wrong is when we act like such photos are objectively gross and make people feel gross for wanting them, or for simply possessing penises, for that matter.
Personally, there comes a point in most of my relationships where my iPhone’s photo library just feels naked without my partner’s dick on display. And it’s not fair that I feel weird about that while men ask women for nude photos all the time without shame.
What feminist would tell a woman who sends nude photos to just keep her tits in her shirt already, or that she shouldn’t send a picture of her vagina unless she has trimmed her pubes that day? That would probably come off body-shaming toward the person in the photos and slut-shaming toward both her and the person who enjoyed receiving them.
Some people send dick pics for their own pleasure without concern for what their partners want, and that's not cool. This article is not an invitation to pull down your pants and take out your phone. But we shouldn’t condemn an entire activity just because some people do it without consent. Dick pics can be a lot of fun. I find it incredibly empowering to be the one lustfully gazing at someone else in a culture where women are stereotypically the ones looked at.
To those with dicks: As with anything, make sure your partner is interested before sending a photograph of your genitalia, and perhaps take some pointers from Critique My Dick Pic to induce optimal sexual arousal. But don’t take it personally if they’re not interested. Your penis, like all body parts, is perfectly lovely.
And to those who solicit dick pics: You are not a giant perv, you are not requesting something akin to “domestic terrorism,” and you are definitely not alone. We are normal, sexual beings, and we will no longer be shamed for it, dammit.