Surprise nudes are now a crime in Texas – state residents and a cyber flashing expert discuss the motive behind the crackdown, and reflect on its impact on the LGBTQ+ community
In a hyper-connected world with limitless technology at our disposal, you’d think we’d have better things to do than AirDropping each other surprise dick pics on our commute to work, and yet – unsurprisingly – we don’t. People who receive these unsolicited, explicit photos typically feel harassed, violated, and afraid.
Earlier this month, in a landmark decision, lawmakers in Texas made it illegal to send unsolicited nudes, with perpetrators facing fines of up to $500 (£402). Despite discussion of “image-based sexual abuse” happening in UK parliament, no concrete law has been put into place, making Texas one of the first places to directly implement a punishment for ‘cyber flashing’.
Although, we should remain cynical about the state’s motives. “Make no mistake, this didn’t happen because America loves women,” HuffPost journalist Sophie Gallagher, who frequently reports on cyber flashing, tells Dazed. “This happened because of one powerful woman in Silicon Valley (weirdly, the law is a collaboration with dating app Bumble) and the fact that the legislative process in the US makes it easier to get one state to agree to something.”
Texas representative Morgan Meyer said of the Bumble collab: “They had a number of people who were using the app complaining about the sending of these images and they quickly realised there was no recourse. It wasn’t a criminal offence – although it was definitely digital sexual harassment.” Though it seems unusual, this isn’t the first time dating apps have been involved in lawmaking, Match Group – which owns Tinder, Plenty Of Fish, and Match.com – helped pursue legislation that was passed in California and Vermont (although this focused on safety tips and fraud notifications). Despite appearing to have users’ safety in mind, organisation enthusiasm likely stems from a brand reputation perspective.
Texas has officially made Sending unsolicited nudes illegal!— Michelle Guido (@heyyguido) September 1, 2019
It's now a Class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500.
The rest of America needs to follow this lead. It's online Sexual harassment almost always done to women and gay men by other men and we are done with it!
While news of the law has been welcomed by campaigners, its effectiveness and implementation has been called into question. Another faction of the current conversation also asks simply: why has Texas prioritised dick pics over its dangerously lax gun laws?
Local Texas residents – and receivers of dick pics – have some thoughts. “This is Texas,” Houston-based model Dominique Gary tells Dazed, “we need gun control, not dick pic control. If it bothers someone that much, they can easily block the sender.” Having been a Grindr user on and off for almost 10 years, Gary explains that he feels “immune” to unsolicited photos, though agrees that “if certain lines are crossed, certain measures should be taken”.
Gary is not alone in his view, particularly among those in the LGBTQ+ community. Joshua Bernal says he has become desensitised to dick pics on Grindr: “It’s the culture of these apps that make them conducive to the sending of nudes without warrant,” he says. “I’d say at least once a day someone on Grindr will send me nudes before they even say hello.”
Although he’s also never had a “bad experience”, Texas actor and visual artist Raymond Compton believes there’s a stark contrast between LGBTQ+ and straight attitudes when it comes to dick pics. “The crackdown does seem beneficial for those who follow a heteronormative timeline of personal sexual experiences,” he explains, “but there’s a dichotomy when it comes to straight vs gay culture of sexual partnership.”
“The crackdown does seem beneficial for those who follow a heteronormative timeline of personal sexual experiences, but there’s a dichotomy when it comes to straight vs gay culture of sexual partnership” – Raymond Compton
“Gay culture is borne from suppression,” Compton continues. “When experiencing years of sexual suppression, our notion of navigating through finding sex changes – we resort to finding sexual partners through shared glances at a bar, something that needs an on-the-spot response, which I guess has now been digitally translated into sending a picture of my hole and waiting for a yes or no.”
With this in mind, Texas’ new legislation could negatively impact user dynamics on LGBTQ+ dating apps, potentially, according to some of its users, instilling a sense of fear. “If there is a big crackdown on Grindr and Scruff, it honestly might feel like an attack on gay culture,” Bernal admits.
Compton agrees: “Bringing in the government to establish this crackdown almost feels like bringing cops into our space.” He also raises concerns about the invasion of users’ privacy, particularly for people who are still in the closet, as it could “open them up to being publicly outed, with actual legal repercussions”.
While certain receivers welcome unsolicited sexual images, or are able to brush them off without a care, for others it remains that being sent a dick pic – particularly in public – can be intimidating and upsetting. Physically flashing (AKA indecent exposure) is widely regarded as a sexual offence punishable by law, so why is cyber flashing not treated in the same way?
so in Texas, it is a Class C misdemeanor with fines up to $500 to send an unsolicited nude... but when asked to create more restrictions on guns.. we were told “NO” ...nothing makes sense to me anymore.— mittys baby (@4amatlantic) September 1, 2019
“I think a lot of legislators are massively lagging behind in their understanding of technology, either through a lack of exposure in their personal lives, or a fear that they might misunderstand, (leading them) to say quiet,” Gallagher tells Dazed. “But we need to accept that this isn’t just a temporary problem – this is the start of a new era in which technology is giving huge platforms to old problematic behaviours.”
Cyber flashing might be deemed a new phenomenon, but the attitudes behind it have long been ingrained in patriarchal societies. Although Texas’ recent law aims to challenge this unwanted hedonism, it’s arguably futile without a similar focus on preventative methods – namely improving sex education, particularly when it comes to consent.
Sex education is not currently a requirement in Texas schools; if institutions do decide to teach it, they are required to advocate abstinence until marriage. This summer, officials outlined recommendations for updating the state’s 22-year-old policy – which is reflected in Texas having the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the US – suggesting that students should be taught about contraceptives, relationships, and consent. When it comes to dick pics though, it seems unlikely that the state would go from Mean Girls-style chastity to nuanced education about the vulgarity of cyber flashing.
“If boys and girls were taught early on in sex ed lessons about consent, pleasure, and technology as a sexual tool, then perhaps we wouldn’t need to keep telling grown men to stop sending dick pics” – Sophie Gallagher
“If boys and girls were taught early on in sex ed lessons about consent, pleasure, and technology as a sexual tool, then perhaps we wouldn’t need to keep telling grown men to stop sending dick pics,” Gallagher asserts.
Although women do share nudes, unsolicited photos are largely sent by narcissistic, sexist men who often don’t care whether the response is positive or negative. According to statistics by Bad Girls Bible, women are four times more likely than men to receive an unwanted sexual snap. “There’s definitely a steady trickle of them in my DM requests box,” Michele Yue, a Texas-based DJ and jewellery designer, shares. “Sadly at this point, they’re kind of like mosquito bites in the summer – irritating but inevitable.”
Whether the law is actively pursuing justice for victims, attempting to censor the gay community, or further discouraging young people from any type of sexual expression, it seems Texas residents aren’t that concerned about it making a difference. “I don’t see the crackdown going very far, particularly with sexually charged dating apps,” Bernal concludes. “There’s just too many instances of nudes being sent without asking. There’s also such a high level of anonymity that I don’t see anyone being able to find the owner of the nudes.”
“Would Grindr even be Grindr if guys didn’t send each other unsolicited nudes?” Gary muses. “Men don’t care about the law when they’re on Grindr.”