I'm the type of girl who giggles when ads for Cox Communications come on. "Working hard for every smile! Cox, your friend in the digital age." Right. Funny thing is, the digital age has produced more than just a few subliminally pornographic cable commercials. There's an epidemic sweeping the nation faster than FiOS: the penis pic.
Nowadays a woman can just slide open her iPhone, and the proverbial Cox ad will be waiting. Most recently the congressman with a last name made for late-night monologues, Rep. Anthony Weiner, chose adult-male sexting as a form of reaching out to his constituents. (He resigned this week.) Then, of course, there's rapper Kanye West, Bishop Eddie Long, footballer Brett Favre (allegedly) and a host of other names well-known and possibly even well-endowed. And despite all the negative, potentially career-destroying publicity, the pictures keep coming.
But here's the thing: At the sight of them, most women on the receiving end see a punch line, not a proposal, in their future. (Nor are they likely to inspire heavy petting sessions.) In a totally unscientific poll of some of my funniest friends, I've discovered that at some point in their lives, nearly every grown woman with a gadget has gotten one. It's like HPV for your Android.
I'm not sure why men love doing this, but I have gotten a hunch. (Um, narcissism.) "The thing is, they don't even ask," said a friend after I initiated an Internet thread about the proliferation of penis pics. Cyberspace seemed like the perfect place to discuss the receiving of unsolicited photos of man parts. According to this friend, though flirting — even heavy flirting — was involved leading up to the dispersal of said pics, she's never flat out asked someone for a porno photo.
Another friend asked a sexting offender why he decided to send a snapshot of his nether regions. His response? "I thought you'd want to see it." No, she didn't.
"I'm like, so I can do what with it, exactly?" my friend said. "Men think we're like them. Women are visual, but not like that."
Case in point: Another friend said she would welcome receiving a virtual Valentine starring a man's lower obliques, aka the D'Angelo-How-Does-It-Feel muscles. But a digital turkey neck? No thanks.
Then there are the mass-sexting offenders. Consider this story from a young reporter attending a professional conference. In casual conversation, a female colleague mentioned to another that she'd received an X-rated sext from a male conference attendee. Lo and behold, the other woman had also received the same photo of this particular man's privates, which by now had become very, very public.
The two sexting recipients then pulled out their phones to compare and laugh hysterically. Now whenever I hear his name, all I can think is, that's the one sending penis pics like Christmas cards.
It might sound sexist, or even a tad double-standard-ish — imagine if a man were showing all his boys the Twit pic some woman sent of her ta-tas — but for some reason, having a sext share-and-tell session is the frequent happy-hour pastime for single women. Perhaps it's an easy way to even the score.
A woman can be objectified 50 times just on her walk to work. Men, with their boxy suits, baggy pants and dominant gender politics, not so much. I figure, since these compulsive sexters are all about self-exploitation and exhibitionism, it seems only right to oblige by spamming all your single friends with their self-portraits.
Not that public, er, exposure would be an effective deterrent. Those penis pics keep on coming. Actress Kelley Robins Hicks was so fed up, she decided to make a hilarious, but then again totally serious mock PSA. "Enough!" yells an actress. "No more penis pics!"
But if you can't stop the onslaught, then perhaps you can stop yourself from clicking. Be on the lookout for seemingly innocent lines like "Open your e-mail," or "I just sent you something." Both are usually clear indicators that you might find a little something-something in your in-box.
One married friend insists that she would have appreciated receiving a penis pic. "To save myself some time and trouble and disappointment," she says. But her dating days happened back in the day, before phones could take pictures.
For the rest of us, the women who are still navigating dating in the digital age, the penis pic doesn't look as if it's going anywhere anytime soon. Just file it under junk mail.