Pictures of my body — or perhaps more specifically, pictures of my body parts — stared at me from the chat, and I slowly felt my mouth pull at the corners to form a grimace. I had just sent my first nudes, and instead of feeling horny or turned on, I felt complete and utter disgust, along with a sense of regret. The man I was messaging on Grindr had asked me for nudes after sending pictures of his penis, and given that I was only looking for sexual gratification at that moment, I was not particularly opposed to sending my own pictures back.
However, I still could not shake this feeling of disgust. While I was not attracted in any way to this random man, his actions and his request did not completely deter me. I was deeply ashamed of myself, but the reason was not entirely clear to me at that moment. Perhaps it was because I was uncomfortable with being sexual, or perhaps it was because I had felt forced to exchange nudes, not by the man but by the culture of the “dating” app.
I only learned later through interacting with many other queer men online that both reasons served to create my discomfort and my disgust with myself after sending a nude.
I am not opposed to people using dating apps purely for sexual purposes. After all, I have used Grindr and Tinder solely for hookups in the past and will probably use Tinder for sex in the future. Part of sexual liberation is the ability to express oneself sexually and consensually without the judgment of the greater society, and I do not want to contribute to the demonization of casual sex by eliminating these dating apps or shaming the people that use them.
However, another major part of sexual liberation is autonomy, or the ability to choose. I was torn between these two concepts when I first started using Grindr and Tinder because I felt ashamed for desiring sex in a society that was hostile to sexual expression and my sexuality, but I also felt external pressure to display and sculpt my body for the viewership of other queer men. Unfortunately, the toxicity within these dating apps destroys the mental health and body image of many queer men, with those who are young and vulnerable being the most susceptible to harm.
Like many other queer men, I suffer from body image issues in that I view my body as inadequate when comparing myself to my peers. I am Asian and do not really fit into queer male body types beyond “average,” so I greatly struggled with trying to fit into the preconceived notions of my personality and body. This issue is further exacerbated on dating apps, where attractiveness forms the metric of your worth. I distinctly remember avoiding interacting with attractive men online to save myself from embarrassment and shame.
Body image issues run rampant in queer men because, unlike their straight male counterparts, queer men experience the male gaze with a new level of intensity — they are both the subjects and the observers. Thus, queer men have a very specific experience in that many of them have to turn to dating apps in order to receive affection or sexual gratification but are harmed in the process of searching for someone to fulfill their needs. I can’t completely eliminate myself from this equation as I sometimes unconsciously contribute to this hierarchy of beauty, but I try to avoid judging people entirely on their looks.
Objectification is bound to occur, specifically in online spaces where interactions are limited to brief conversations and pictures, and people, such as myself, sometimes desire to be objectified. In a way, people lusting after your body is incredibly validating because, while perhaps signifying an unhealthy mindset, it suggests that they at least find your body attractive. However, that form of validation is fleeting and empty because it can only satisfy someone for a temporary period, and it is not something that I recommend to anyone.
In a way, dating apps create an environment in which people who feel inadequate — especially queer men given their limited dating options — decide to trade away a piece of themselves in the form of nudes to experience validation. While I craved sexual gratification, I realized that more than that, I wanted someone to find me attractive and desirable. However, I did not find any sort of fulfillment through sending nudes to people in hopes that they would desire me because I knew that it was ultimately meaningless. I would never interact with or meet these men ever again, and their words of sexualization could never make me happy.
That being said, sometimes a quick nude is desirable, but not for the reasons that I mentioned. Sexual expression and sex, while supposedly an equal trade in pleasure, should not come at the expense of the self, but rather, they should be enjoyable and fulfilling activities. Temporary validation is ultimately unsatisfying, so the only person that we can validate is ourselves. We should not feel forced to display our bodies in exchange for love or sex.
So send that nude, but make sure that you want to send it for your own enjoyment and not because you feel obligated to share such an intimate piece of yourself.
Joaquin Najera writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact him at [email protected].