say it with semen

Inside the sexy, subversive world of cum tributes

Elena Scotti/FUSION

For Anders*, this Valentine’s Day is going to be a little different.

Not usually one for gifts, this year he’s decided to go all out for a woman he’s been talking to online for the past few weeks—we’ll call her Sarah. He’s been elevating his repertoire past their usual flirtatious missives, spending multiple nights this week meticulously rejiggering his homemade present. “It’s Valentine’s Day, so it has to be great,” he explains.

Sarah won’t be getting a velvet box from Zales or a romantic home-cooked meal. The only roses in sight are in the background frame of an 18-second routine Anders has been rehearsing for weeks. Instead, on the 14th, she’ll wake up to a video in her inbox of Anders, naked from the waist down, shooting ribbons of cum all over a photo of her breasts while he huskily whispers the various ways he’d like to punish her with his cock.

Despite his nerves, I assure him it’s perfect. After all, it’s exactly what Sarah asked for.

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Anders and Sarah have never seen the other’s face, and they’d be the last to say they were dating. But they do have one very specific common interest: They both love cum tributes.

For the uninitiated, cum tributes—commonly referred to as “tribs”—are a transactional, and largely heterosexual, act: A woman posts a photo of herself to a public forum in varying states of naked repose, alongside captions such as “Sunday morning horniness…I need my tits soaked :)” and “I love cum on my ass, any takers?” In return, men provide the requested cum, either by masturbating onto a printed photo or directly onto their tablet or laptop. Though posters and tributers sometimes build a rapport that leads to private tribbing, by-the-book tributes are usually anonymous, public acts.

The largest forum for consensual cum tributes is a subreddit called TributeMe, which has amassed more than 30,000 subscribers in its three-year existence. Cum tributes are by no means a Reddit phenomenon; prior to TributeMe’s birth, men would submit Polaroids of their centerfold cum shots to magazines such as Juggs as a pre-digital tribute, and fetish communities like FetLife and NewbieNudes have been hosting them for years. But the TributeMe community is by far the most organized: Like on many other porn subreddits, posters must first be deemed “cum-certified” to minimize impersonation, spam, and revenge posts.

Consensual tributes are still seen as a niche fetish. Users on TributeMe are often just as active, if not moreso, on other kink subreddits with larger user bases, such as RandomActsOfBlowjob and GoneWild, dipping into TributeMe as dabblers, not regulars. And in a world where fetishes have never been easier to explore, cum tributes, for all their anonymity, logistical planning, and, ahem, fluid power dynamics, can seem anomalous to other more collaborative kinks.

“A huge plus of this community is that someone’s always out there, looking for cum.”

Still, the community of spunk sharers continues to grow, one money shot at a time. A general code suggests that good tributes provide photographic proof, better ones offer video, and the best include dirty talk, a narrative, and perhaps most importantly, a chance to connect.

Over the past few weeks, plenty of TributeMe users were more than willing to share their experiences—and their cum shots—with me. Nearly each offered a different reason for being drawn to the experience, an unexpected result given my naïve assumption that an amalgam of ego-boosting and attractive nudes was the clear explanation for its appeal. But of the ten or so tribbers I spoke with, they all had one thing in common. Everybody, including the moderators of TributeMe, said something along the lines of: “I never expected to like it so much.”

After all, if you just want to ejaculate, a bevy of quicker options are at your fingertips, and if you just want to be flattered, communities like GoneWild, a Reddit forum for sharing and commenting on sexy female nudes, offer a far larger user base. But to truly understand the psychological appeal of a tribute, you first have to understand that cum tributes aren’t nearly as niche as they appear to be. Its history is rooted in something far more commonplace: modern porn, and particularly its lifeblood, the good old money shot.

“The reason men enjoy watching the money shot, or the cum shot, is that it gives them a sense of identification,” explains Patti Britton, a professor of human sexuality and an editor of the International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality. “‘I could be that guy, I am that guy as I’m watching.’”

The money shot, which has been a hallmark of modern pornography since the 1970s, offers other forms of appeal to porn enthusiasts. While prior pornographic films may have featured visible ejaculating from time to time, 1972’s “Deep Throat” was the first film to embrace both a scripted narrative and a money shot as its significant climax. “The proof of the completion of the sexual act is what the money shot is all about,” says Britton, echoing the seminal money shot theory of porn historian Linda Williams. “It becomes proof that something did happen, while also signaling the end of something.”

