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The question: I have been dating a guy for two months. A few weeks ago, he "sexted" me a photo of his penis, late at night. I was sleeping, and I didn't know what to do or how to response when I saw it in the morning. He saw that I "read" it. I still haven't said anything to him about it. A few friends say they get these pictures often, but I'm still thinking he's kind of weird. Is this normal behaviour for men these days?
The answer: First things first: Do not confuse your exhibitionist man with Anthony Weiner, the New York mayoral candidate and married, cheating sexter who shared his junk with all kinds of classy cyber-ladies. Why Weiner had continued with this behaviour after the initial revelations of his infidelity in 2011 is a mystery to me, but a politician sharing his digital junk is certainly a study in the worst kind of stupidity.
In the light of the scandal, many experts have weighed in on "dick pic" behaviour, with tech gurus, psychologists and sexologists alike calling Weiner and those who send such photos narcissistic extroverts at best, twisted sociopaths at worst. But I don't think you need a PhD to theorize what's going on in the mind of your guy.
Rather, you need real people – those who send and those who receive these pictures – to decipher what's going on. So I embarked on a week-long quest in the name of penis photography.
One colleague, who has received many an inappropriate photo in her day, says it's just boys being boys: "Guys really love their penises. They want to impress you. They love their penis, they send you their penis. That simple."
At the dog park, I learn this: "There are ways to be sexy in a text, but from what I know about women, they like words far more than actual photos," says Paul, who considers himself well-versed in the digital "cat-and-mouse game" of seducing a woman through a phone. "This guy needs to know he's the only the one who thinks his dick is special."
At least a dozen girls in a bar agree. "No one should do that, ever! It's not hot. It's just rude and crude," says Joy, making a screwface at the thought, or reliving an old memory.
But then came the advocates of the digital penis. My dear friend Katherine told me she saved a photo that an ex had sent, at her request, because it was the "most beautiful, perfect penis" she'd ever seen.
And, my Everest, I even found a man who would actually admit to sending multiple penis photos – who just happened to be a man I was out on a date with during my quest.
Mike, fittingly a professional cameraman, was shy at first, as "have you ever sent a photo of your penis?" is likely not a conversation he was anticipating.
"Don't make me sound like a creep!" he pleads after a few pints. Admittedly, he's really charming and not creepy in the slightest. "She lived in Halifax, I was in Vancouver. We had been going back and forth with sexy messages and it just happened."
He cautions, though, that he'd never send a photo without many written sexts in advance. The lack of warning from your guy should give you pause, he says.
"You don't just send one out of nowhere, like, 'oh, how was your day?' then BAM."
And just like that, Mike has accidentally covered me in a full, frosty pint of beer. I'm left feeling shocked, cold and confused, not unlike a sneak-attack receiver of genitalia photography.
After I clean up, and he apologizes, he underlines that guys send these photos for one reason: They want something in return. "It's the digital game of 'I show you mine, you show me yours.' "
To me, human sexuality and why we love the weird kinky things we do – or the boring vanilla things we do – is part and parcel of why sexual attraction is key. Your man wanted to surprise you with an image that, in his mind, twisted or not, was sexy. That's his style, and how you respond to it becomes a question of compatibility.
What's most concerning here, though, is that you didn't talk about it. Isn't this the biggest er, pink elephant of all time? Now that weeks have past, it will be more difficult – but he has to be thinking about it too. Tell him you didn't like it and you much prefer the real thing.
Iron these things out now, or forever cringe every time your phone dings.