Once upon a time I was engaged in a correspondence on a certain dating site with a man who I’ll call…well, let’s call him Richard, shall we?
He sent me a one-line message. I don’t remember what it was, but in it, he essentially asked me to dominate him. I was bored and I was lonely, and he was submissive, so I replied. (I don’t meet submissive men on vanilla dating sites very often, so sometimes I’m willing to give a bit of leeway.) His profile was nothing but wank fodder, and his picture was a close-up of his nipple. My reply was prickly. In it, I told him that if he was interested, he would actually have to get to know me as a person, not as a fantasy. He responded with an enormous amount of enthusiasm and with a well thought-out, grammatically correct reply, bare of wank fodder. I was pleasantly surprised. He told me about himself and inquired about my life, my interests. I asked for a real picture. He offered clothed pictures or naked. I told him that, having only just made his acquaintance (and only online at that) I would prefer clothed. He sent me a number of pictures of himself, clothed, but then once again offered naked pictures. I declined again, but offered to meet him for coffee.
And so we met, and we drank coffee, and we talked about a number of things, for awhile. We talked about our jobs, our hobbies. We talked about kink. It was a fairly mundane first meeting. Richard was polite. He was not at all pushy about wanting to play or date. I told him it was nice to meet him, and it was. Later, I received another message from Richard:
Would you like some naked pictures of me now?
No thank you, I said.
We messaged back and forth a bit, and talked about tentative plans to meet up again, but never planned anything concrete. And then, once again, he asked it.
Are you sure I can’t send you any naked pictures of me?
There were a number of things which struck me about this. One was that he either didn’t listen well or had very poor short-term memory since I had explicitly told him I didn’t want naked pictures of him. Another was that he was awfully intent on sending them to me.
Why are you so set on sending me naked pictures of yourself? I asked.
Because I want you to like me, he said.
Richard was not my first experience with unsolicited dick pics. As a female-identified user of social media, I have been bombarded with them, from men I don’t know on dating sites, to friends who get drunk, to guys who are trying to flirt with me.
What I think most men who send unwanted, unasked for dick pics don’t understand, is that to the receiver, it feels like assault. And it IS assault. If the act of sending unsolicited dick pics was translated to “meatspace”, it would look like this: the man in question and I would be having a pleasant conversation, and then suddenly, he whips out his dick, with no warning.
The cowardly anonymous quality of technology allows us to hide behind it, and consequently, do things we wouldn’t normally do otherwise, without fear of “IRL” consequences. It allows for the senders of these pictures to essentially, non-confrontationally flash others. And this is part of rape culture. As women, we are told that our desires don’t matter, that any desires we do have must revolve around men and their desires. Our whole lives, women are inundated with fear, and expectation of sexual assault. To us, the receiver of the non-consensual dick pic, it is just a confirmation that what we want should be subjugated to the wants of others.
And that sucks.
The sad thing about all of this is that I genuinely love a good dick pic. I like dicks. I like the way they feel inside me, I like the way they feel in my hands, I like the way they look. They’re pretty. They are nice to look at! But I have rarely had the occasion to be happy about a dick pic, because it has almost always been thrust upon me non-consensually.
But now, back to Richard. There was another thing he told me that struck me. His profile told me he was bisexual, but he told me otherwise. “This is kind of awful,” he said. “But I’m not attracted to men. I don’t really like it when they touch me…it’s just nice to be wanted.”
Fetlife, the great normalizer, the place where everyone’s kink is respected and everyone is equally represented </sarcasm> has no room for dick pics. All over Fetlife, people say “Don’t put a dick pic as your profile picture.” Some go even further and say not to have any dick pics in your profile at all. “Nobody wants to see that,” people say. Men say it. Women say it. Genderqueer folks say it. Nobody wants to see a penis. Nobody wants men. (I am going to leave off the fact that men are not the only ones who have cocks and that gender is more complicated than penis-havers and penis-not-havers. That is another post.) Men are not allowed to be objects of desire. And you know what? That sucks too.
I just wanted you to like me, he said.
I just wanted. you. to like me.
I never saw Richard again. Besides the fact that I wasn’t sure that we had any chemistry, it was clear that it wouldn’t work out between us–he clearly couldn’t listen to my wants and needs. I told him that sending me things I specifically told him I didn’t want wouldn’t be a good way to get him to like me, and yet he persisted. I haven’t heard from him in well over a year now. But my thoughts keep coming back to him. His eagerness to send me dick pics was just a symptom of an overall need he had that wasn’t fulfilled: he just wanted to be wanted.
Richard’s desire to be wanted overpowered his ability to respect me when I said “No.” This is not something that should ever happen. But it doesn’t invalidate the fact that the desire to be desired is a real, legitimate desire, and something that, as a whole, men aren’t allowed to experience in our society. The prevalence of unsolicited dick pics are not only assaultive to people, but they make dick pics something that people don’t solicit. This just contributes to the overall problem of how, societally, we brand men as unwantable. We frame men as the pursuers and women as the pursued, and we don’t allow it any other way. We don’t allow men to be wanted. We don’t allow women to want. This post is not about which one of those is worse–it’s not a contest. This post is about the fact that they both suck. These things are not unrelated. We need to get to a place where everyone is allowed to be wanted, and everyone is allowed to want, and just as importantly, everyone is allowed to not want.
Until then, it’s just going to suck for everyone.