I’ve had a lot of dick in my DMs. Portly dicks. Spindly dicks. Lopsided dicks caught pallid in the camera’s harsh flash. Preppy dicks that smile politely under better lighting. They spring up on my screen without warning, eager emissaries from all five boroughs of New York City convening at the prospect of a sex summit in my apartment.
Let me tell you: The onslaught has been relentless. I have had the full variety of male organ paraded before me. I have seen the world.
It’s not that I’m particularly attractive or even remotely jacked. I have two pictures on my profile: Both are face selfies, and because I subscribe to the philosophy of the “reverse catfish”—underpromise, overdeliver—neither is what you’d call my “best.” No, the only reason my inbox is clogged with cock is because I’m a gay man living in a big city who sometimes uses hookup apps like Grindr, where surprise dick pics are not only a common feature of social exchanges but also a kind of currency, a resource bartered to sustain mutual interest or to prove attraction. Some of my peers will even use dick pics as a salutation, such that within the first-minute window one may be introduced both to Stephen and to all six of his inches.
To be clear, I’m not filing an ethical complaint here. I do not feel harassed by the unsolicited phallic menagerie that has proliferated in my phone. What I do feel is boredom—a dick-induced ennui. Simply too many of my online encounters have hinged on the copy-and-paste pivot of dick, to the point that other avenues of sexual expression have been abandoned and left unexplored. Is there no other way for us gays to practice the art of seduction? Must every courtship dance abide by the same choreography? It’s fine that I turn you on or whatever, but do you have a more creatively arousing way of telling me so?
I hopped on Grindr in July of last year because it seemed like the most obvious jump-start to what I envisioned would be my post-vaccine hoe era. Picture me: a wide-eyed, sex-positive, PrEP-prescribed 24-year-old gay, ready for his Moderna-sponsored Hot Homo Summer. I expected thrilling romps and kinky, scintillating anecdotes to fill my memoirs. But I was disappointed, for what I got was a tiresome, endlessly rehearsed script—a script written and produced as a star vehicle for dick.
How are you?
Same. Got any more pics?
DICK B sends DICK A a self-portrait
Nice. Here’s mine.
DICK A returns the favor
Looking for now?
DICK B shares its location
Tell me that didn’t bore you to death. It wasn’t even the whole movie. The dicks did proceed to meet each other, and though the sex they had might have been good, it wasn’t as explosive as it would’ve been had their initial conversation not muted so much of the potential thrill. Foreplay, after all, begins in the first DM, and though some might find detachment and routine to be hot when it comes to casual encounters, I believe the lead-up to the bedroom should be playful and lively. Yet the uninspired blueprint for app-based hookups persists: first the artless tête-à-tête, then the dick pic, then the dickening. How on earth did we gays reduce fucking to a tedious formula—in the very digital spaces we’ve built for ourselves, no less?
You may have been led to believe that gay men are more sexually promiscuous, forthright, and adventurous than straight people. Some have found this generalization, and the media representations that support it, to be damaging: By oversexualizing a demographic, we narrow the scope of their humanity to the libido, diminishing all other aspects of their identity. But what if this pervasive social image has also had a stultifying effect on gay sexual life itself, compelling us to narrow the broad horizon of sexual connection to the crude and compulsory pursuit of dick?
What seems to be taking place today, with the near-ubiquity of gay hookup apps, is a large-scale circumcision of our erotic imagination, one that excises all faculties of pleasure and leaves behind nothing but an acute monomania for the penis. Grindr is nothing more than a hall of mirrors, uniformly refracting the exact same lazy I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours scenario in perpetuity. It’s come to feel like passion and fantasy and virtuosic flirtation have been discarded along with all the other erogenous zones (save perhaps for the anus, which apparently exists to be lacquered up so it can be penetrated by the dick).
I’m not decrying the unprecedented liberty enjoyed now by gay men to consensually go to town on all the dicks we want. I am in fact grateful to be alive at such a moment in history. I’m simply making the point that, in the mainstream online sexual sphere, we aren’t really pushing this hard-won freedom as far as it can go.
