Penetration by Dick Pic in Peer-to-Peer Pornography

Advisory: this is a post-pornographic analysis of adult sexual images and themes

Introduction

A dick pic is a photograph of a penis that is transmitted to a potential sex partner to activate “the political agency of desire” via digital technology, wireless connectivity, and/or social media.

Dick pics are a self-created, self-curated, self-published, and self-beneficial form of auto-pornography that is effectively ubiquitous. Whether solicited or unsolicited, titillation or threat, the encoding data penetrates the recipient’s body and mind as a metaphor for sexual/violent praxis.

Penetration occurs overtly when light from a device’s screen enters the eyes to be recoded as electrochemical signals for processing in the visual cortex. It occurs covertly when electromagnetic data packets are transmitted from smartphones, base towers, and wifi routers; the same radiation that was absorbed by an antenna is also absorbed by the body of anyone within range of the transmitter, up to 70 kilometres in open areas. This radiation may also affect egg, sperm, and foetal development, making pornographic enculturation in the 21st century a lifelong experience.

History

The popular pornographic presence grew hand in hand with internet connectivity, while the release of Apple’s iPhone 3G elevated porn-on-demand to new heights. Today, built-in cameras mean 6.37 billion smartphone users can publish auto-erotica making them “at once bodies and data” through “referential continuity between the symbolic and the fleshly sign”. As dick pics are most effective with the immediacy of phone-mediated peer-to-peer pornography, their ubiquity makes them the indexical merger of organic and digital.

Figure 1 Accidental dick pic by Chris Evans, source: https://www.reddit.com/user/scribble_toon/comments/jo3mhr/thats_americas_dick/

Click here to view uncensored image, Flickr account required, sexual content: https://www.flickr.com/photos/194637660@N08/51732188581/in/dateposted-public/

With so many dick pics coursing through the ether it is inevitable that some are sent accidentally, as with actor Chris Evans’ infamous Twitter post. Though rare these are as just as invasive as a deliberate “cyberflash”.

Deliberate transmission of dick pics has been quantified as a “transactional mindset” but that doesn’t determine responses, with meanings made “according to the dynamics of consent and non-consent; intimacy and distance; as well as those relating to the circuits of desire and revulsion that galvanize encounters between different bodies.” Most relevant to this project is that receipt cannot be prevented.

As bespoke pornography, dick pics denaturalise sex by promoting the use-value of the sender’s penis. This negotiatory tactic decentres spectacularity by privileging the creator-subject, eliminating the inauthentic performative aspect prevalent in commercial pornography. When successful this collapses the producer and consumer into a single sexual-economic unit.

Figure 2 Whitney Bell, I didn’t ask for this: A Lifetime of Dick Pics installation view, 2016, mixed media, https://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/gallery/21921/0/i-didn-t-ask-for-this-a-lifetime-of-dick-pics

The unsolicited dick pic can be “toxic”, especially one sent by a relative stranger (e.g. through messaging apps or Apple’s AirDrop technology). However, in making the private public the sender cedes control: artist Whitney Bell transformed dick pics she received into installations that celebrate feminist empowerment rather than phallic projection.

Methodology

Objective

This project recreates the unavoidable experience of bodily penetration by dick pic. I solicited examples of “the socially mediated body” from users of the socio-sexual media app Grindr, made screenshots, transferred these to my desktop computer for processing, and then published the image by emailing it to my smartphone.

Ethics

Figure 8 A request to de-identify a dick pic

Click here to view uncensored image, Flickr account required, sexual content: https://www.flickr.com/photos/194637660@N08/51732841569/in/dateposted-public/

The sexual nature of this project generated the following legal and ethical concerns:

  • following the “Australian Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Act (No. 2) 2004 (which) criminalises the use of a carriage device to menace, harass or cause offence (s. 474.17)”
  • following University of New South Wales guidelines on Research Ethics and Compliance
  • choosing Grindr as a social media service that is known for “positive reactions to (even) unsolicited dick pics” where I could create a profile without misrepresenting myself as a woman or potential sex partner
  • creating a 255-character, plain-language profile that conveys the artistic and critical processes while affirming the donor’s consent
  • identifying myself and pre-empting accusations of collecting by uploading an identifiable profile image that shows me drawing, alongside links to my established Facebook and Instagram artist pages
  • limiting image use to this assignment through an extant project (#AHundredHundreds) which users can find on linked social media accounts
  • maintaining the anonymity of donors by screenshotting dick pics in Grindr’s de-identifying interface, and by removing marks such as tattoos when requested
  • responding to user questions for information in a timely manner
  • rejecting requests for sexual interaction in a polite but firm manner

Collation

Figure 4 Grindr use in Sydney during Mardi Gras 2019. Source https://www.reddit.com/r/grindr/comments/fbzpjm/grindr_user_map_sydney/

I presented the profile to users by opening the app around inner Sydney so the algorithm would push it according to their distance, time, and filters (e.g. age, tribe). This process was informed by a Covid-19 lockdown of 5 kilometres from my residence. Users – located from under 100 metres to over 1,000 kilometres – returned photographs of their genitals including sex acts, group shots, and multiples.

Process

Figure 5 The first dick pic received

Click here to view uncensored image, Flickr account required, sexual content: https://www.flickr.com/photos/194637660@N08/51731368842/in/dateposted-public/

I collaged the images into a 10 x 10 grid according to my established #AHundredHundreds process that documents life in the time of coronavirus. By emailing the image to my smartphone, I caused the data packets to penetrate various bodies: mine and anyone within range of the wifi router and/or cellular base station. In an exhibition, I would narrowcast the image via wifi from a digital device to a television screen with text advising viewers of the penetrative act.

Figure 6 Matti, A Hundred Dick Pics Solicited from Grinder Users, 2021, digital collage, approximately 2 x 1 m installed

Click here to view uncensored image, Flickr account required, sexual content: https://www.flickr.com/photos/194637660@N08/51733431195/in/dateposted-public/

Conclusions

In seizing the means of production with this body hack, self-publishers self-fetishise a “vector of desire”. Their dick pics saturate the “ethersphere” in the same way that nuclear testing in the 1950s and 60s created “anthropogenic perturbations” of carbon 14 in the atmosphere, leading to a radical change of the carbon dating system. Perhaps the saturative nature of dick pics will lead to radical changes of the human dating system.

In this project I critically witnessed pornographic sensibilities permeating people/society in explicit, implicit, and cryptic ways. I used my Contemporary Art practice to create post-pornographic bodies and project them into the public arena, reproducing the actions and effects of dick pic publishers. Through this performance the invisible penetration was made visible.

Although dick pics remain problematic, they can also be sex-positive, anti-censorship, and queer. When sent and received in public spaces they bend sex/intimacy away from heteronormative ideas of privacy, thereby supporting an accessible, available, sustained public life of affectional, erotic, and intimate behaviours.

Now that we know what is happening to our bodies we can begin deciding what we want to do about it.

Figure 7 Matti, A Hundred More Dick Pics Solicited from Grinder Users, 2021, digital collage, approximately 2 x 1 m installed

Click here to view uncensored image, Flickr account required, sexual content: https://www.flickr.com/photos/194637660@N08/51732780763/in/dateposted-public/

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