Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Many people prefer porn made with and by their lovers. I’ve met multiple men who have told me that their porn of choice are images and videos they’ve made with their wife or girlfriend. They say, “It’s someone I know and love. I know she’s not faking.” “I know she’s turned on because I was there, or because I know her and what she sounds like.” “I love her and seeing her turned on and happy; that’s a far greater turn-on than watching a porn star I don’t know.”

Other men simply prefer amateur images, as opposed to professional models, as it creates and supports the perception that the models are enjoying exhibiting themselves and being sexual. Sometimes they are, and often professional models are as well. But men may enjoy that amateur picture more, because there’s the idea that she is a “girl next door” and someone that the viewer can imagine themselves actually encountering or being sexual with.  

In that these men are not alone. But what happens when a guy tells his ex that he destroyed their porn, but didn’t? Or a man entices a person into sharing nude photos and then shares them online, without the person's consent? Or a man who uses hidden cameras to capture intrusive, privacy-violating images? That moves into deeply unethical, harmful territory. That’s why there are now laws and public outcry over “revenge porn” websites, where people post such pictures in efforts to humiliate, shame and expose former lovers. I know women who suffered tremendously from having pictures posted without consent on such websites. In several cases, the women approached the website operators requesting their images be taken down, and experienced horrific attacks and slut-shaming.

The United States Marines now face a huge scandal, in which active and retired members shared nude pictures of female fellow Marines on secret Facebook groups. The news refers to this as a “nude photo scandal.” But let’s be clear: The great majority of these pictures were shared on these sites without consent. These aren’t merely “nude photos.” They are NONCONSENSUAL, revenge porn images. The images usually don't start out that way, though: The great majority of these types of pictures are shared consensually—at least, at first.

When we are turned on, flirting, and excited about a new lover or lover-to-be, many people now use explicit picture sharing as a part of courtship. The overwhelming majority of people experience this activity as a positive part of their sexual expression and it typically correlates with greater sexual satisfaction. Unfortunately, we often send these pictures without a clear “pre-nuptial” discussion or agreement about what’s going to be done with those pictures, now, and maybe after a relationship ends.

Many people across the country now have nude and explicit images of their former flirtations and partners. The ethical way to handle this is to ask a lover permission to keep the materials for your private use, even after you break up or end a relationship, or to agree when they are shared, how they will be treated by the recipient. They have to trust you enough to believe that you can have the materials and never put them on a revenge porn website or share them with other people. Ethical men (and don’t we expect our service members in uniform to be ethical?) shouldn’t ever post explicit pictures of anyone other than themselves, without explicit permission. Some men and women are excited and titillated by their partners sharing nude pictures of them. Hustler Magazine (no link, sorry, just not safe for work!) made millions off of this, with a regular features of Polaroid pictures of girls next door.

Today, the Internet is plagued with nude photo scandals, from Celebgate, to pictures of the current First Lady, to the current Marines scandal. Guys put homemade porn up on the web for a variety of reasons. As with most things involving sexuality, relationships and pornography, this isn’t a simple black and white issue, where we can assume that men are posting these pictures simply from misogynistic motivations. It isn’t a simplistic, easy issue, though people would like it to be, because then it's easier to understand and combat. The reasons why men post such material online are complex, filled with individual nuance and based on context. We really DO have to understand and acknowledge these reasons in order to address this problem effectively in ourselves and in other men.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Here are just some of the reasons I've heard from men and patients, as to why men choose to post such revenge porn online:

  • To show off to other men (and himself) what a stud the guy is, that he not only got this hot girl to have sex, but she let him film it. This is sometimes called “candaulism,” after Greek King Candaules who showed off his naked wife to an advisor Gyges, and then lost his kingdom to Gyges when the wife found out.
  • To get revenge on a woman, for breaking up with him and for hurting his feelings. Rather than admitting he has feelings and dealing with them, he lashes out and tries to take her down a peg. Some men cross extreme lines, "doxxing" the women and sharing name and identity information as well;
  • To be one of the “cool guys” that post such porn. There’s a lot of peer pressure in those kinds of online communities. They want to be cool, and they want to share their porn with other guys — guys who have shared their pictures with them. These men have a value of not just being a “taker” but to give back. It’s strange perhaps, to see that positive value involved here, where it causes harm.
  • Because the guy is an idiot and doesn’t understand how small the world has gotten and how easy it is for such material to get identified, and traced back to the woman.
  • Because the guy is angry at all women, and he wants to take women down off their pedestals. I think this is rarer, but it certainly seems present in some of the highest profile revenge porn cases. Within the military, it is certainly worth speculating that some of these men were motivated by anger at women’s increased role and acceptance in the military.
  • Because the guy, believe it or not, thinks the woman might actually be excited an turned on by the man sharing her picture. It sounds crazy, but many men think they would be turned on, by a large group of women looking at naked pictures of him. They often truly believe that the woman would experience this the same way, without understanding that women’s sexuality is treated quite differently by society.

I invite men who nonconsensually share nude or explicit pictures of their partners online, to do some real work examining what they get out of this, and why they’re doing it. When men do this , they make it harder for women to express their sexuality and share those pictures in a healthy, consensual safe way. It feeds a frightening, paranoid, sex-negative and distrustful view of the world, and of men.

Men CAN be ethical and responsible and share hot, sexy pictures with their friends, partners and flirtations. But men have to learn to keep it to themselves unless he has her permission to share it. Our society keeps encountering these scandals. And they will continue, until we start teaching and encouraging men and women to have ethical conversations with themselves, with each other, and with their friends, about sexual integrity around nude and explicit images. Our intervention strategies to understand and address the problems from these issues must be nuanced and complex. Simplistic answers such as “because of misogyny” will be unsuccessful, as they do not reflect the complexity of the motivations behind nonconsensual nude photo sharing.  

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One last update: The Marines photo scandal has now expanded into gay sites, where men were sharing nude pictures of other military men. So, this cannot simply be blamed on men’s anger towards women. This must be understood and addressed as an issue involving sexual integrity and self-awareness, relationships, emotional IQ, sexual integrity, and communication, along with the growing technological capabilities to engage in behaviors for which we haven’t developed adequate ethics.

This post is excerpted from my recent book, Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man's Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure, which encourages men to develop integrity and responsibility around their use of pornography.

Follow David on Twitter: @drdavidley

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