A Unified Theory of Why Men Send Dick Pics

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Whether sent by governor or quarterback, the dick pic has derailed a career or two. Why it might be a bad professional move to send a photo of your genitalia to an unsuspecting human is obvious, but the motivation for the behavior is a smartphone-era mystery.

In a good and necessary post, Harvard sex scholar Justin Lehmiller unspools the various threads of dick-pic-ing. Like “almost all sexual behaviors, it’s likely the case that multiple explanations are correct and that there isn’t a singular motive,” observes Lehmiller, who literally wrote the textbook on the psychology of human sexuality. Nonetheless, patterns present themselves:

Maybe it’s because straight men overestimate female attraction.

It’s a classic case of “sexual misperception,” as Norwegian researchers like to say: signs of friendliness like being into a conversation, smiling, and laughing are interpreted as romantic or sexual interest. Confirmation bias strikes again.

Maybe it’s an expression of a masculine evolutionary niche.

Evolutionary psychology, that happily patriarchal vein of research, contends that the sexual misperception stuff happens because of something called error management theory. It goes like this: Thinking that anyone who looks at you is into you, as a guy, is good for your reproduction odds because it reduces the chance that you’ll miss chances to get laid, Lehmiller says. Like Wayne Gretzky purportedly said, you miss every shot you don’t take.

By that logic, a guy’s thinking some girl on Tinder wants to see his junk is a way of leaving no sexual stone unturned. (Note: “[E]volution doesn’t necessarily always favor the selection of socially acceptable or socially desirable behaviors,” Lehmiller adds.)

It’s because of exhibitionism.

Some people get turned on by the thought of thoroughly grossing out others. “Although most people think of exhibitionism in terms of guys who flash strangers on the subway or in a park, a similar kind of behavior can also occur online or over the phone,” Lehmiller explains, adding that psychologists think that exhibitionists act like that because they have a tough time forming actual functional relationships — so the dick pic springs from a need for intimacy. When our colleagues at the Cut asked a selection of men about the phallic photography, the answers were put more roughly, like: “Why do men send them? Because we’re horny. Dumb and horny.”

A Unified Theory of Why Men Send Dick Pics