Guest post: how pick up artists promote bad sex

stop-shooting-idiotThis is a guest post by Bryan Haut. Bryan is a 27-year-old cis dude who believes that women are human beings.

“Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant.”

“Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission…”

These are two, now infamous, pieces of Ken Hoinsky’s advice, taken from Reddit’s seduction community. Hoinksy, a self-professed pickup artist (PUA), has received 8 times his asked-for funding to write a book, Above the Game, to teach other lovelorn (or at least affection-lorn) men how to get laid. Two weeks ago, Kickstarter distributed over 16,000 crowd-sourced dollars to Hoinsky, and then, after those quotes became public, apologized for doing so. And though Hoinsky’s book is unpublished, the advice he has already written illustrates a major problem with the “wisdom” offered by the PUA community: it doesn’t lead to good sex.

There’s a common pickup artist narrative that goes like this: “I used to be nerdy. I used to be shy. I used to be bad at talking to girls. Just like you! But then I learned to be a real man, and now I’m drowning in women!  I am awesome.” This is the mythos of Neil Strauss, author of the New York Times Best Seller The Game, and of Vince Lin, founder of the website PUA Lingo, who claims that during his pick-up career he “has transformed himself from a nerdy 23-year-old virgin to dating hot girls most men dream of,” and it is unsurprisingly also the narrative adopted by Hoinsky in his Kickstarter appeal.

It is also true of me. I’m a 27-year-old, well, dude. I love video games and have been known to play Dungeons and Dragons. I was painfully virginal through high school. And I am unapologetically excited about action movies that feature Channing Tatum, explosions, and cheesy one-liners. And these days, at the risk of sounding like a Pickup Artist myself, I have a lot of really enjoyable sex. But more on that later.

It’s no surprise that PUA guides are popular. The 130,000 readers of Reddit’s seduction group clearly desire and respond to a sense of community. Strauss, Lin, and Hoinsky are “just like them,” after all, and can tell community members that they aren’t alone in their struggle. And PUA guides offer to make something scary—admitting attraction, approaching a woman, making yourself vulnerable—easier. With a step-by-step list of instructions, PUA guides turn flirting and romance into a measurable set of cause-and-effect interactions. And, if responses on Reddit are to be believed, the advice works—that is, it gets women into bed.

But I doubt its long-term power. After all, self-help books exist to make their readers happier. And if “The Game” did so, there would be no market for Above the Game, nor for whichever book will inevitably arrive after Hoinsky’s fades away.  And aside from its planned obsolescence, the nature of the advice is structured to give short-term, bad results: I suspect very few long term relationships grow out of step-by-step pickups, and I also doubt that women who go home with pickup artists still want to have sex with them the next morning.

Here’s why: because seduction communities exist mostly on the web and contain members who are most comfortable interacting through computers, they are tailored to that audience, and offer advice that turns flirting and romantic interactions into something very akin to a video game.

The seduction community has developed jargon-y terminology to describe interactions with women, and detailed metrics to track during encounters with them. The PUA community talks about balancing her IOI (indicator of interest) against your AA (Approach Anxiety). They launch into descriptions of how actions increase your DHV (Demonstration of Higher Value), or how a “wing” needs to disable an AMOG (Alpha Male of the Group, the superior man who could come in and snatch the prize away—or pry the snatch away). In the PUA framework, a set situation calls for a set response, much like in a video game.

But there are real dangers in this line of thinking. First, it makes any interaction mechanical, and by definition, non-human. But more importantly, it makes the woman your adversary. She’s become an object, like a non-player avatar in a game. You get her in bed when you’ve beaten the final level.  It is not a far jump from this view—of sex as a justified reward, as, in the words of sex writer Thomas Macaulay Millar, “a substance that can be given, bought, sold or stolen,” to one that not only endorses objectification, but also sexual coercion. In fact, Hoinsky’s advice did just that.

Following this advice, at worst you’re committing assault, but even at best, you’ll have lots of empty, mediocre sex. Avoiding assault is reason enough to walk away from PUA hucksterism, but on top of that, there’s this incontrovertible truth I’ve recently come around to: the best sex I’ve had is when I know my partner is enjoying what we’re doing. When I feel comfortable telling her what makes me feel best, when she feels comfortable telling me the same. This certainly cannot happen if she is your opponent, an enemy you must fool into submission. The best sex happens not when she’s just said yes because you’ve finally completed your set of instructions, but when she’s said “hell yes!” because she knows you both want one another.  She feels comfortable and wanted, and you haven’t had to dupe her into that. She isn’t “letting” you have sex with her; she wants it just as much as you do. How do you know what she wants? Because you’ve asked her.

