Behavior

Guys, we don't want to see your sexed-up selfies

July 24, 2013 at 5:42 PM ET

What do Anthony Weiner, Geraldo Rivera and a sandwich artist at Subway all have in common? Hint: it’s not a six-inch submarine.

But it’s nearly as ubiquitous. All of these men – and countless others -- have succumbed to the siren song of the sexed-up selfie, tweeting and texting pictures of their bodies and/or their “business” out to the universe.

The question is why. Why, why, why do guys continue to digitize their digits, especially when it inevitably gets them in trouble?

New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner
Mario Tama / Getty Images
New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner admitted Tuesday he continued sexting after resigning from Congress in 2011.

Anthony Weiner is back in the hot seat after revealing that he continued to sext even after his 2011 resignation from Congress. Geraldo’s torso tweet has become a pictorial punchline for late-night comedians. And the Subway employee who posted pics of his penis resting atop a piece of sandwich bread on Instagram has been fired.

What could these guys be thinking?

According to Stephen Franzoi, a social psychologist at Marquette University in Milwaukee, they’re thinking about sex – if they’re even thinking at all.

“Men in general are more interested in sex and sexual variety and more turned on by visual images of sex than women are,” he says, pointing to both evolutionary and sociocultural influences. “There are surveys in this country and around the world that indicate this. It could be that they believe that displaying their sexual organs to a woman will be sexually arousing to her. Just as it is to a man to see a woman’s body parts.”

And in some cases, they’re spot on.

“People are attracted to individuals who are powerful,” he says. “Men who are in positions of social power have had experiences with women where that social power has been reinforced and rewarded by sexual interest. There’s a certain allure.”

That certainly jibes with texts Weiner reportedly received from a 22-year-old woman he met on the social networking site, Formspring. “I basically worship the ground you walk on. You’re incredible,” she wrote. “I think about you all the time. I can’t help myself.” 

But just because power is an aphrodisiac, it doesn’t mean we should expect to see naked selfies of Hillary Clinton any time soon.

Powerful women are equally capable of self-indulgent behavior, says Franzoi, but when “women assume leadership positions, they’re more likely to put themselves into another person’s shoes, to be attentive to people’s feelings, to be more compassionate.”

Women, also, may just be less interested in sexual displays like Rivera’s bathroom mirror torso shot, which Franzoi calls “quintessentially male.”

“Geraldo Rivera showing his naked upper torso is a demonstration of his virility and his sexual prowess,” he says. “It’s a male type of self image. There’s an entire dimension of body esteem in men that has to do with how the upper body looks – wide shoulders, six pack abs. It has to do with power.”

Not everyone is hip to unsolicited “power” or porn shots, though.

Joanne Manaster, a 47-year-old faculty lecturer from Chicago, was subjected to a photobomb of a different sort when she started corresponding with a friend of a friend on Facebook.

“We were talking about dogs and kids, just general chat, and then he says, ‘Could I send you a picture?’ and asks if I wanted PG-13 or R,” she says. “I said, ‘Okay, send the PG-13’ and he sends me a picture of his penis. And I’m like, ‘That’s not PG13. That NC17.”

Manaster unfriended the guy but says she finds this particular brand of male behavior extremely bizarre.

“I think it’s a very weird phenomenon that people think they should just able to send images of themselves like that,” says Manaster, who lectures on science and biology and uses the Twitter handle @sciencegoddess. “I wake up every day to some weird note. Some guy will write that he’s looking for a wife and he thinks I’m perfect. Or sometimes I’ll get pictures or notes with explicit things they’d like to do.”

The world of online dating is rife with similar stories.

Lindsey Smith, a 38-year-old project coordinator from Seattle says she’s received many unsolicited penis pics and torso shots from hopeful suitors via sites like OKCupid.

“Recently, I can think of four different guys who ended up sending me naked pics,” she says. “People like to see how far they can get. But guys should know not all penises are created equal and women like to look at a man’s face, his eyes and hear his voice to be truly turned on.”

Smith points to technology as the culprit when it comes to the prevalence of sexed-up selfies, not evolution or social programming.

“Penis photos didn’t really start until recently when everyone started using their smartphones for everything,” she says.

But Franzoi, who admits to being out of the dating pool for decades, disagrees.

“I would say it’s more of an evolutionary thing,” he says. “They’re not really thinking about it. It’s a primitive area of the brain that’s operating at that point, not the forebrain. The forebrain is where you plan behavior, think about consequences – all the finer things that make up human beings. This is the amygdala – the pleasure area. These men aren’t able to see that a woman might not be turned on by a penis on a computer screen. They’re not able to see it from another perspective.”

And that could work to a woman’s advantage, biologically-speaking.

“It’s a good filter for single women,” he says, pointing to the lack of empathy inherent in an unsolicited penis pic. “They’ve pretty much flunked that test right there.”

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Anthony Weiner admits sexting continued after 2011 resignation from Congress

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