In one of my more masochistic moments, I made the mistake of reading up on the world of pickup artists (PUAs) and related online communities. Two sites in particular caught me like a deer in headlights: a reddit post about using operant conditioning to “train” women, and the blog of pickup artist RooshV, whose views on women and relationships are… Well… Special. Such men cultivate communities that serve as echo chambers of perpetual validation. They encourage potentially like-minded men to determine a woman’s value by how well she conforms to their expectations and/or satisfies their prurient needs. Stuff like this never fails to make my blood boil. To be fair, I cannot say that the information presented in these forums is representative of the seduction community at large.
Part of what triggers me is that the PUA language in those forums keys closely to some of the language used in kink. After all, the kink world also plays with constructs of humiliation, objectification, and control. To the outside observer, there may seem to be little, if any difference between these two worlds. Yet, to my mind, the PUA community in question feels invasive and toxic, whereas the kink world, in its ideal form at least, does not.
Seduction is essentially artful manipulation, which is not necessarily harmful in and of itself. One could argue that manipulation is a core component of all social conditioning, but that’s a topic for a different post and probably a different forum. It therefore makes sense that manipulation is inherent in PUA skills training. In the proper context, I can see how seduction communities offer men the opportunity learn basic social skills and body language cues, which can help build their confidence. And confidence is attractive.
Unfortunately, as illustrated by the reddit post and RooshV’s musings, PUA communities can also teach men the mechanics of what essentially boils down to emotional abuse. Like it or not, emotional abuse can be extremely effective, even on the smartest and most savvy among us. I have fallen prey to manifestations of emotional abuse more times than I’m comfortable admitting. Sadly, I know all too many capable, beautiful, and intelligent women with similar stories to tell. This type of pickup game is not about establishing connection with another person. In fact, it’s not even about sex, when you drill down to the core of things. It’s really about power, and exerting power over another. Sex just happens to be the metric by which success is gaged.
Brene Brown would say that this PUA behavior, and that of the seduction community at large, is a type of armor against vulnerability, because underneath the bluster is a fundamental fear of being weak. It’s what draws men to seduction courses and communities in the first place.
In his book, The Game, Neil Strauss writes:
This was, far and away, the most pathetic thing I’d ever done in my life. And unfortunately— as opposed to, say, masturbating in the shower—it wasn’t something I could do alone. Mystery and the other students would be there to bear witness to my shame, my secret, my inadequacy.
A man has two primary drives in early adulthood: one toward power, success, and accomplishment; the other toward love, companionship, and sex. Half of life then was out of order. To go before them was to stand up as a man and admit that I was only half a man.
However, instead of doing the hard work necessary to work through their demons and achieve a true sense of agency, PUAs may choose to try to feel powerful by gaining power over their targets. Once their targets’ opinions and consent stop figuring into the equation, that’s where pickup artistry becomes abusive. It’s kind of sad, really. If their behaviors didn’t inflict so much harm on others, I might pity these men.
While in the world of kink (healthy kink at least), the means of engagement can look frighteningly similar to those of pickup artists, the ends and underlying intentions are completely different. Therefore, the very language PUAs use to shield themselves from weakness is used by responsible kinksters to foster connection and create space for genuine vulnerability. Partners agree upon and build safe containers where they can see each other and be seen. They can take their darkest monsters out of their cages, show them to another person, and find acceptance. Power ebbs and flows between partners. Often, scenes have the potential to be profoundly healing and transformative for all parties involved.
For example, a friend once recounted a time when she and her dominant were engaged in a humiliation/degradation scene, which is an edgy space for her. The scene revolved around the dominant telling her that she was only of use to him as an object of pleasure. When the scene was over and orgasms were had, she looked at her partner and asked “Can I be a person again?” Without missing a beat, he held her, looked her in the eye, validated her humanity, and expressed gratitude for the gift of her vulnerability.
To me, that’s real power. And real power will always elude those pickup douche nozzles. Sorry. I meant nozzles who engage in douchey behavior.