I studied and practiced “The Game”-style pickup artistry back in the day. This may sound far-fetched, but it’s actually shaped my attitude on the subject of sexual communication and consent for the better. One of the biggest teaching points of many PUAs (pick-up artists) relates directly to the topic in the news of late: sensitivity to non-verbal signals (see Aziz Ansari).
Central to this set of teachings is the idea that straight guys are the dumb-asses who need everything verbalized (Yes, you can stick your penis is my vagina or No, I do not want to have sex with you), while straight women are the emotionally intelligent creatures who are sensitive enough to operate and communicate on non-verbal channels. Much of the advice we got was the same that Em & Lo advocate — e.g. don’t sleep with drunk girls, don’t be pushy if she’s reticent, etc. — if not for the sake of women themselves, then at least for the sake of self-preservation (PUAs are very sensitive to rape accusations). And we were taught to tap into female patterns of thought, emotion, and modes of communication.
I began paying explicit attention to things I’d never thought of before: her body language, her tone, the way she positions herself in relation to me when we first interact, the quantity and quality of her responses, the initiative (or lack thereof) that she puts into forwarding the interaction, etc.
Guess what word I never again heard from a woman in the context of seduction? The word “no.” Not because any woman I was with ever felt she couldn’t say no, but because I didn’t push it with women I knew weren’t into me (or into sex with me). Thanks to the conscious work I put into understanding non-verbal signals, I can tell from a mile a way if a woman isn’t interested sexually. I learned to disengage politely and with good humor long before it ever came to the point of predictable rejection or uncomfortable evasion. So I only ended up sleeping with women who were thoroughly enthusiastic (enthusiasm being a key element in much of the current discussions around consent). When you know what you’re looking at, female interest — and disinterest — are as obvious as a brick wall.
Unfortunately, when straight men don’t know what they’re looking at, disinterest is as imperceptible as a glass wall. Like I said, I put a good deal of work into upping my consciousness. It didn’t come naturally to me. I had to learn. Prior to all this I was the type of guy to ask a woman out eight times because she gave excuses and deferrals in response to my invitations, rather than explicit rejections. The type of guy who wondered things like, “Why are women so shitty?” when they ghosted on me. The type to orbit a woman for weeks or months in hopes that she’d just kinda magically fall for me.
Mixed signals can be confusing, men tend to err on the side of optimism, and many of them just don’t “get it.” I used to be one of them, so I can personally attest to the benefits of explicit instruction in decoding non-verbal signals (even if mine came from a source as reviled as PUA’s).
And for the record: I personally don’t believe Ansari is one of these guys who don’t “get it.” He has money and a TV show: he must get laid left and right. A celebrity at that level — especially one who promotes feminism in his act — surely has enough positive sexual experience to accurately read a woman’s non-verbal signals and make a good call. I think in the absence of an explicit “no,” good ol’ entitlement kicked in and he chose to plow forward past her boundaries despite her apparent discomfort.
While there are some PU schools of thought that regrettably encourage behavior like Ansari’s, any decent, self-respecting (and woman-respecting) pickup artist wouldn’t stoop to such lows — and wouldn’t need to.