I'm Trying To Get A Firm Grasp Of Why People Send Dick Pics

Its origins go back centuries.

It’s been made known to me over the past six months that I am officially aged. I'm a veteran of sorts of the work, relationship and life space. I’m not quite sure how it happened. I spent the majority of my 20s being told I was young, inexperienced and there was plenty of time to sort out the life “details”. Then I blinked and I was in my mid-30s and, well... old(er).

Surrounded by a myriad of young 20-somethings who suddenly looked to me for “wise” words on a number of topics, it became apparent to me that I was a dilettante, specifically in the dating space. Having been in a relationship for almost a decade, my dating prowess was restricted to a time long, long ago, in a place far, far away.

Say 'cheese'. Image: Getty.

As I listened to the dating conversations which swirled around me, it occurred to me there were obvious patterns. For example, the age-old questions kept coming up. The type of narratives and questions that have plagued generations for years, if not centuries. Things like, should I go back to them? Have I wasted my time in this relationship? Why did they say this? You know, the 101-relationship stuff.

And then there was a repetitive topic which just kept looping back. No matter how many times I tried to ignore it, there it was, present, persistent.

Put simply, the dick in the room.

Yes, you’ve got it. The ladies (and some men) wondered, 'why did he send me this dick pic?'

I just thought it was part of modern dating. Image: Getty. 

Now, I’ve never had an online dating profile on any app. Back when I was footloose and fancy free there was a certain stigma associated with being on a dating app. They came with the quiet scent of desperation. Intoxicating, but in the wrong sense of the word. More like asphyxiation and less like desirable. If you couldn’t meet someone IRL there was likely an issue with you, which could only be concealed through the rose-coloured glasses of the internet.

Since then, a decade has passed and the dating app imprimatur -- gone. Completely. These days if you’re not on a dating app, you’re not dating.

As a dating anthropologist of sorts, I was and continue to be fascinated by the “rules of the game”. Anthropologist and semiotics master Pierre Bourdieu wrote about the rules of the game, the behaviours that we observe in certain social spaces which are culturally and socially acceptable. Indoctrinated, part of our DNA, and impossible to get around. Every social space has a series of unwritten rules of behaviour, whether it’s the netball court, the work space, the tour group, or the dating app.

How were people behaving on dating apps? I was curious to know. What were the guidelines for engagement? My much more seasoned friends informed me there was one thing that happened persistently on the dating app -- the dick pic.

There we were, back again, at the same place. The. Dick. Pic.

They told me that were I to take a foray into the dating app world, I should be prepared for the dick pic, and lots of them. It was a common part of the dating parlance. Mostly submitted on spec but difficult to ignore.

I wondered, why?

What makes someone think sending a dick pic is a good idea? That being assaulted by a photograph of someone’s penis is suddenly going to make the other person rip their clothes off? Why was this going on?

"There was a void between intention / action and reception." (Image: Getty Images)

It became obvious there was some sort of language gap. In the mind of the dick pic sender this was a good idea, in the mind of the receiver of the pic, this was not. There was a void between intention/action and reception.

I wanted to get into the psychology behind it all.

The thing is, people have been scrawling penises since we could pick up a stone and scratch it against a wall. There’s dick pic graffiti on the pyramids (no joke, this is true). Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were scrawling phalluses in public places. People donkey vote in the same manner. Imagine that, you’re opening votes at an election, and instead of finding a tick or cross, you find a crudely designed cock and balls.

2,500-year-old erotic graffiti discovered in Astypalaia, Greece declares"Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona (Νικασίτιμος οἶφε Τιμίονα)." (Image: Helena Smith)

I couldn’t get to the bottom of it, but I continue to wonder: Why?

I’m sure Bourdieu would have been fascinated by the phenomenon. A socio-cultural dialectic, exacerbated by the dating app -- or again, put simply, just someone being a dick?