Feminism’s Flip Side: A Cultural History of the Pickup Artist


This paper provides a historical account of the ‘pickup artists’ (PUA) phenomenon, tracing the origins back to the early 1970s when more liberal attitudes towards sexuality were on the rise in the West. Today PUA advice not only includes information about seduction techniques, but also programs about self-improvement or so-called ‘inner game’. Seduction and dating gurus can be found across the internet—from individual bloggers to dating coaches and relationship experts—all providing niche services and products on how to seduce and/or have fulfilling relationships with women. By addressing the moral panics around the PUA discourse, the paper seeks to illustrate the connection between second wave feminism, as a discourse increasingly interested in the idea of ‘gender egalitarianism’ and the popularity of seduction techniques for men based on emerging scientific research.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Data from Amazon shows the book’s long tail reach—it currently sits at number 6612 of the most popular books ever sold; number 11 in the ‘Social Sciences > Gender Studies > Men’ category, and number 26 in the ‘Self-Help > Sex’ segment.

  2. 2.

    Restrictions on printed publications were being lifted too; the word ‘fuck’ being included in the Oxford English dictionary for the first time in 1972. The Sensuous Man (1971) and The Sensuous Woman (1969) were two classic sex manuals written at that time (by authors simply known as ‘M’ and ‘J’). The Sensuous Man includes a good deal of information about male sexuality, covering topics like penis size, impotence and premature ejaculation.

  3. 3.

    Not all feminists would deny the existence of biology in helping to shape gendered and sexuality identities, but by looking at media debates about quotas in politics and the military, for example, these voices are less prevalent. At times Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was almost entirely based on the feminist ‘gender egalitarian’ presupposition that, because of her sex, she was at a disadvantage and would make a better political leader.

  4. 4.

    Kaplan goes so far as to say that ‘gaming logic culminates in the dehumanization of all parties and suspends moral considerations’. It’s important to consider that all interactions cited in the article—like those mentioned in PUA books—are consensual, and objectification in and of itself is not necessarily amoral. The implicit assumption here is that traditional dating practices (whatever they are), by contrast, are morally superior in some way.

  5. 5.

    Morton Hunt’s Sexual Behaviour in the 1970s (1974), for instance, resurveys some of the same terrain that the Kinsey’s studies covered in 1948 and 1953, including new data on the emerging swingers lifestyle. Hunt optimistically suggests that ‘[t]he double standard [regarding female sexual permissiveness] has been relegated to the scrap heap of history’. The research was funded by the Playboy Foundation.

  6. 6.

    There are, of course, downsides to both male and female forms of promiscuity, just as there are limitations to more conservative forms of relationship. It’s not my aim to promote ‘one side’ over the other, but to seek a better understanding as to how public debate (including within academia) has been shaped in the first place. Scientific research is by no means infallible, but I do believe it has an important role to play in cultural studies’ exploration of the topic.

  7. 7.

    A number of studies (Dunn and Hill 2014; Dunn and Searle 2010) highlight how markers of material wealth (such as luxury apartment- and car-ownership) can increase a woman’s sexual attractiveness towards men. These findings align with the ‘parental investment’ theory, which posits that—because of the risks related to childbearing—women tend to seek out resources and security in a sexual partner. Recent research provides a more nuanced view, considering the influence of hormones and risk-taking behavior during the menstrual cycle. What defines ‘status’ too is an important question to bear in mind, and one which relates to the individual woman’s personal values. Data on male sexual attraction, on the other hand, continues to highlight the importance of female youthfulness, physical attractiveness (shiny hair, nails and clear skin) as well as a hip-to-waist ratio of about 0.7. Evidence suggests a strong correlation between these traits and female levels of fertility.


  1. Amazon. (2017). Book review: How to be a 3% man: How to win the heart of the woman of your dreams [Kindle Edition]. https://www.amazon.com.au/Winning-Heart-Woman-Your-Dreams-ebook/dp/B004QOBAPK. October 3, 2017.

  2. Ariana, N. (1972). How to pick up men! Tenafly, NJ: Eric Weber Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bailey, B. (1989). From front porch to back seat: Courtship in twentieth-century America. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Baren-Cohen, S. (2003). The essential difference: Male and female brains and the truth about autism. London: Penguin Press Science.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bergner, D. (2013). What do women want? Adventures in the science of female desire. Melbourne: Text Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Brizendine, L. (2007). The female brain. New York: Harmony.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Brizendine, L. (2011). The male brain: A breakthrough understanding of how men and boys think. New York: Broadway Books.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Collins, N. L., & Miller, L. C. (1994). Self-disclosure and liking: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 457–475.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Connerley, M. M. (2008). When Suzie meets Ed: A history of dating advice from 1920 to 1970. Master’s Thesis: University of Kansas.

  10. De Angelo, D. (2001) Double your dating: What every man should know about how to be successful with women. http://doubleyourdating.com/.

