Take a moment, close your eyes, and call to mind the men in your life who have struggled with sex and relationships. You could envision your clients, your relatives, or your friends. There’s a pretty good chance that many of them have been influenced by the work of pickup artists at one point or another.
For those of us who work with men, it’s important to know what our clients have learned about dating, sex, and relationships to help them move toward their goals for their sex lives. Just as we consider our clients’ sex histories and the ways childhood messages may be getting in the way, the information and worldview taught by pickup artists could also be hindering them.
What is a pickup artist?
In one of the more interesting academic articles you’ll come across, Ran Almog and Danny Kaplan defined a pickup artist as “a man who is knowledgeable and competent in the ways of attracting and seducing women” (2015, p. 7).
Most people became familiar with pickup artists through hearing about the international bestselling book The Game by Neil Strauss, which exploded in popularity in 2005, or through the short-lived VH1 series The Pickup Artist, which ran for two seasons in 2007.
In practical terms, pickup artists (usually cis, heterosexual men, but not always) write books, lead seminars, offer bootcamps, create video games, or run forums with the purpose of teaching men (almost always cis heterosexual men) how to seduce women.
For those of us working as sex coaches, there’s no surprise that demand for these services exists. Dating, sex, and relationships are complicated for everyone, uniquely so for men. In this age of online dating and changing social norms, many men are crying out for help. The pickup artists are ready and waiting, promising to turn “losers” into Casanovas.
What do pickup artists teach and is it effective?
In 2018, I conducted research for my Master’s thesis about pickup artists. I analyzed the content of four pickup artist books: The Game, The Rational Male, Bang, and The Natural. I was looking for metaphors used to describe sex and relationships. My hunch was this data would reveal the deeper framework pickup artists teach to their clients.
What I discovered by looking at these metaphors is that pickup artists frame sexual sociality as a market. In this market, men produce and sell attention, defined as time, money, and emotion, and are paid with sex produced by women. Women buy attention from men and pay with sex.
In this way, sex is treated as a means to something else, rather than an end in itself.
These metaphors, and the framework they reveal, are extremely commodifying and objectifying of women. However, they are equally as commodifying and objectifying of men. The approach to dating, sex, and relationships taught by pickup artists creates a very disempowered and distanced view of what relationships can be.
Further, for placing so much focus on achieving sexual interactions, pickup artists write almost nothing about actual S-E-X! What they do write about sex is not sexy. Safer sex practices are hardly mentioned, if at all, and absolutely nothing was written in any of these books about sexual pleasure.
The reason why there is zero mention of sexual pleasure is because the point of sex in pickup artist discourse isn’t pleasure. Instead, sex is about being “alpha”: at the top of the social hierarchy among other men.
If pleasurable sex is what your clients are looking for, pickup artist tactics and techniques won’t get them there.
What are the implications for sex coaches?
When working with men, especially men who have had contact with pickup artists in one form or another, it is important to present different visions of what sex and relationships can be.
The pickup artist view of sex and relationships is transactional and creates pressure to prove one’s masculinity through sexual conquest. By reframing sex and relationships as experiential, and by refocusing on pleasure instead of performance, we can help these clients set down a heavy burden of anxiety and angst around sex.
Part of why pickup artists are so in demand is they intuitively meet men where they are and answer their questions directly. Pickup artists acknowledge the message men have received throughout their lives—that, to be a real man, they must be having sex with women—and promise to show them how.
As sex coaches, we have a tremendous opportunity to present alternatives. When men ask “how,” we can help them by answering how: by providing practical tools, techniques, and approaches to sex and relationships.
We are also called to tap into our compassion when serving men. Many men struggle with and suffer from loneliness, isolation, depression, and touch hunger. We can help to empower our male clients by showing them pathways to meeting their needs that recognize our clients’ wholeness as human beings and recognize the autonomy of their potential partners.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the metaphors our clients use to describe the world structure the way they think and, in turn, how they take action. The language our clients use to describe sex and relationships is important. Keep an ear out for transactional language and address it when it comes up. The more we can steer our clients toward an experiential and pleasure-based framework for sex, the more ease and joy we will guide them toward in their sex lives.
Continue the Conversation
Are you familiar with pickup artists? Have you or your clients ever sought out services from one? What do you think is the best approach to working with men who have trouble connecting with potential partners? We’re so curious to hear your thoughts! Join us in our Facebook discussion group, Sex Matters, to join in on this conversation today.