This approach to women also works when you are simply approaching a woman; it works outside of the bedroom, too. Treat women as people, not as objects to be acted upon. Be assertive with, but not aggressive towards someone. Act with the woman, not on her. Hoinsky makes this mistake when he writes that a woman lets you touch her because, “you have established yourself as a LEADER.” PUA communities repeatedly tie confidence to aggression, when discussing physically taking charge—for instance, by grabbing her hand—or disarming an “alpha.” In that framework, you are the sole actor instead of being one of two (or more. Dream big!) participants. So, be assertive: acknowledge the (very real) “approach anxiety,” but be willing to say hello (here’s a great pickup line: “Hi, I’m Bryan. What’s your name?”), be willing to say what you want, and be willing to ask for what makes you feel good. And, for a good time, remember that enthusiastic consent is the chance for both people to feel wanted. And goddamn does it feel good to feel wanted by another real person with thoughts just like your own. A good first step is realizing that’s what women are.

I love video games, but I know when I’m not playing one. And hell, I’d prefer the woman with her hand on my penis to be a friend, not a foe.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted July 6, 2013 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    This is certainly a huge step in the right direction. The one thing I would add (and this is my humble opinion based largely on my own limited experience) is that sexual connections are most fulfilling when they are experienced as a form of intimate communication between two very willing human beings. Even if it’s someone you just met, open your heart to the fundamental humanity of your partner and take joy in fulfilling her desires with every moment of that profound physical intimacy that we call sex. Maybe this isn’t really adding anything to Bryan’s post beyond a slightly different perspective on what he certainly appears to understand.

  2. Posted July 10, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    There are lots of different kind of methods described by pick-up artists, some of them are in fact quite misogynist and can be considered sexual assault, but there are other techniques that are quite feminist-compatible. I highly recommend reading Clarisse Thorn’s book about this.

    the best sex I’ve had is when I know my partner is enjoying what we’re doing. This is exactly what pick-up artists are aiming for. The way I understand it is not that they are trying to rape women and manipulating them into not noticing it (although some of them might actually do that), but that they are trying to adapt behavioural patterns that (allegedly) attract women and create (strong) desire in them to have sex with you. So the sex is quite consensual and both partners are quite wanting and enjoying it.

    And these days, […] I have a lot of really enjoyable sex. [T]he best sex I’ve had is when I know my partner is enjoying what we’re doing. Good for you. I think every person on this planet is aware of the fact that sex is the best when you know each other and trust each other and both really want it. But pick-up artist theory is not aimed at people who have the choice between having shitty sex with a random stranger and good sex with a person you trust. It is aimed at people who cannot find anyone at all who wants to have sex with them. Don’t tell these people that all PUA stuff is shit and they should just “be themselves” and “treat women like people”. Some people’s personality just isn’t attractive to anyone, so telling them to be themselves means telling them to live without sex (with a partner), and I don’t think anyone will listen to that. Rather explain to them which parts of the PUA theories are sexist and offer them a better way to do it. Say something constructive.

    Treat women as people, not as objects to be acted upon. I think it’s important to mention that the word “object” can have two different meanings in this context. The first is to see women as things that don’t have an own will, who you can treat in whichever way you want. This is obviously sexist and unacceptable, but I don’t think this is what most PUA theory talks about, because if women were just things that you could do with whatever you want, you wouldn’t need to make yourself attractive in order to have sex with them, so you wouldn’t need PUA theory in the first place. The second way to treat women as “objects” is to see them as the aim of your desire, to see their only meaning in your life in their ability to be your sex mate. I think a lot of PUA literature talks like this, and I agree that it is not very nice, but at the same time it’s very hard to criticise. No one has the duty to want to spend time and to develop an emotional bond with anyone, and I don’t think there’s anything particularly unconsensual or unfeminist about just wanting to have sex with a person and nothing more, as long as you respect that person’s feelings and boundaries.

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