As much as cum tributes telegraph how we view porn, they’re also about exhibitionism and voyeurism. “There’s definitely two distinct parts to what makes it fun: watching all of the nice replies you get almost immediately, and then waiting for the tributes to come in over the next few days,” says Bobby Jo, the only female moderator on TributeMe, whose visage serves as the subreddit’s banner.

The exhibitionism element is obvious, but with tens of thousands of users, you have to assume the majority are lurking far more often than they’re participating. To that end, voyeurism is just as important as the exhibition itself—and not just for the women hoping to be viewed. For John and Rita, a married couple who seeks tributes for photos of Rita, the thrill of seeing another man turned on by his wife is a turn-on for John.

“I saw other people’s photos and how much they enjoyed posting, and it woke an exhibitionist side in me,” he says.

Therein lies the power of consensual cum tributes: They turn a previously degrading genre on its head.

Though exhibitionism and voyeurism can often be mutually exclusive, cum tributes are one of the only sexual acts dependent upon the two related fetishes acting in tandem. While the original poster might start as the exhibitionist, and her tributer the voyeur, the minute he shares his submission—even if he sends it privately—the roles reverse; the tributer is now on display, while the woman he tributed soaks it in.

Cum tributes are “a creative pastiche between text (the photo) and the body (a man’s semen), and a form of performance art or erotica,” according to Ummni Khan, a fellow at Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law and author of Vicarious Kinks.

In other words, there’s a third player here: people who like to watch that “performance art.” Given that the majority of tributes tend to be shared publicly, as comments on the original poster’s photo request, these non-participatory viewers play a significant role in the tribute, satisfying both their own voyeuristic fantasies, while helping the duo actively tribbing feel sufficiently exhibited. The practice is so common that a fair number of tributes—including Anders and Sarah’s original static photo tribute—are born from women and men observing the other’s work with a different Redditor before reaching out.

“There are tons of lurkers on here who enjoy watching but don’t contribute, and I don’t see any reason to deprive them of their fun,” says Neil, an active member of the subreddit. “A huge plus of this community is that someone’s always out there, looking for cum.”

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If you’re still trying to wrap your mind around the idea of someone willingly ejaculating on his laptop or tablet (multiple discussion posts on TributeMe extol the virtues of keen aim, and barring that, saran wrap), think back to the mid-aughts, when gossip blogger Perez Hilton would defile photos of celebrities he disliked by doodling cartoonish droplets of cum on their face. Though Hilton eventually stopped jizzing on his enemies, non-consensual ejaculations are unfortunately a very real, very violent side of the business of cum tributes.

A quick scan of Reddit reveals plenty of mildly-trafficked subgroups that offer users a place to “tribute” women, without any verification that the person on the other end is who they say they are. Even TributeMe has its roots in revenge: The original moderator created the subreddit to impersonate his ex-girlfriend and plaster her photo all over the internet, alongside “her” requests for tribute.

And therein lies the power of consensual cum tributes: They turn a previously degrading genre on its head.

Tribute porn is surprisingly progressive when it comes to power play. Given that the solicited degradation in a cum tribute almost always is a man ejaculating on a woman, it would be easy to assume that women requesting the jizz are submissive and the tributers are dominant. Yet cum tributes ultimately subvert this assumption by putting the control back in the hands of the female.

In a world of overproduced pornography, the authenticity of connecting with a real person offers a novelty that doesn’t come with pulling up just any old nude.

“It’s empowering to say, ‘Bring it on! Take it off and put it on me,” says Britton. “There’s arousal in ownership. Look at the word alone: tribute…it’s an honoring.”

But while BDSM often has clear-cut rules—negotiation, safewords, aftercare—the etiquette of cum tributes is far more open to debate, a vacuum that, to use Britton’s phrase, has left more than one tributer “crying in the dust.” Captioned solicitations with specific requests (say, “Cum on my stomach, but don’t get anything on my clothes!”) might suffice as boundary negotiation, but other than a few rules of niceness being “mandatory” on the subreddit, little else is required of tributes. Regular posters express frustration over the radio silence tributers have been known to get after a public tribute.

