Put simply, if an online suitor can send an image of a disembodied penis to someone they don’t have to face, they are much more likely to do so than, for example, exposing themselves in public with all the social and legal consequences that might bring.
But this doesn’t explain the underlying motivations to send such images on a dating site.
Add to that the heightened amount of control that women have over online conversations (politeness norms can make it more difficult to assertively deflect romantic advances in face-to-face conversations, nudging women toward showing greater politeness than they might otherwise feel) and you have what social psychologists might call “a masculine identity threat”.
In a culture where men are generally still expected to take the lead in sexual relationships, being denied all of these opportunities may make some men feel powerless in the online dating game and so turn to harassment or intimidation to try and re-establish a sense of power.
If you don’t believe your actions hold any consequences for you, then there is no fear of the social ramifications which might normally keep certain behaviours in check.
John Suler called this the “online disinhibition effect”.
This disturbing juxtaposition suggests an intended reading of the penis as a weapon, with the ability to hurt or “punish” this woman for her apparent “transgression” by rejecting him.
But to assume that these “misguided” attempts at seduction explain the rise and rise of such cyber-flashing tells only half the story.
Misogynistic harassment is a serious issue for online dating services.
A few years later, right about when I was a pre-med advisor to Harvard undergraduates, I noticed that my friends and advisees were in a similar pickle.
Here were smart, funny, good-looking guys surrounded by single women who were to be asked out - and not a whole lot was happening. Smart people created nearly everything that I value - Beethoven's late string quartets, my HP laser printer, Feynman's lectures, suffer like I did? Set up the whole date: where, when, how, and in what outfit.