There’s a tucked away section of Instagram full of smut and darkness: the direct message request folder. This is where all those messages you send to girls who don’t follow you back go to die, and where many women find unsolicited dick pics, heart emojis and unsettling introductions. Recently, Maria Yagoda, Sex Machina columnist for Broadly, checked in on her requests and found a message that particularly struck her: “Is it a problem if I jerk off to this pic? I find it sooooo sexy,” an unknown account with a profile picture of the chest of a man wearing a suit and bow tie wrote, linking to one of her photos. “I didn’t respond, but I can guess pretty confidently he went ahead and did it anyway,” Yagoda says.
As a self-proclaimed Instagram thot, I get a lot of these messages myself. But I don’t have to guess that some guys are jerking off to photos on Instagram — they tell me directly. Moreover, I — and many other women — know that the number of guys doing so far exceeds the number who fess up to it in our inboxes. This is all thanks to Instagram’s “save to private collection” feature, which allows a user to privately save a photo to a folder within the app without the poster of the photo knowing. “Instagram created the perfect digital spank bank,” a 2016 Mic article by Melanie Ehrenkranz proclaimed.
For the few who don’t already know, a “spank bank” is a mental memory bank of images (see all these Urban Dictionary definitions) ranging from the sexually explicit to the fleeting (e.g., a woman you saw in the grocery store). MEL contributing writer Brian VanHooker has reported previously on how these memories are probably unreliable, that is, those images you conjure up in your brain don’t look exactly as they did in the moment of their creation.
With Instagram, however, the concept has become tangible, albeit digitally. The idea being that you don’t have to fantasize about the girl next door — you can simply scroll through her feed. Of course, Instagram doesn’t promote the app as a whole or the save function specifically for such a purpose. (That would be as untoward as the female nipples it outlaws.) Still, many women assert that some men are using it in this way, particularly those with business settings on their account, allowing them to see the demographics of their followers, the amount of views their posts received, and most tellingly, the number of times a photo has been saved to a private collection.
Being the egomaniac I am, I have a business account for my personal Instagram. One day, as I checked the stats of my posts, I noticed a drastic increase in saves on photos that are a bit more scandalous. For example, a photo of my face has 23 saves. A photo of me in a bikini, however, has 112. Yagoda has noticed the same difference. “When I post pics of food, scenery or dogs, I get 0 to 3 saves, which I chalk up to accidents honestly — I accidentally save random shit I see on my feed, too,” she says. “When I post pics of me in revealing clothing, though, I get up to 30 saves, time and time again. This is way too much to chalk up to coincidence.”
Nina, a 25-year-old from Massachusetts puts it more bluntly: “Guys save it for their spank bank.” It was a realization inspired (indirectly) by her ex-boyfriend. “I used to always get in arguments with him because he only looked at Instagram when I was at work or not home because I knew what he was using it for. He only followed girls that took their clothes off.”
Like Nina’s ex, many men swear up-and-down that they aren’t using Instagram as a spank bank. To see if I could get them to claim otherwise, I took to Twitter:
The responses I received, however, were telling. “I think the situation is that men save photos that are hot but don’t necessarily use those photos to masturbate. There’s actual porn on the internet for that,” says Harry, a Twitter follower of mine who works at a record company in L.A. “Equally, you don’t need to save a photo on IG to be able to jack off to it. So the saving bit is a moot point.”
As for why men would save sexy photos without masturbating to them, he says, “To create a horniness mood board. Some people make Pinterest boards about their favorite curtain fabrics. It’s sort of the same thing but with horny dudes and Instathots.”
Another guy confirmed that he does use Instagram for masturbatory purposes, sharing that most of the people he follows are female models.
A third man, Paulo, a 22-year-old Harvard grad in Boston, thinks Instagram’s primary function now is as a centralized spank bank. “The app feels like it’s only meant for that purpose and memes now,” he explains.
When I asked male friends of mine, they all denied doing it themselves (I MEAN, I’D NEVER DO IT), saying that they thought it was weird (SO, SO GROSS) but that surely some of their friends (I MEAN, I HEARD OF GUYS DOING IT) must save photos for this reason (I BARELY EVEN GO ON INSTAGRAM).
To that end, maybe it’s not that men are horny on Instagram, but that they’re horny everywhere. After all, as @JamesCrawfordX wrote in response to my tweet, “Guys use everything as a spank bank. Even people they see in a literal bank.”