The last thing you expect on a Tuesday morning is a dick pic… as Hatch’s Amy Seaborn explains.
I wake up around 8 am. I roll over to my phone and notice a Snapchat notification from “Bunny”.
“This will be interesting,” I say to myself.
For the past few months I’ve been receiving Snapchats from random people. I have no idea who they are and I don’t know how they got my user name, because I don’t publicise it on any of my social media platforms. At first I thought they were bots designed to infect my phone with viruses. But then I discovered those “bots” had the ability to take and send pictures of their genitalia.
It only took a few messages for this mystery man to start sending me pictures of his penis and videos of him masturbating.
I told “Bunny” on multiple occasions that I wasn’t interested, but it didn’t make him stop. He continued to send videos until he finished, then he asked if I enjoyed it and if I wanted to be friends. I told him “no” and had a go at him for not knowing what “no” meant. To which he responded: “Your no is a yes for me haha.” To say I was angry was an understatement. He was swiftly blocked and I spent the rest of the morning feeling sick.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been spammed. Since then I’ve received my fair share of dick pics and every time I ask why I’ve been sent that image or video.
The majority come out of nowhere. No “Hi” or “Hey, do you want to see my penis?” Just the picture and nothing else. Some say “Hey” afterwards and ask if I enjoyed what they had sent me, but there’s nothing else to it.
Which is why I set out to discover just how many women had experienced this and if there were any men honest enough to admit sending these sorts of pics. It came down to the issue of consent.
What the experts say
I spoke with Dr Nicola Henry, a socio-legal scholar at Melbourne’s RMIT University whose research focuses on sexual assault, violence and harassment.
“Before camera-able technology, boys would scan their bottoms on the photocopier; it’s not a new thing,” she said. “The technology isn’t to blame but the technology has made it easier.”
Everyone has a different intention when sending these images – with or without consent. It could be to impress, flirt, have sex with the receiver or to intimate and harass them.
“Sending the image with the motivation to harass another person is a form of sexual harassment,” Dr Henry said. “When it makes a person feel humiliated, threatened, awkward, uncomfortable, offended, intimidated– when it’s unwanted and unwelcome– that’s when it constitutes sexual harassment.
“Under Australian law, sexual harassment is only unlawful when it takes place in a specific area of public life – for example; the workplace, accommodation, education, and in the goods and services industry. That means when the sexual harassment, whether it’s dick pics or unwelcome sexual behaviour, takes place outside of the workplace, then it isn’t considered to be sexual harassment.
“When it’s outside the legislation, there’s not a huge amount that can done, to be honest. People who do receive these images can contact the social media service or they can block the perpetrator.”
Blocking the perpetrator might stop them using pics to harass you, but the invasive and sick feeling lingers long after.
I know personally what it’s like to feel scared after being sent these images.
One young man I didn’t know sent me pictures of his penis then asked me what I was wearing. I ignored what he asked, then he snapped and said if I didn’t help him get harder and help him finish, he would find me. I was on my way to uni and it scared me. I was by myself and whether he was kidding or not, I wasn’t ready to defend myself. Even after I blocked and reported him, I still felt uneasy.
It makes you wonder what goes through their minds before and after sending these images.
“There’s a lot of pressure on young men to conform,” Dr Henry said. “In the same way there are many pressures on women to conform to a particular standard/stereotype around their gender.
“Young men conform to their heteronormative gender [and] around proving their masculinity. And this [dick pics] is one of many examples. It’s pretty damaging for that male if the image is released. Then he is taunted for the size and shape; then we are talking about bullying and harassment… and that can sometimes lead to low self-esteem or suicide.”
But this doesn’t excuse the behaviour.
There needs to be more discussion about what constitutes consent, because it’s clear not many people know what it means.
“It’s really hard to know if the effect will ever go away or die down,” Dr Henry said. “By having the education in place [for both sender and receiver] about respectful relationships, and the importance of consent – not just for young people, but for everyone – this kind of behaviour will hopefully reduce.”
In these cases then, what constitutes consent?
“A man requesting an explicit image from a woman and that woman sending a picture of herself doesn’t mean that [the woman has given] consent [for him] to return the favour. Even if the man has seen it as an invitation from the woman.”
What do the senders and receivers say?
I decided to conduct two surveys: one for men, one for women. Of the women I surveyed, 92 per cent said that they had received a dick pic, while 75 per cent of the men who responded said that they had sent one.
But 86 per cent of women claimed they never gave consent to receive the images, while only 23 per cent of men confessed that they had sent one without consent.
The results are similar to a survey conducted by YouGov earlier this year, which examined how many millennials had sent and received dick pics. It too found that women were being sent images without consent, with the majority of men denying they were unsolicited.
⚡ 41% of female millennials have received unsolicited “dick pics”, but male millennials are denying they’ve ever sent them…https://t.co/PNtnjepyDV pic.twitter.com/ZN5H48Bgwt
— YouGov (@YouGov) February 16, 2018
I asked both men and women: “How did you react?” Surprisingly, the answers I received were similar.
“Consensual pictures were warmly welcomed, the sender often receiving a token titty picture. Pictures sent without consent were responded to with a simple yet elegant picture of another better-looking dick.”
“I was disgusted, to be honest. I usually reject their advances and then block them on the social media app or block their number.”
“Laughed at the size, but then reported it to the appropriate social media team and blocked or deleted them.”
“I was the one who got the dick pic and didn’t like it at all!”
“Loved it, sometimes got a boob shot or a complete nude in return.”
“Was my boyfriend so it was received well, he sent back.”
When asked: “Why do you think men send these explicit images and videos to people without their consent?” the responses were mixed.
“Maybe because ‘society’ says it’s ok and we’ve all been conditioned to think it’s just something we have to deal with when a guy sends a dick pic. It’s socially acceptable, it’s a bit of fun, an ego boost or something to brag about with their mates. Like everyone just has to deal with random dick pics because men are so fragile that if we actually tell them that it’s their behaviour that needs to change to be more respectful… we may permanently and irreparably damage those ‘fragile egos’.”
“I wonder if it gives them a misplaced feeing of power and dominance, or whether it is something to do with the fact it is transactional so they don’t have to deal with a reaction face-to-face.”
“Surely, in 2018, they would know that what they are doing is disgusting and wrong. Men need to keep their pin dicks under wraps (literally). Girls don’t receive explicit images and go: ‘Aww, yes. I’m going to have sex with you now!’ We block the dude and laugh at his small soft cock with our friends.”
“For attention. Or maybe they find it easier to send a picture rather than talk to a girl.”
“I think a lot of men think of their nudes as a way of initiating a trade and they hope to get nudes in return. Or that some men are insecure about their penis’s shape and want an honest reaction from a woman. Or maybe they’re just really proud of it and they want to show it around.”
“Approval, voyeurism, the rush of people seeing your junk.”
“I don’t really know; I’ve never done it. I guess they are trying to be gross and get a laugh because they can’t expect to get anything out of it. Mix of hubris and toxic/hegemonic masculinity.”
“I believe that men think that women find dick pics as exciting as getting a titty pic.”
Social media sites prohibit accounts that promote or distribute pornographic content, particularly if the user is under 18. If notified, they will remove the offending content, terminate the account and possibly report the offender. Snapchat advises users experiencing harassment to block and report the sender. It then promises to review that account within 24 hours.
These are just some of the 50-odd dick pics that have been sent to my Snapchat account – each user has been blocked.