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Anthony Weiner and the rise of dick pics, explained

Anthony Weiner.
Anthony Weiner.
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

When former Congress member Anthony Weiner was born in Brooklyn in 1964, scientists and engineers hadn’t yet figured out to harness the (then nonexistent) internet to send text messages, let alone use that mind-blowing power to send pictures of one’s own genitalia to others in an attempt to flatter them. Despite predating the term "sext" by 40 years, Weiner, as if it were the destiny of his surname, has become infamous for his sexting scandals, the first of which cost him his job as a US representative for New York.

A new scandal was revealed on Sunday.

"Someone just climbed into my bed," Weiner wrote in a sext to a woman, which was then relayed to the New York Post. "Ooooooh . . . I was scared. For half a second I thought I posted something. Stop looking at my crotch."

The "someone" Weiner was referring to was his 4-year-old child, Jordan Zain. Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, have probably taken countless photos of Jordan — during parties, birthdays, Halloween, grandparent visits. But this one, with Jordan’s cherubic face within breathing distance of Anthony’s semi-engorged member (which is barely concealed by a pair of white briefs), and one that Weiner apparently thought he tweeted to the world, will haunt Weiner and his family forever.

Weiner isn’t the only person who has sent out a sext, nor is he the only man to send someone a photo of his junk. Thanks to technology and the human desire to use and interact with that technology, dick pics have become common. It seems like it's impossible to go very long without a celebrity, not just Weiner, accidentally exposing themselves on the grand stage of the internet. But what makes this latest Weiner scandal newsworthy is that it goes beyond the scandalous dick pic he’s sending.

Weiner is like the Icarus of dick pictures and sexts, if Icarus were given three sets of wings and multiple chances not to burn and drown in the sea.

What is a dick? And what is a dick pic?

Anthony Weiner. (Joe Raedle/Staff/Getty images)

A dick is a nickname frequently applied to male genitalia. Dicks, on their own, are neutral. They vary in size, shape, and appearance. People often project subjective traits onto dicks, like saying a dick is good when it’s aesthetically pleasing and of satisfactory size and girth.

And a dick pic is a picture of a dick.

The term "dick" can also refer to a person — usually in a negative sense, to refer to someone who is selfish, irritating, or stubborn. There is an entire world of slurs based on male and female genitalia, which seems a bit unfair to genitalia since genitalia on its own never really harmed or slighted anyone.

And a dick pic, while often a flirty exchange between consenting adults, can also be seen as a form of harassment, a crude byproduct of the way our lives revolve around technology, or a symbol of bad judgment, among other things.

Anthony Weiner is considered a dick for his slew of scandals and incorrigible behavior. In this he follows the political path blazed by former President Nixon, whose first name inspired the political catchphrase "Dick Nixon before he dicks you."

On Sunday, it was revealed that Weiner had sexted a picture to a woman that featured him in his underwear and his child’s face. It kicked off his third sexting scandal in five years — the first resulted in Weiner resigning from Congress in 2011, while the second sank his run to become Mayor of New York City.

This third scandal is a publicly embarrassing ordeal for Weiner, his wife, and his family, and it comes with personal loss, too. Abedin announced on Monday that she is divorcing him, saying she needs to leave him for the best interests of their son. She said in a statement:

After long and painful consideration and work on my marriage, I have made the decision to separate from my husband. Anthony and I remain devoted to doing what is best for our son, who is the light of our life. During this difficult time, I ask for respect for our privacy.

The time frame of their divorce is unclear. Weiner has yet to formally respond to the photos and the story, but his Twitter account was deleted in the wake of the new allegations.

Dick pics between consenting adults are often harmless, but this one clearly was not.

Technology has made dick pics somewhat ubiquitous

Dick pics fall under the bigger umbrella of sexting, a term that first appeared in newspapers in 2004 and refers to messages of a sexual nature that are sent from one person to another (or multiple people; I’m not judging). Today, the term primarily refers to messages that include pictures.

Dick pics are also a part, even without Anthony Weiner's generous contribution to the "genre," of pop culture and sex.

To be clear, in this piece I’m referring to dick pics sent between two consenting adults, not unsolicited dick pics that are sent as a form of harassment, which does happen and is a serious problem. Consent is crucial when it comes to dick pics. Unsolicited dick pics and sexts are more than an annoyance — they make recipients feel unsafe and degraded.

As technology advances, it regularly lets us do things we once didn’t think were possible, or that we were once told we shouldn’t do. Back when I was a child, I was told never to meet anyone in person whom I’d only talked to on the internet, and never to get into a stranger’s car. Now, thanks to Uber, thousands of people including myself completely disregard those rules with a startling confidence and no fear of getting murdered. (Uber completed a billion rides in 2015.)

Sending pictures of your genitalia to other people — which can now be done in the span of a few seconds, or however long it takes to snap a photo with your smartphone and text it to someone — is no doubt a technological advancement, and an act that one performs in hopes of getting a positive response.

No one takes a picture of their penis in the hopes that it deters sex. It’s a penis, not a scarecrow. In the world of dick pics, like any kind of photography, really, there is such a thing as a good picture and a bad one. Men want to make their seem dicks enticing, which means a proud, rigid dick. And while there may be a fetish for it, the majority of people who like and possess dicks don’t usually want to see a sad, wilting, moody penis.

"I’ve mostly sent [dick pics] after a few flirtations back and forth with girls I’ve met online who seemed to want to hook up." Gerry, a man who regularly sends dick pictures, told Refinery29, in an investigation the site conducted among dick picture–sending men.