Now, I’m aware the penis has its fan base. I’ve met the size queens. And the mere popularity of the dick pic points towards a population of aesthetes who specialize in cock appreciation.
But I have a confession to make. I think all dicks are ugly. I swear I’m a homosexual. I just don’t think the penis, as an aesthetic object, is all that pleasing to behold. Among the myriad dongs I’ve ever laid eyes on, virtually all have looked disheveled, crudely designed, and somehow clumsy, as though mankind evolved them as an afterthought to all the more sophisticated body parts.
Think I’m being harsh? Come, take my hand. Let’s look at the dick together: The head mushrooms morbidly out of its veiny membrane, all bulbous and alien, and, regardless of whether the dick still has its natural turtleneck intact or is an adherent of the covenant of Abraham, it strikes me as neither fashionable nor holy.
And don’t get me started on all the things that can grow on the dick. Are those genital warts on my sex partner’s tool, or just bumps? Herpes or pearly penile papules? The fine gradations of difference are a wellspring for panic: The first time I found myself face to face with a dick that had tiny, almost microscopic white spores nestled beneath its turtleneck I had to excuse myself so I could stress-Google in the bathroom. (Don’t worry, it was papules—harmless, but distressing.)
So I’ll say it again. All dicks are ugly. This is why we measure the penis’s value in terms of size and not symmetry. This is why drawings of dicks are inherently funny in a way drawings of vulvas are not. There could never be a male Georgia O’Keeffe. Vulvas promote critical thinking. Penises are the punchline of nature.
Of course, the male form has several redeeming qualities. Nude sculptures of ancient Greek studs are no less comely for the fig leaves that conceal their classical little peckers. And let’s not forget that good casual sex—and the prelude to it—entails something beyond physical appeal. If the body is more than the dick, so then is the fuck more than the body. I’m talking about turning me on before we’ve even taken our clothes off—tease me wickedly, be coy, make me laugh. Let’s role-play, first through chat and then in real life. I’ll be the worldly expatriate fluent in all the positions, and you’ll be the small-town English teacher curious for his first gay experience. Or perhaps you’re the verbal sort, in which case I’d like you to tell me, in vivid detail, what you want to do to me and what you want me to do to you. There are a million and one ways to get me into bed, but reclining on it so you can capture your stiffy at a better angle isn’t one of them.
Of course, the point of sexual agency is the freedom to exercise it however one sees fit within the bounds of consent, including sticking to the tried-and-tested template. But gay hookup culture’s fixation on dick pics also denies us the full range of options. There are other kinds of sex available to us beyond the slapdash textbook sort typified by the dickalogue included above. Sure, I’ve met men on the apps who depart dramatically from the cookie-cutter ways. One of them even offered to buy me a karate uniform for a very elaborate dom-sub situation that also involved my feet. But men like that have been few and far between, rare flashes of carnal heat in an otherwise cold, inanimate landscape.
Sadly, this is what the grand gay tradition of sexual adventure and innovation has come to. With the migration of most of our encounters to apps, experimentation has largely been replaced with hackneyed one-liners and predictable entreaties to share schlong. There’s no other way to say it: As an organizing principle, dick has debased our culture, sent our treasured values into decline. It has led us into that dry and barren sexual territory, once the exclusive province of the straights—it has turned us vanilla.
This moment, if anything, should be an erotic renaissance for us. Despite the American right’s recent anti-queer panic, homosexuality has never been more widely accepted among the general public, HIV can now be easily prevented with the daily ingestion of a pill, and casual gay sex is more accessible and less stigmatized than ever. It’s time we emerge from this closet we’ve built for ourselves and find refreshing new ways to please our bodies and our minds.
I’m looking at you, men on my Grindr grid in close proximity. I think you’re pretty cute, but this hyperfocused reliance on the dick just isn’t enough. What else can you do? Tell me. I want us all to have really good sex with one another. But you need to do better. You have to learn how to fuck with everything you’ve got. And once you do, don’t hesitate to, you know, hit me up. My DMs are always open.