“I have one condition,” says Michael, another Redditor on TributeMe. “A woman has to actually reply with some feedback, otherwise I have no idea what part, if any, she enjoyed.”

Michael’s complaints speak directly to the heart of aftercare in BDSM: Just because the transaction has been completed doesn’t mean that both partners, even with the dramatically lessened intimacy of anonymous tributes, have moved on entirely from the scene. Tribbing is an active, genuine exchange, unlike the passive experience consuming often heavily stylized porn. Though communities such as GoneWild have long since celebrated the “real” human form, TributeMe’s interactive component adds a special draw. It’s part of the reason why video tributes do better than photos, and video tributes with a narrative or dirty talk perform like gangbusters.

“It’s the creativity in some of the responses I get that I really enjoy,” says Bobby Jo. “In one, a guy taped my picture to his Fleshlight and filmed himself in a way that made it look like he was fucking my throat. That video was surreal to watch and I still think about it, even though it was a couple of years ago.”

At bottom, cum tributes are about connecting. In a world of overproduced pornography, with heaving breasts, delicate labia, and generally acceptable lighting, the authenticity of connecting with a real person—a near-guarantee, thanks to Bobby Jo’s verification rules—offers a novelty that doesn’t come with pulling up just any old nude.

“For me, the real draw is the conversations I have with the women I tribute,” says Redditor Neil. “Talking with someone about what they liked, or what they did while watching, or in a special case or two, seeing what they did while watching is incredibly arousing and satisfying.”

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So yes, there are endless layers of appeal to cum tributes. You have your self-validating money shots, your symbiotic voyeurism and exhibitionism. There’s the reclaiming of feminist power, partnered with a push for more realistic porn. Yet the starkest takeaway I’ve had from my own month of lurking the TributeMe subreddit is this: The kindness, support, and humanity I’ve found amongst subscribers of TributeMe was far more mind-blowing than anything I’ve learned about kink to date.

Take John and Rita, the married Redditors, whose primary goal is making sure their “relationship is strong enough to handle open conversations about sexual desires.” Or Jason, a tributer who posts publicly because “it helps arouse women who are browsing, and gives ideas to others for future requests and videos.” There’s Anders and Sarah, who have built up a rapport so friendly that Anders is debating sending his Valentine’s Day gift a few days early, just so Sarah isn’t lonely going into Valentine’s weekend.

Trust is baked into ethos of the community. Users self-police commenters who make posters uncomfortable; ego-boosting compliments simply for the sake of making a poster feel better—no tribute in sight—abound.

“The posters in TributeMe are very respectful and positive as a group,” says Daniel, a tributer who doesn’t even consider himself that kinky. “I see far fewer trolls and detractors in this little corner, maybe because there’s a certain positive energy in the act of tributes, as the name implies.”

Though I continually pepper Daniel with questions about tribute logistics, over the next few days our conversations seem to turn back to the emotional side of tributing: connecting with others, doing something for someone else, even respecting our own boundaries on a Reddit that knows how to up the ante. “Whenever you feel like you’re ready, I’d be happy to do one for you,” he offers.

Days after we speak, I still can’t get Daniel’s words out of my head—or the many other Redditors like him, who also never expected to be into tributes. If trust and respect are what keeps TributeMe in business, perhaps there is something more fulfilling to a cum tribute than, well, the cum.

Before I can overthink my actions, I pull up a sext from an old relationship. Though my lacy bra and panties cover just as much square footage as a bikini, and the photo is one of my go-to sexts, I’m instantly reminded of the time Bobby Jo told me that even now, three years in, she still “gets the flutters” before she posts a public tribute request. After a paragraph of rambling caveats, I hit “send” to Daniel while whispering a botched Hail Mary full of grace.

Though it’s 3 a.m., Daniel’s response is swift: “I’ll have to do this tomorrow, once I’ve let things build up…but just so you know, you look lovely.”

As I wait, the flutters Bobby Jo warned me about are still there, though they have subsided to a quiet hum. Despite my nerves, I remind myself that no matter the outcome, Daniel’s cum tribute will be perfect. After all, it’s exactly what I asked for.

*Some names have been changed for privacy.