Week Four: Sexuality, Dating & Gender

Facilitators: Kath Albury (University of New South Wales, Australia), Fatima Aziz (EHESS, France), Magdalena Olszanowski (Concordia University, Canada)


How do selfies reinforce or transgress certain forms of subject formation and create conditions for alternate modes of sexual expression? How do age, gender and identity factor in image-making practices? How do they change the way we perceive other people’s selfies? This week we will consider the role selfies play in shaping and reflecting sexed and gendered subjectivity. We will consider the ways that selfies have become central to mediated sexual cultures, from flirting, to dating, to hooking-up.

The readings by Albury et al and Hasinoff look at the social and political tensions around young people’s practices of sexual self-representation. While much of the public discourse around sexy selfies focuses on young women, the readings from Tiilden and Lasen and Garcia contrast the ways that men and women create and deploy selfies on dating sites. Aziz explores the ways that our social networks can influence our interoperation of selfies and profile pictures. Case studies offer examples of recent debates around young people’s media practices, and present a range of approaches to sexual self-presentation online.

The image production exercises invite you to create ‘dating selfies’, in order to reflect on the ways that you negotiate your own gender identity in networked publics, and to reflect on the ways that young people negotiate cultures of sexual representation.


self/representation, sexual citizenship, intimacy, gender




  • Hasinoff, A. A. (2012). Sexting as media production: Rethinking social media and sexuality. New Media & Society, 1461444812459171.
  • Mowlabocus, S. (2010). ‘From the Web Comes a Man’: Profiles, Identity and Embodiment in Men’s Sex/Dating Sites’ in Gaydar Culture: Gay Men, Technology and Embodiment in the Digital Age, Surrey: Ashgate, 83-116.

Readings From Pew Internet Studies


Making (and judging) sexual selfies:

These first two cases explore the ways that sexuality and gender are expressed (or signalled) through selfies:

  1. Nesvig, Kara (2013) Which Look Gets The Most Tinder Matches? Thought Catalog http://thoughtcatalog.com/kara-nesvig/2013/09/which-look-gets-the-most-tinder-matches/
  2. Sandler, Carl (2014) 6 Steps to Better Grindr, Jack’d and Mister App Photos Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carl-sandler/6-steps-to-better-grindr-jackd-and-mister-app-photos_b_5215327.html

These cases offer examples of the ways that selfies and dating profiles make us vulnerable to negative judgements:

  1. The Tinder Survivors Network http://tinderaid.tumblr.com/
  2. Douchebags of Grindr: http://www.douchebagsofgrindr.com/

Selfies and dating

Natalie Grace Sweet, “How Selfies have changed the face of dating”, 11 October 2013 , KQED http://blogs.kqed.org/pop/2013/10/11/how-selfies-have-changed-the-face-of-dating/

 Young people, selfies and sexual citizenship

These two cases offer opposing socio-legal responses to young people’s practices of making and sharing sexual selfies:

  1. Jackman,Tony (2014) ‘In sexting case, Manassas police want to photograph teen in sexually explicit manner’ The Washington Post blog: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/local/wp/2014/07/09/in-sexting-case-manassas-city-police-want-to-photograph-teen-in-sexually-explicit-manner-lawyers-say/
  2. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2014) ‘Sending and receiving sexually explicit messages a normal part of teenage relationships, survey finds’, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-04/sexting-a-normal-part-of-teenage-relationships-survey-find/5429020


How do selfies communicate intimacy in networked publics?

1) Consider the role that ‘public’ selfies play within dating and social networking apps. Choose or create a ‘public’ picture of yourself that you might use as profile pic on a dating app. Using semiotic terms and concepts and thinking about the presentation of self (Week 1) and branding (Week 2), explain why you chose it, and what you are trying to signal, i.e., ‘I’m available for a relationship (but not creepy, clingy or desperate)’ to prospective dates/partners.

2) Choose or create a ‘couple’ selfie you might display on a social networking site. Using semiotic terms and concepts (see Chandler; Streeter), and thinking about the presentation of self (Week 1) and branding (Week 2), how are you displaying an appropriate level of intimacy to your social network? Do you monitor your pictures for oversharing/overexposure? Why? Why not?


Critical media literacy education often encourages participants to produce their own images in order to explore issues of self/representation. Consider the readings on sexting. Based on these readings, how do you explain/describe the anxiety regarding young people’s production and circulation of sexy selfies? If you were designing a class exercise on ‘safe sexting’ for a mixed-gender group of 16 year olds, what activities, tactics, and discussion starters would you suggest? Why? How would you explain your rationale to a group of concerned parents and teachers?

How do the Tinder cases studies represent visual cultures of gender and sexuality? How do normative frameworks of gender and sexuality impact the production and circulation of ‘dating selfies’? Consider the implications of sexuality and gender on image creation, looking and being looked at.


Option 1: Look at terms of service (ToS) of websites/platforms you frequent (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Grindr, Tinder). Find the sections in which any reference to sexuality is mentioned. Write an essay analyzing the ToS of one of these websites. What kind of sexual representation do the policies/ToS facilitate? What policies are there and how they create conditions for particular (sexual) states of being ? Pay specific attention to the language used. Re-write the terms of service that fit with your conception of consent, minimizing risk, and promoting safety.

Option 2: Observe the homepage of a selection (minimum 3, maximum 5) of dating sites : Tinder, Okcupid, Tinder, Grinder or one other of your choice. Analyze how the site presents gender visually and textually (are the photographs, portraits or selfies? Are gender options only for heterosexuals, youth? Are pornographic photographs detectable?) How does this site frame its users as sexual citizens? Write a comparative essay on any three sites of your choice, focusing on the homepage and profile criteria.

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Selfies Syllabus by The Selfies Research Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.