Alone in a motel, Anthony Weiner is trying to get the perfect angle. He turns his phone this way, then that, examining his reflection in the bathroom mirror, eyes gaunt and pale skin jaundiced from the single hanging bulb, the faltering cough of an A.C unit breaking the midnight calm.
In this moment he isn't thinking about his family; not thinking about the arduous journey that began in Brooklyn and ended in the House of Congress; not thinking about all that good work.
No, in this moment Anthony Weiner is thinking about his penis - specifically, the perfect angle in which to highlight its majesty, so he can slide it into the Twitter DMs of a woman who isn't his wife, a move that will ruin his career and anoint him the High Priest of the Dick Pic.
Like other, far older forms of sexual harassment, unsolicited dick pics are inflicted upon countless women every day without you even realising it. Like catcalls or arse slaps or unwelcome attention on the dark walk home, it flies beneath the radar of the men who don't indulge such misbehaviour precisely because it's designed to. But speak to any woman you know with a smart phone and she'll have a story.
"Oh not again!"
All replies from real women when I asked how they typically responded to an unsolicited dick pic. As you can see, some are shocked, some are amused; some feel let down. None find it sexy. "I think men care way more about their penises than we do," added one colleague, solemnly harkening back to an unwanted gift in her inbox and telling perhaps the oldest and saddest truth of them all.
And yet we continue to send them - common man and celebrity both. A deluge of dicks flying through fibre optic cables and 4G airwaves; the marvel of instantaneous global communication reduced to a fly-by-night carrier service for our duplicitous knobs.
The question that plagued me after having my eyes opened to this grim reality was simply: why?
Like most of you (I think?), no one has ever asked me for a grainy close-up picture of my penis, therefore I've never sent one. This might be because the old boy isn't in great demand, or it might be because women, as suggested above, don't generally desire a disembodied member gatecrashing their phone memory without so much as a call ahead.
So why are men just deciding to send them anyway? Even if they didn't realise - or more likely, care - how rude or unpleasant the recipients found their dick pic to be, what exactly was in it for them?
For reasons I don't fully understand, I needed to find out.
Anthony Weiner: the former American politician whose sexting scandals cost him his career and did most to popularise the term 'dick pic' than any other man alive (Image by Getty)
My first stop on the chequered, penis-ridden road to understanding was Dr. Sarah Davies, a Chartered Counseling Psychologist who deals with addiction, trauma and a host of other disorders.
"Sending out dick pics can be seen as an attempt at experiencing a 'low risk' form of connection and intimacy," Sarah begins. "Something we all have a deep, human, yearning for. But, in this way, it can be protected behind a very masculine physical form, without the risks of being too emotionally vulnerable.
"An element of fear of rejection is natural, but if that rejection is in response to a lump of flesh, that is perhaps more bearable than the rejection being about a more meaningful part of his identity."
Now we're getting somewhere.
"There can be an element of wanting to shock too… and that offers a sense of power to the male."
"Remember, if this was done publicly and directly, it would be classified as indecent exposure: a legal offence."
And with that, Sarah signs off, the pieces slowly falling together.
The self-confessed dick pic sender proves an elusive creature
Walking to the tube that night, I can't help but look at my fellow man in a colder, more cynical light, one that goes beyond mere winter blues and Wednesday screen fatigue. I know they're out there: the dick pic senders and their dicks and their phones and their nefarious motives, but where?
I imagine scores above their heads as I bury deeper into the belly of the underground - 'Total dick pics sent: 12' - like a weaker episode of Black Mirror. Is it the Italian exchange student with the puffa jacket and the backpack, slumped on the Victoria Line? Or the balding, stressed out city boy in a melancholy suit? He looks like the sort. Or perhaps it's the arty twenty something, shaven-headed and aloof, frayed jeans hanging over scuffed Chuck Taylors, disappearing suspiciously into the Vauxhall night as soon as the train doors rattle open? I decide that he definitely has previous. He wouldn't look me in the eye… the swine.