But Gerry’s extracurricular photography might be counterproductive.

In’s 2013 "Singles in America" survey, the site spoke to 5,675 single American adults and found that the majority of women surveyed don’t really enjoy receiving dick pics.

Clearly, someone must have responded positively to one of Gerry’s and other men like Gerry's photos, since they are using the tactic again and again (and perhaps again and again). The problem for heterosexual men like Gerry hoping to entice heterosexual women into sex or compliments or positive emojis by sending a photo of their dick is that it’s unclear whether this actually has a positive effect.

Sexting is a relatively young phenomenon. We’re beginning to study and understand it more, but the data is still changing and at times seems to contradict itself.

A 2015 study led by a researcher at the Kinsey Institute found that 21 percent of the study’s 5,805 participants (2,830 women and 2,975 men) had sent sexts, and 28 percent had received sexually explicit text messages. These numbers don’t match up with a 2015 report from researchers at Drexel University, in which more than eight out of 10 people (870 total respondents) they surveyed online admitted to sexting in the prior year.

Further, according to a 2014 report from Pew Research, sexting is usually done by young people:

(Pew Research)

When it comes to gay and bi men, and men who have sex with men, dick pics are much more common.

According to a National Institutes of Health study from 2013, 75.7 percent of the sample (1,500 men who have sex with men) reported sending and receiving sexts. Those numbers match up with a survey from, which found that 83 percent of gay men have sent a dick pic.

Further, these studies don’t take into account the number of dick pics and sexts that recipients forward and share with other people. The first rule of sexting, as Weiner has found out three times, is that you must understand the person your dick pic is intended for might not necessarily be the only one who sees it.

Dick pics are so common that accidentally sending them out on social media has become funny

We’ve reached the point in pop culture where regular dicks and regular dick activities — becoming stiff, not becoming stiff — aren’t shocking anymore. This summer, during the rage of the Pokémon Go boom, a site called (Warning: NSFWPoke Peen was created. Poke Peen featured users taking advantage of Pokémon Go's augmented reality feature and turning them into dick pics.

In the same spirit, there's a popular Tumblr called (Warning: NSFW) "Things My Dick Does" where a man takes dick pictures and turns them into cartoonish sequences by photoshopping illustrations.

The result is more amusing than arousing. And the same goes for dick pics that are shared by accident.

Late last month, NBA player Draymond Green accidentally posted a picture of his Draymond on Snapchat. It was highly ironic that a player who carved out a reputation for himself for some dirty plays on the basketball court, including (allegedly) hitting opponents in the nuts on purpose, would post his own dick online.

"We’re all one click away from placing something in the wrong place," Green told reporters after initially saying he was hacked. "I suffered from that."

No one said Green was some kind of awful deviant. There was no massive call to fire him. There were mostly just laughs. What happened to Green was something that could happen to any adult, and the incident was ultimately relatable. And while Weiner has accidentally sent out his photo, there’s a big difference in his behavior and Green’s.

If dick pics are so common, what makes Anthony Weiner’s dick pics so awful?

A photo of a lounging adult male with semi-recumbent genitalia is an intriguing mystery, a chance to discover whether you've arrived just in time or a moment too late. But the addition of a child's innocent face anywhere in the frame transforms it from mystery into horror. No one wants to see that. There are images whose very existence makes the universe a worse place in which to be alive.

But let’s zoom out a little bit.

There’s nothing wrong if two or more consenting adults want to share nude pictures with one another. There’s nothing wrong with nude photos. Other than having to deal with the potential fallout, there’s nothing wrong with accidentally messing up and putting nude photos online.

When it comes to Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner, we don’t know the terms of their marriage. Nor are those terms really any of our business. What Weiner and Abedin privately allow or don’t allow in their relationship has no bearing on our own personal relationships.

But what makes Anthony Weiner different from Draymond Green is much more than Weiner’s extremely poor and disgusting judgment of sexts. It’s the incongruence between the man Weiner says he is in interviews with magazines and the actions he takes, not to mention the embarrassing toll his behavior has taken on his career and family.

Green never promised he was a sterling person. He admitted his mistake and moved on. Each time Weiner has faced a sexting scandal, it’s been followed by a promise that his behavior doesn’t reflect his values, along with a vow of reform.

The first scandal involved him accidentally sending out a photo on Twitter instead of using the social media site’s direct message feature — that ultimately cost him job in Congress in 2011.

In July 2012, Weiner appeared with Abedin and their son, who was then still a baby, in People magazine. He told the magazine in an exclusive interview, "I'm very happy in my present life. … The only next dramatic steps I'm planning on are Jordan's first":


A New York City mayoral run followed this spread — one he was doing decent in, until another sexting scandal occurred in 2013. After resigning, Weiner admitted he had three online/sexting relationships that were finished, but this was proven false when a new woman named Sydney Leathers came forward with sexts he sent her under the alias Carlos Danger. Weiner then amended the number of relationships to somewhere between six and 10.

Over the past five years, Weiner has lost his job and his marriage, and damaged his relationship with his child (custody seems very slim given the circumstances), because he has repeatedly sent women pictures of his genitalia while promising us that he isn’t that guy.

And now that we’re in the third cycle of this pattern, the most egregious thing about Weiner isn’t so much the sexts he’s sending (although the picture with his child is undoubtedly foul) but rather the discussion of whether this man might have a more serious, compulsive problem or sex addiction.

Dicks aren’t supposed to make you sad. Yet this one, this Weiner, has managed to do just that.