Finally, the Psychological Reasons Men Send Those Unsolicited Dick Pics

Photo: Stocksy/Alberto Bogo
There's a time and a place for sharing private photos. For some people, it's many years into an LTR, as a way to keep things sexy and fresh. For others, it's in that early infatuation phase, when you just can't get enough of your partner. But—bafflingly—it can happen shortly after "hello" (or swiping right).

According to the 2017 Singles in America survey conducted by, 49 percent of women have received an unsolicited dick pic. And if you're dating penis-having people right now, you're probably sitting there thinking, Duh.

"Guys would ask if I wanted to see their penis before I even met them," says one New York City-based woman in her thirties about her online-dating experiences. "As if that's the selling point for me: a picture of a semi-flaccid penis, in inevitably bad lighting, with bad cropping, and just all-around bad."

According to, oh, every brunch I've been to for the past couple years, dick pics are simply not the thirst traps these dudes clearly believe 'em to be. But what does science say?

According to, oh, every brunch I've been to for the past couple years, dick pics are simply not the thirst traps these dudes clearly believe 'em to be. But what does science say?

"Despite how common this behavior is, I haven’t really found any research that specifically addresses it," Harvard sex scholar Justin Lehmiller, PhD, writes on his site, Sex and Psychology. But he points out, "There’s a large body of research indicating that men aren’t very good at determining how interested women are in sex."

Lehmiller is a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and literally wrote the book on sex via Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life and this textbook. So, even without peer-reviewed studies to lean on, he came up with a few possible highly educated guesses as to why you're getting a parade of penises on your phone, whether you want to or not.

The evolutionary argument

"What happens when straight guys talk to female strangers is that they tend to mistake signs of friendliness for flirting. This is thought to stem from something called error management theory, an evolutionary theory that suggests men and women have evolved specific cognitive biases that are likely to assist in successful reproduction," he writes.

"Overperceiving a female stranger’s interest in sex—whether on Tinder or in the real world—could be viewed as adaptive from the perspective of this theory in that it reduces the likelihood that men will pass up any potential reproductive opportunities."

Okay, Darwin, got it, got it. So it's survival of the...photogenic? That makes sense, except that (at least among a lot of cis hetero women) these not-asked-for photos aren't exactly stoking desire. (One friend of mine even told a potential suitor, "Don't send a photo! I'm going to see it soon for real." And he sent it away. Relationship over, before it began.)

But the idea that "the cost-to-benefit ratio favors this kind of behavior," as Dr. Lehmiller points out, hits a bit of a snag if it doesn't actually lead to sex—and it often doesn't. This reality brings about a much more sinister motivating logic behind sending the lewd photo—along with questions about consent and boundaries.

The power trip argument

"While most of the guys who send these unsolicited photos are probably hoping to receive a positive response—one that ultimately leads to sex—it’s likely that at least a few are doing it because they instead hope to shock and offend the recipient," he says, comparing them to old-school obscene phone calls and exhibitionism.

So, is every guy who texts you a sexually explicit surprise actually on the road to Louis CK-land? Or worse?

A brilliantly simple way to interpret an unsolicited dick pic? "They’re letting you know that that’s exactly what they’re interested in. They’re interested in sex," Lila Darville, sex and relationship expert, says.

“When unsolicited dick pictures are sent, men are showing to us that they feel entitled to our response. You can feel objectified because the man is trying to elicit our sexual wants by just putting it out there,” says sex and relationship expert (and Well+Good Council member) Lila Darville. “There are just huge presumptions being made, rather than genuine connection and response. And consent is so layered. It’s not just a yes or no—it’s an enthusiastic yes. It’s so much more nuanced than that.”

A brilliantly simple way to interpret an unsolicited dick pic? "They’re letting you know that that’s exactly what they’re interested in. They’re interested in sex. They’re not really interested in getting to know you and what you want,” Darville says.

What to do PPP (post-penis pic)?

Darville points out that sexy snaps can be a healthy libido booster for more established relationships, and since people tend to repeat what worked with their last love, it could be a case of trying to make sexual lightning strike twice.

"Whenever you’re meeting someone new, you default to what has worked before. And sometimes it isn't a match. Sometimes you can see it when you're first having sex with a new person. It’s like, 'Who is he having sex with? Because it’s not me,'" she laughs. “This could be a really good guy whom this worked for the last time that he used it. He’s just made a general sweeping belief and thought that’s what girls want. There can be an innocent way of engaging in that kind of behavior.”

Darville points out that examples of healthy masculinity and healthy sexual expression are hard to come by as we're growing up—and that none of us received the sex education we probably needed. So having a sense of humor and some empathy is crucial.

That being said, if you feel like telling him off, do that, Darville says. Trust your instincts. But if you're genuinely interested and think this could be an epic (epic!) miscalculation on your potential date's part, Darville suggests this approach: "You could say, 'I can see how you might think that that is a turn on in that this is connective in some way, but this is how I feel about it.'  Communicating that recognizes the behavior—doesn’t judge it, it recognizes it—and you're responding to that."

Hey, you know never know—he might be receptive, apologetic, and the whole exchange may lead to a deeper bond in your potential relationship. "If this is someone you want to feel a connection with, that is the way to go about doing that instead of shutting it down," Darville says. If he reacts negatively, though: "Then you have the information you need."

And as someone who's made it her mission in life to make everyone's getting-it-on game as pleasurable as possible (she's the one who introduced us to the A-spot and the PS-spot, after all), Darville has advice for guys who are about to hit "send" on that shady shot when you're still in the will-we-or-won't-we stage: “I would suggest no one ever send a dick pic at that point. Best case is, she loves it. But no matter what, the mystery’s gone.”

Want serious sexual empowerment? Yoni massage to the rescue. And here's the one thing you should do every morning for a healthier sex life

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