Sex Ed

The Psychology of Unsolicited Dick Pics: How Many Men Have Sent Them, and Why?

November 13, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller

One of the most popular posts I’ve ever written on the blog was about why so many men send unsolicited dick pics to women. At the time, there wasn’t really any published research on the subject, so I just laid out a few theories and hypotheses that might explain the behavior (which you can read about here). Fortunately, however, we now have some data that can shed light on the origins of unsolicited dick pics.

The first study published on this subject recently appeared in the Journal of Sex Research [1], which I wrote about in a column over at Men’s Health. This study, which involved a sample of over 1,000 men (all of whom said that they only sleep with women), found that 48% of these guys had sent an unsolicited dick pic before, while 52% had not.

The men who sent unsolicited photos tended to be younger and more narcissistic (meaning they had an overly inflated sense of self-worth); they also reported holding more sexist attitudes. The most common reason they reported for sending these photos was because they were hoping to get nude pics sent back in return; however, different guys sent them for different reasons, which you can learn more about in the full article in Men’s Health.

The second study is one that I conducted and just presented at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality conference. My survey involved an online sample of about 400 men, of whom about one-quarter identified as something other than heterosexual.

Overall, 41% of the men in my sample had sent some kind of dick pic before. On average, they did so 22 times; however, there was quite a bit of variability, with some people sending far more dick pics than others. In fact, of those who had sent dick pics before, 13% said they had sent them more than 100 times.

Among dick pic senders, 49% reported having sent an unsolicited photo, meaning that they didn’t ask the other person before sending and the other person didn’t request the photo. Most of the unsolicited photos went to women (56%), with the remainder going to men (44%). In general, non-heterosexual men were more likely to have sent unsolicited dick pics than heterosexual men (57% vs. 39%, respectively).

Similar to the other study mentioned above, most men hoped that the person who received the photo would reciprocate with nudes of their own. When I asked whether the photos were reciprocated, most said that they were, and that was true regardless of recipient gender (a finding that was truly surprising to me). Also, one-third of the men who sent unsolicited photos reported that they eventually had sex with the person they sent the photo to.

The fact that reciprocation and sex were relatively common outcomes of sending an unsolicited dick pic helps to explain why this behavior continues to be so common, despite the way it is lamented in the media and the fact that steps are being taken to legally ban unsolicited dick pics. If men who send these photos are finding that their desired goals are frequently obtained, this reinforces the behavior and makes it more likely that they will repeat it in the future.

Interestingly, and inconsistent with the previous study, I didn’t find any links between sending unsolicited dick pics and being more narcissistic. What I did find was that, for heterosexual men only, sending unsolicited dick pics was linked to lower self-esteem. Straight men who sent these photos also tended to be lower on the Big Five personality trait of agreeableness. Agreeableness is a trait that involves having care and concern for the well-being of others, so being low on it means that you just don’t care that much about others’ feelings. These men also tended to be higher on Machiavellianism, one of the Dark Triad personality traits, which involves having manipulative and deceitful tendencies.

Unsolicited dick pics had no links to personality traits among gay and bisexual men, suggesting that this phenomenon is probably driven by very different things depending on men’s sexual orientation.

So how do we explain the seemingly inconsistent findings? How can sending unsolicited dick pics be linked to both high narcissism and low self-esteem in straight men?

It appears that these studies were tapping into different groups of guys. Specifically, the study published in the Journal of Sex Research involved a sample that was about 5 years younger on average than mine and, further, was more racially diverse (whereas my sample was 77% White, the other was 54% White).

In other words, in a younger and more diverse group of men, we see that unsolicited dick pics are linked to narcissism; however, in an older and Whiter sample of men, we see unsolicited dick pics linked to low self-esteem instead.

Clearly, more research on this subject is needed before we can draw firm conclusions. It its also clear that we need to replicate these findings in diverse samples and give further attention to how demographic factors like age and race/ethnicity might play a role in shaping motives.

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (facebook.com/psychologyofsex), Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit (reddit.com/r/psychologyofsex) to receive updates. You can also follow Dr. Lehmiller on YouTube and Instagram.

[1] Oswald, F., Lopes, A., Skoda, K., Hesse, C. L., & Pedersen, C. L. (2019). I’ll Show You Mine so You’ll Show Me Yours: Motivations and Personality Variables in Photographic Exhibitionism. The Journal of Sex Research.

[2] Lehmiller, J.J. (2019, November). The psychology of “dick pics”: How many men have sent unsolicited photos of their penises and why? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Denver, CO.

Image Source: 123RF/Björn Forenius

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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