Despite all of this, finding a self-confessed sender is proving difficult. Like Yangtze river dolphins and millennial Brexit voters, the proud or self-aware dick picker is an elusive creature.
Working around my missing link, I stumble upon Madeleine Holden, a lawyer and writer who, having received hundreds of unwanted dick pics, was sent one that – in her words – was "high quality" and "welcome", inspiring her to set up a blog called 'Critique My Dick Pic' [NSFW] where she offers honest and thorough critical analysis of any penis shots sent her way.
"The site was a way of giving a woman the last word in the context of dick pics," Madeleine says.
"Often, as women, we have these things thrust at us with no regard for how we feel about them, so 'Critique My Dick Pic' was a tongue-in-cheek way of regaining some of that control.
"It's a light-hearted, funny project, but it has some serious undertones."
"I think they're clueless and desperate"
Scrolling through the blog in the name of research, I am taken by the care and attention these men are putting into their dick pics. Soft amber light renders warm phallic shadows against cream wallpaper in one; while others feature shards of summer sunset flitting across master bedrooms decorated with floral arrangements, Egyptian cotton and Bauhaus furniture, the penis a mere cameo in a series of very modern frescoes. Shame-ridden cock 'n' balls shots beneath the bleach bright halogen of midnight remaining few and far between.
I ask Madeleine for her opinion on the thought process behind the unsolicited dick pic and its sender. What does she think is going on up there?
"I think they are often clueless and desperate for female attention", she replies. "They are certainly arrogant and entitled, though, and to assume that you have the right to thrust a picture of your genitals at a stranger seems to be a peculiarly male arrogance, but I'm not sure they're exercising power in any deliberate sense.
"If men are going to send unsolicited dick pics, they are forfeiting their right to determine how women should respond or react to them. At least in my opinion."
I'm beginning to lose hope in finding a legitimate, honest sender. Chased leads end in frayed silences, ambiguous responses and, ultimately, rejection. The production ready to shoot, but the leading man left un-cast.
And then, having reached the end of my penis-related patience, I find him, my white whale – my Moby Dick.
Greg* is 29 and spoke to me only on the grounds that I not reveal his real age, name, nor how I found him (spoiler, it was the internet). He works in software and, in his past, sent unsolicited dick pics to women.
"It's one of the most pathetic moves possible"
"I've stopped doing it for many years now, but I used to do it all the time." Greg writes to me.
"It's difficult to describe what I was thinking when I did it, but I largely had poor self-esteem and desired to be 'wanted' sexually. It'd work often enough that it created a nasty feedback loop, too.
"As time went on, though, I did feel guilty about the people who obviously weren't interested. And information on me doing it got out in an old social circle of mine; bad luck on that one. It went from a problem to a worse problem.
"I finally stopped doing it because the validation I was getting from it was shallow and wasn't worth everything attached to it. Since that time, I've had a few women I've hit it off with actually ask to see my junk, and I'll be honest, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
"I find it hard to shake the memories of those regrettable times.
"I realise now that it was more of a misguided replacement for trying to make actual meaningful connections with people who I felt I wasn't 'good enough' for. Overall, I have a much healthier take on relationships in general now that I'm older, which I'm thankful for."
I feel a bit sorry for Greg... until I think about the women who opened their phones, probably quite pleased at receiving a new message, only to find a veiny, socially inept member staring back at them, pleading for praise and attention.
Because it's all well and good taking the introspective angle when it comes to post-dick-pic penance after you've been caught - whether that's by friends, as in Greg's case, or the entire world's media, like Anthony Weiner - but the mark of a man's integrity surely lies in not pulling down your trousers in the first place.
"Ultimately, sending an unsolicited dick pic is one of the lamest and most pathetic moves possible," Madeleine writes to me in a later email.
"I can see why men do it, but it baffles me that they can't see how obviously fruitless a strategy it is.
"It's all just a bit sad, isn't it?"
Illustration by Kerry Hyndman.
From: Esquire UK