  11. Donovan, A. (2017). Neil Strauss (style). https://www.datingskillsreview.com/neil-strauss/. October 3, 2017.

  12. Dunn, M. J., & Hill, A. (2014). Manipulated luxury-apartment ownership enhances opposite-sex attraction in females but not males. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 12, 1–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dunn, M. J., & Searle, R. (2010). Effect of manipulated prestige-car ownership on both sex attractiveness ratings. British Journal of Psychology, 101, 69–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Eaton, A. A., & Rose, S. (2011). Has dating become more egalitarian? A 35 year review using Sex Roles. Sex Roles, 64, 842–862.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Ellis, A. (2011). All out: An autobiography. New York: Prometheus Books.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Gordon, J. (2016). Online ‘pick-up artist’ is branded ‘sexist’ and ‘disgusting’ after creating viral chat-up line which he claims will ‘get men laid’ on Tinder. Daily Mail Australia. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3455252/Online-pick-artist-branded-disgusting-creating-trashy-sexist-chat-line-guarantees-men-laid-Tinder.html. March 20, 2016.

  17. Gross, A. (2016). Pickup artists put new sheen on old sexism. Washington Square News. http://www.nyunews.com/2016/02/09/pickup-artists-put-new-sheen-on-old-sexism/. March 20, 2016.

  18. Hanley, J. (1937). Let’s make Mary: A Gentleman’s guide to seduction in 8 easy lessons. New York: Phoenix Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hollander, P. (2011). Expert advice on dating and mating. Culture and Society, 48, 251–257.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hunt, M. (1974). Sexual behaviour in the 1970s. New York: Dell Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Jeffries, R. (1988). How to get the women you desire into bed: A down and dirty guide to dating and seduction for the man who’s fed up with being Mr. Nice Guy. Self-published eBook. http://www.seduction.com/media/pdf/How-To-Get-The-Women-You-Desire-Into-Bed.pdf. March 20, 2016.

  22. Jonathan, N. H. (1948). Guide book for the young man about town. New York: Winston Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Manson, M. (2011). Models: How to attract women through honesty. New York: CreateSpace Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  24. O’Neil, R. (2015). The work of seduction: Intimacy and subjectivity in the London ‘seduction community’. Sociological Research Online, 20(4), 5. http://www.socresonline.org.uk/20/4/5.html. February 10, 2016.

  25. Oesch, N. (2012). The dating mind: Evolutionary psychology and the emerging science of human courtship. Evolutionary Psychology, 10(5), 899–909.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Sadalla, E. K., Kenrick, D. T., & Vershure, B. (1987). Dominance and heterosexual attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 730–738.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Scriver, A. (2015). Toronto’s pickup artist culture promotes misogyny, masks bigger issues for men. She Knows Australia. http://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/1085634/torontos-pick-up-artist-culture-feeding-on-toxic-masculinity. March 20, 2016.

  28. Strauss, N. (2005). The game: Penetrating the secret society of pickup artists. New York: ReganBooks.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Sullivan, R. (2016). ‘Pick-up artist’ Jeff Allen has his Australian visa cancelled. News.com.au. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/immigration-minister-under-pressure-to-deport-pickup-artist-from-australia/news-story/6f2c365723dbfd71b54c293310e795b0. March 20, 2016.

  30. Thompson, E. H., & Hampton, J. A. (2011). The effect of relationship status on communicating emotions through touch. Cognition and Emotion, 25, 295–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Thwaites, M. (2016). The sexist and misogynistic views of the ‘pick-up artist’ organising a meet-up for like-minded men in Cardiff. Wales Online. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/sexist-misogynistic-views-pick-up-10823255. March 20, 2016.

  32. Tomassi, R. (2017). The best of rational male: Year six. The Rational Male. https://therationalmale.com/2017/08/22/the-best-of-the-rational-male-year-six/. October 3, 2017.

  33. Valizadeh, R. (2013). Why can’t I use a smiley face? Stories from one month in America. Self-published eBook. http://www.rooshv.com/smiley-face. March 8, 2016.

  34. Valizadeh, R. (2016). How to stop rape. http://www.rooshv.com/how-to-stop-rape. March 20, 2016.

  35. von Markovic, E. (2007). The mystery method: How to get beautiful women in bed. London: St. Martin’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Wayne, C. (2014a) How to be a 3% man: Winning the heart of the woman of your dreams. Self-published eBook. https://understandingrelationships.com/. March 20, 2016.

  37. Wayne, C. (2014b). What women really want. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH-9ZVE6pJ8. March 20, 2016.

  38. Wayne, C. (2015). My feminist man hating girlfriend. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEp0-vklfVE, March 20, 2016.

  39. Wayne, C. (2017). Coach Corey Wayne. https://www.youtube.com/user/coachcoreywayne/about. October 3, 2017.

  40. Weber, E. (1970). How to pick up girls. New York: Bantam Books.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Wilke, A., Hutchinson, J. M. C., Todd, P. M., & Kruger, D. J. (2006). Is risk-taking used as a cue in mate choice? Evolutionary Psychology, 4, 367–397.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was 100% self-funded.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew Stephen King.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

Andrew Stephen King has received no grants or research funding from any external, commercial and/or institutional sources.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

King, A.S. Feminism’s Flip Side: A Cultural History of the Pickup Artist. Sexuality & Culture 22, 299–315 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-017-9468-0

Download citation


  • Pickup artist
  • Seduction
  • Attraction
  • Feminism
  • Dating advice
  • Moral panics