Stereotypes about male sexuality are damaging for everyoneGiorgioni

If you’re a woman with access to the internet, there’s a very strong chance that you’ve received a picture of someone’s penis.

Out of the blue, unsolicited and lacking any context, the standard dick pic does nothing for me. I’d probably get more pleasure from looking at a picture of a lampshade. It’d certainly be more aesthetically pleasing. The feeling you get when a random stranger sends you a photo of their cock is the feeling I’d imagine the owner of a dog gets when it brings a dead animal into the house as a ‘gift’. You don’t really want it. It’s kind of gross, but you’re supposed to act impressed.

Unrequested dick pics are a weird phenomenon of the contemporary social media age. The equivalent, in real life, would be to print off a photograph of your penis, approach a woman in the street and show it to her without saying a word. Maybe people did that in the olden days – I don’t know. Maybe, before cameras were invented, people drew pictures of their dicks and sent them via pigeon. Either way, it’s nasty, and it’s unsolicited.

In non-picture form, there is a name for showing people your genitals when they didn’t ask to see them. It’s called ‘flashing’ and I’m pretty sure that it counts as a criminal offence. So why is receiving unrequested dick pics such a normal experience for women online?

Madeline Holden is the exception. Running a blog called ‘Critique My Dick Pic’, she voluntarily inundates herself with submissions. I suspect that we all have a lot to learn from her project. Maddie tells me that, like most women, she was used to dick pics being “unsolicited and of terrible quality”, so when she received an “unusually good” one from someone she was seeing at the time, it was jarring. Joking with her friends that they should create a public service to teach men to take better dick pics, ‘Critique My Dick Pic’ was born.

I ask Maddie what makes a good dick pic. She tells me that “the worst thing about most dick pics is that they’re too zoomed-in and narrowly focused on the dick itself,” which I totally agree with. So does my friend, who’s looking over my shoulder as I write this, reporting to me that most times she’s received dick pics, she didn’t ask for them and that she thinks they’re gross.

The consensus between my friends and I is that a huge part of arousal is mental, facilitated by psychological and emotional context. A zoomed-in picture of a dick tragically neglects this dimension. Maddie elaborates that “the best dick pics avoid this trap by being more contextualised, with a wider frame,” further adding that success results from “paying attention to things like lighting, framing, setting and the overall tone of the picture”.

But, “before you even begin to think about the picture’s quality,” Maddie tells me, the most important rule for dick pic sending is that it is consensual. If you’re considering pressing send, she says that it should be to someone “you are sure wants to see it”. With consent being the basis of her blog, Maddie’s ‘Critique My Dick Pic’ serves to change gendered dynamics in an important way.

She projects a body-positive message, too. Her ethos is to critique ‘with love’. I ask her what this means: “It means I will never be snarky or cruel about a sender’s body.”Nor will she “go into the merits of the body parts themselves”. This highlights an important issue. Men are bombarded with imagery of masculinity as big, ripped and 12-inches long. With the average penis size in the UK being between four and five inches, it’s no shock that many people miss the point of her blog in seeking validation that their dick is ‘good enough’. “They want me to tell them that it’s big, basically,” she laments.

In running ‘Critique My Dick Pic’, Maddie gets a rare look at the fragility that a lot of senders are too afraid to show offline. She reports that “it’s not unusual for men to use my inbox as a kind of informal therapy session to vent all their insecurities about their bodies,” revealing “how crushingly vulnerable a lot of men are about their dicks”.

But Maddie’s blog addresses this issue by putting traditionally marginalised bodies in the spotlight, encouraging submissions from trans people, for example. We need more body shame-free spaces like hers to tell people that it’s okay not to look like the images we’re exposed to in mainstream media.

Online, people are taking back the narrative from a system that profits from our insecurities, celebrating their bodies through hashtags. Importantly, people who make ad campaigns or billboards are ensuring that they’re being seen.

We need to keep talking about body image.

You can find Maddie Holden’s blog, ‘Critique My Dick Pick’, on Tumblr, but please be aware that it contains many explicit images