What Is BDE, and Why Are We Still Talking About It?

Pete Davidson; BDE

Four years ago, in 2018, it was a different time. We were knee-deep into Trump’s presidency, most of us didn’t know the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic, and, more importantly, I was new to New York City. Making friends as an adult is hard, and is uniquely challenging when living in a major city. So when I was invited to a dinner party, I was eager to impress. The wine was passed around and, after the table gave compliments to our host on his fabulous cooking skills, someone asked, “Have you guys heard of BDE?”

Trying ever so hard to be sophisticated, I nodded, hoping someone would break down the acronym for me. My context clues were: Pete Davidson. Eventually, I broke, “What the hell is BDE?” I asked, face red with shame. “Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?” someone giggled. “What really is big d*ck Energy?”

Big d*ck energy, more commonly referred to as BDE, was coined on Twitter (duh) to describe the late Anthony Bourdain’s cool-guy appeal. A couple weeks later, its legacy was cemented when Allison P. Davis, writing for The Cut, posited that Pete Davidson has BDE. And while Davidson’s actual member has been a topic of discussion in the news before, it’s important to emphasize that BDE is not meant to be taken literally. In other words, the person with BDE doesn’t need large male genitalia. BDE is more about the E (energy) than the BD — it’s meant to refer to the implied confidence that might come from having a big d*ck, regardless of if you actually have one. BDE is the equivalent of a sexy smirk. It’s unassuming, yet intriguing.

That friend’s dinner party was the first time I had heard the term, and it was probably the first time I had thought about Pete Davidson. “BDE has since sparked an all-consuming cultural urge to determine who possesses it and who is lacking — as well as the urge to define it, which raises some trickier questions,” Vox wrote in their 2018 coverage of the phenomena that took over the internet.


Since then, Davidson has become the face (or, the dick?) most associated with the phrase, mainly because he has an impressive dating roster — most recently, he’s been spotted with Emily Ratajkowski — who are more than happy to give positive character references long past the end of their relationship.

I couldn’t help but wonder: does Davidson have big d*ck energy, or is he just acting how he should in a relationship? As one Twitter user writes, “I find it funny when people act shocked that Pete Davidson dates beautiful women. Women have been telling men for decades that we want kind men who can make us laugh, and Pete, by all accounts, is a sweetheart who treats women amazingly well. Learn from him, maybe?”

As part of my deep dive in the BDE, I sent the question, “What is BDE?” into a group chat that includes many of the people who were at the original dinner party and have since become some of my closest friends (pandemic pod and all). Antara, who works in the world of food publications, immediately compared it to the “sauce man” — the kind of guy who feeds you sauce off a wooden spoon. “Like Carmy would be in the middle of the Venn diagram of sauce man and BDE,” she writes, referring to the classic ‘dirtbag’ that everyone fell in love with, played by Jeremy Allen White on FX’s “The Bear.”

So does that mean the person is likable but not a self-proclaimed “nice guy”? “I would say it’s more about confidence, not necessarily being a ‘good’ person,” our friend Taylor responded, then clarified that their confidence isn’t “loud”: “there’s a certain self-assurance, even if they’re a shit show,” she said. And then Molly came through with: “BDE is effectively the new way to say ‘confidence without cockiness’.”

Molly’s perfect pun derailed that conversation. But later, in a conversation with my coworkers, the idea that niceness was crucial to BDE came up again. “I feel like all the dudes who allegedly have BDE are the ones who are nice to their mommas and just generally kind people,” Taylor Andrews, POPSUGAR’s sex & relationships editor, explains. And it’s true: Davidson’s BDE is often credited for his ability to date such beautiful and successful people. That those people often continue to sing his praises even after they’ve split seems like further evidence of his BDE — it takes confidence, humility, and kindness to be able to exit a relationship gracefully, after all — creating a self-reinforcing loop.

I was beginning to get to the heart of BDE. It was the combination of a healthy dose of confidence with genuine kindness and good nature, and absolutely no smugness in sight. (See: Dionne Warwick and Martha Stewart.)Enter: Then Andrews added another quality: “They also don’t say they have BDE. Anyone who says he has BDE does not, in fact, have BDE.”

At this point in my research, it started to feel like a scene from “Pride & Prejudice” on what it means to be an accomplished woman. “She must have a thorough knowledge of all the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking.” To which Andrews translates to, “Thou shall not assume they have BDE.”

The best part of the conversation is that to have heard of big d*ck Energy; you have to be Extremely Online, which feels antithetical to BDE. People with BDE are too cool to live their lives via apps; they’re just out in the world being their genuine, charming selves. But that’s why we love them — because then, the rest of us can sit around and giggle at the dinner party with new friends or reach out to group chats to reminisce about days before the pandemic when all we had to talk about was internet memes. Whether we truly understand it or not, BDE has that effect on people. And that’s the kind of energy anyone wants to vibe with — regardless of size.

Image Source: Design by Aly Lim; Getty / Dimitrios Kambouris

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