In Defense of the Dick Pic

Yes, Anthony Weiner's penis sexts probably did turn on his fake girlfriend

I’ve never taken a dick pic. Sorry, that’s a lie. The first time I got a digital camera, when I was 13 or 14, I took a few selfies, checked them out, and then deleted them. It’s been a secret until now, because what I didn’t do was send them to my distant e-girlfriend, Carlos Danger-style. Most would probably laud my restraint; the view offered yesterday by my colleague Joel Mathis appears to be the conventional one: “Has a woman ever been seduced by a dick pic?”

That the answer is so obviously “no,” as he and others have concluded, is an easy assumption to make, given the buffoonish way in which celebrity penis sexts seem to be transmitted. But would we ever ask the same question of a man receiving a photo of a woman’s breasts or vagina via SMS? Of course not. Boys will be boys. Yet we assume that women are repulsed by — or at least uninterested in — the stand-alone sight of an erect, male dick. In fact, that’s exactly what turns them on.

In his recent book What Do Women Want: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, the journalist Daniel Bergner describes an experiment run by a sexologist named Meredith Chivers in which a group of women — straight and lesbian — sat down in LA-Z-BOY chairs while shown pornographic movies and photos. To measure how turned on the women became, Chivers used little machines called plethysmographs that track the sort of blood flow that leads to vaginal wetness. Upon watching a variety of scenes — man-on-man, woman-on-woman, man-on-woman, bonobo-on-bonobo — she found that every single woman was aroused by every single image she saw.

By contrast, when a group of straight women was shown four images — a flaccid penis, a half-concealed vulva, a full-on female “crotch shot” and an erect penis — only one turned them on.

In all four, the genitalia were tightly framed, mostly disembodied; there was little else to be seen. This time, the subjects’ blood wasn’t indiscriminate. It rushed much, much more when an erection occupied the screen than when any other images were on the monitor.

Indeed, the solo photo of the taut penis, even more than a picture of a buff “Adonis” with a slack penis, “filled vaginal blood vessels and sent the red line of the plethysmograph high.” This experiment, along with the rest of Bergner’s book, remind us how Victorian our notions of female desire remain. Acceptable displays of female sexuality, he argues convincingly, have been largely constructed by men and unwittingly internalized by women. (Straight women underreported being turned on by lesbian porn, and none of the women said they were turned on by Bonobo sex.) The logic that governs the great dick pick debate is basically an extension of the biological determinism — men are built to spread seeds; women are built for monogamy–that Bergner debunks. A woman’s sexual appetite, he finds, is an “underestimated and contrained force” that’s in many ways deeper and more ravenous than its XY counterpart.

Then again, was Anthony Weiner really erect in this picture?