What Reddit’s body-positive nude sharing communities taught me

If you have a device, you’ve probably been at the receiving end of an unsolicited dick pic. Because of the discomfort that usually accompanies such an experience, dick pics have come to be seen as inherently creepy. So, when a friend told me about a subreddit where people could share pictures of their genitals and get them rated by strangers, I assumed the community would be full of lonely, desperate men vying for validation and sexual gratification. But as someone who’s particularly interested in online communities, my curiosity was piqued. I was also newly single, bored and ready to explore my own sexuality, so I decided to venture into these NSFW archives of the internet.

Growing up in a culture where women’s sexual desire is considered a myth and even the thought of premarital sex is enough to defile us, I’ve always held back my sexual desires. When I saw people being open about theirs on a platform with thousands of members, I was intrigued. The subreddit featured pictures of penises in all sizes and colours. I could tell these people had spent time playing around with different angles. Some even featured accessories like cock rings. Scrolling down a thread of one dick pic after the other, I didn’t feel creeped out or intimidated, the way I would have if I’d received such images without consent. I was captivated.

“Scrolling down a thread of one dick pic after the other, I didn’t feel creeped out or intimidated the way I’d have if I received such images without consent”

Most of these dick pics were also accompanied by captions like ‘DMs open’ and ‘here to chat’. I took them up on their offers, asking them why they chose to post such images for the world to see. I learned that for many, getting dick ratings from strangers was a way to feel good about themselves and their bodies in a world that equates penis size to masculinity, sans the violation of consent that sending unsolicited dick pic leads to. Others were indeed just lonely and looking for people to talk to. 

As I started talking to some of the people on the forum, they also wanted to know more about me. Some even asked if I’d be up for sexting and exchanging nudes with them. This was uncharted territory for me. I’d never exchanged more than a few coy intimate messages even with the people I’d been seriously dating. Any pictures I’d sent were modest; I would try to entice the receiver through slivers of exposed skin and peeks at the ‘good stuff’. I had no idea how to be open about my sexual thoughts. But the element of anonymity helped me warm up to the idea.

Chatting to the subredditors helped me open up about my fantasies and feel in charge of my body. With some help from the internet’s many listicles on taking nudes, I started growing my own collection considerably. The fact that I was sending them to strangers, who I was never going to meet, made it possible for me to let go of my inhibitions and achieve a level of intimacy I didn’t even have with partners in real life. Here were people who tried to make me feel desired and accepted without being judged, and I let go of my presumptions and extended the same courtesy to them.

“Here were people who tried to make me feel desired and accepted without being judged”

One of them introduced me to another subreddit called r/normalnudes, which is a self-proclaimed “library of what normal, every day human bodies look like”. Scrolling down a thread of naked pictures of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or body size, was a study in the wide spectrum of real bodies. Because so much of our understanding of bodies is borrowed from porn and erotic magazines, we begin to see any body that is too far removed from the cookie cutter moulds as an anomaly, including our own. But as this world of people showing off their bodies unfolded before me, with all their scars, folds, and stretch marks, I felt like my own body belonged in it as well. And I decided I wanted to join in.

I sat up in my bed and snapped a picture of my torso, while adhering to the rules demanding “no clothing” and “no sexual poses”. Photographing my bare body in its natural state was liberating in itself. I couldn’t help but remember how as a child, my mum would tell me a girl shouldn’t even be completely naked while taking a bath, and here I was, exposing my naked body to over 300,000 members in an online community.

“I was exposing my naked body to over 300,000 members in an online community” 

I went to post the nude with a caption to tell the world a little about myself, mentioning that I was at my heaviest weight, and was consequently feeling shitty about my body. I wasn’t expecting any responses, but soon enough, my phone was buzzing with notifications. People said all sorts of nice things about my body, my figure, and even reminded me that what the scale says doesn’t really matter.

I won’t lie, it felt great to be hyped up by a bunch of total strangers. But what amazed me the most was my newfound confidence in putting the parts of me I was most vulnerable about out there. Be it the rolls on my tummy or my gapless thighs, I don’t think twice about showing them off in pictures anymore. I’m also infinitely more comfortable with being perceived as a sexual being than I ever was, as I’ve learned that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even just taking pictures of my body to share on the forum has been an exercise in accepting it as it is. I found these subreddits months ago, but I still talk to the friends I made there, and post pictures as occasional pick-me-ups.

I’ve always tried to be body positive and sex positive, and find it easy to view other people under these lenses. Because of the stigmas I was raised with, however, I often struggle to extend the same kindness to myself. By surprising me with their acceptance, these communities are demystifying the naked human body for me, and are making me more comfortable with my own.