Book Review: Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser

Longtime MSP readers will know that we are big fans of Clarisse Thorn‘s writing: she intelligently tackles important sex topics such as BDSM, sexual submission, open relationships, and sex-positivity. So we of course were super-excited when her book, Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, came out (available on Amazon and Smashwords and in paperback).

Clarisse guides readers through her discovery of and interactions with the pickup community, explaining relevant concepts from feminism along the way. In fact, the book is so packed with anecdotes about her interactions as well as interesting ideas that she concludes each chapter with a tl;dr summary (for those of you who don’t live on the internet, “tl;dr” stands for “too long; didn’t read” and indicates that if you skipped the main content, you can get a tidy summary).

So, my tl;dr summary of this book is that it’s a fascinating exploration of one sex subculture – pickup artistry – through the lens of another few subcultures – BDSM, open relationships, geek culture, and sex-positive feminism – which Clarisse puts into dialogue with one another. She tackles some of the messier debates in feminism about consent and rape culture in a way that’s fun and accessible to people who didn’t necessarily major in Women’s Studies. And, finally, she does all of this in a super-entertaining way, illustrating concepts with examples from her life and her experiences with various kinds of people and relationships.

How did Clarisse learn so much about pickup artists? She engaged in what folklorists and anthropologists refer to as participant observation, a fieldwork technique that has you interacting with a community you’re studying in basically every way possible. You attend their events, you talk to you them in groups, you interview them individually, you participate in as many of their activities as you can… you pretty much hang out constantly. By employing this time-honored technique, Clarisse gained access to a wealth of knowledge about how pickup artists strategize about and discuss dating and sex. Then she refracted these ideas through her own lenses of feminist geek culture, giving us a multifaceted view of the various ways groups conceptualize sex and relationships.

For example, Clarisse discusses the concept of strategic ambiguity, or being kinda flirty without explicitly stating your interest in someone. Pickup artists utilize this to great effect, keeping their “targets” interested in them because they’re not quite sure where the conversation is going. This kind of mystery can be hot and intriguing – but when it comes to making, say, a BDSM scene work, or making an open relationship work, ambiguity needs to be dealt with since you don’t want any unpleasant surprises in those situations. The tension between mystery and certainty is one of the main themes of the book, as various communities and individuals manipulate the relationship between them to varying effects.

Another interesting theme of the book is consent. While Clarisse found that some pickup artists manipulate their targets’ consent in vicious, underhanded ways, others seemed pretty respectful. In turn, while feminist discourse privileges the idea of enthusiastic consent, even feminists don’t have consent 100% figured out. Clarisse made the excellent point that so much dialogue about consent is focused on giving explicit verbal consent – which is great for those of us who are verbally skilled. For someone who’s more kinesthetically attuned and might pick up better on body language or nonverbal cues, being forced to make everything verbally explicit could be tough. Since I’m one of those verbal types, it hadn’t even occurred to me until Clarisse pointed out that our model of consent is flawed since it disempowers people who think differently than us. That’s just one example of the interesting and provocative topics that Clarisse tackles in this book.

I could keep going, since I really adored this book and thought Clarisse wrote a bunch of brilliant yet entertaining stuff in it, but instead I’ll urge you to read it for yourself.

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About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.