How’s your ‘day game’?
What’s your ‘rapid escalation’ technique? Does it involve ‘negging’ or overcoming ‘last-minute resistance’, to result in a ‘one day lay’? If you’re a woman who’s been approached by a random man in the Oxford Street area recently, chances are you might well have been on the receiving end of some of these tactics.
The seduction coaching industry is estimated to be worth £80million, and is currently thriving in London. Promising to teach heterosexual men ‘mastery’ with women, it ranges from private companies offering one-to-one coaching which can cost thousands of pounds, to blogs and online forums where videos garner millions of views.
While the pick-up artist is often portrayed as a lovable rogue teaching chat-up lines and dress sense to clueless men — think of Ryan Gosling’s character in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Barney in How I Met Your Mother or even Queer Eye — the reality is in many cases a lot more troubling.
A recent Panorama documentary exposed the UK pick up artist (PUA) scene, and the seduction coaches who were secretly filming women without their permission and posting the footage online, as well as encouraging men to approach teenage girls on the Southbank in order to practise meeting women during the day — their ‘day game’.
Seduction coach Richard Hood told the undercover Panorama journalist that men are too preoccupied with consent, and encouraged him to get women to ‘the point of no return’. Hood said: ‘When you get to the apartment tell her to take her shoes off — as soon as you walk through the front door — you start taking your shoes off, it’s basically the first part of escalation.’
British pick-up artist Nick Krauser (whose website features the tagline ‘Younger, Hotter, Tighter’) regularly blogs about his techniques for breaking down a woman’s ‘LMR’ (last-minute resistance). In a post entitled ‘Belgrade diaries — part two’, he describes having sex with a 19-year-old woman he had met a few days earlier: ‘Her eyes briefly go wide, she whispers “don’t” and then I’m f***ing her.’
Rachel O’Neill is a sociologist who studied the world of seduction coaches for more than a decade for her book, Seduction: Men, Masculinity and Mediated Intimacy. ‘London represents a major hub within the transnational seduction industry,’ she says. ‘Areas like Oxford Street offer anonymity — a man can approach dozens of women and never see any of them again. Seduction seminars regularly take place on London university premises, their central locations making these venues practical and lending the industry academic gravitas.’
I meet Johnny Cassell, 31, who calls himself ‘London’s leading seduction expert’, at the terrace bar of the Corinthia Hotel. He has 26k followers on Instagram, and claims to have helped thousands of men in his 14-year career as a dating coach. According to his website, ‘just as you have a driving instructor, Johnny is your vehicle to success with women’. With his silk pocket handkerchief, chin-length hair, manicured goatee and diamond cufflinks, he looks exactly as you’d expect a seduction expert to look. ‘That’s a beautiful dress,’ he tells me when he greets me, kissing me on both cheeks. It’s actually a skirt, but presumably insightful compliments like this can be learnt at Cassell’s ‘highly immersive’ 12-hour workshops, which cost £597 plus VAT.
Cassell tells me that he flies all over the world teaching men how to meet women — from students who struggle to talk to girls offline, to ‘a handful of 50-year-old virgins’ — and his website states that he has personally dated ‘celebrities, models and women that are much further up the career ladder than me’ (he ‘doesn’t want’ to name names). Although Cassell, who is based in Pimlico, is keen to stress that his coaching is about ‘giving men the confidence and the tools to be more social’, his website states that his ‘special areas of focus’ are ‘rapid escalation’ and ‘sophisticated escalation’. Part of his workshop deals with ‘nightlife dominance and sexual conversation techniques’ in order to ‘pick up dancers and models’. ‘That’s the shop window to get men in and once you’ve got them through the door then the education can begin,’ he says, looking momentarily sheepish.
His advice isn’t exactly groundbreaking — he suggests asking a waiter to send over a drink to a woman you find attractive — but at least it’s not couched in manipulation and coercion like other seduction coaches. Cassell says that in the 14 years he’s been coaching, he hasn’t had many guys who just want to get laid. ‘There’s good and bad in every industry,’ he says. ‘I’m actually helping women, too. Everyone benefits from meaningful relationships. That’s overlooked. I can’t get physical with a woman unless we’ve mentally made out… I say that to the guys.’
James Foo, 28, is a property developer based in Singapore who has been using seduction coaches for more than five years. ‘I was travelling a lot and not meeting many new people, particularly women,’ he says. ‘I’d worked with a couple of coaches in Singapore, New York and LA and I found them very aggressive and the strategies they were teaching didn’t align with my values.’ In 2015, Foo flew to London specifically to do Cassell’s six-month ‘mentorship programme’, which costs £3,000 per month. ‘We did exercises in becoming more confident, more extroverted. Two years ago I met my now-wife at a house party. I wouldn’t even have had the confidence to go to that party if I hadn’t had Johnny’s training.’
Not all players enjoy the game. Phil, 32, from Clapham (who didn’t want to give his last name for fear of friends finding out), went to a ‘Saturday sarge’ (a ‘sarge’ is PUA vernacular for going out and seducing women) in 2017. ‘I’d just got out of a bad break-up and was finding dating apps depressing,’ he says. ‘There was something about the idea of meeting women in real-life that appealed to me. There were seven of us who met at Oxford Circus. We each paid £500 in cash and were told to approach women with a stupid non sequitur, such as “Jellied noose nose”, just to get them talking. We wore microphones which felt creepy. We were told we had to break through a woman’s “bitch shield” to get her number. The language used made me really uncomfortable. Afterwards we were taken to Tiger Tiger to try out our techniques, and I just went home. It’s not exactly dehumanising [of women] but it’s definitely not respectful.’
‘So-called seduction coaches are packing toxic masculinity into a formulaic process,’ says Emily May, co-founder of Hollaback!, an initiative which aims to end street harassment of women. ‘Yes, everyone loves authentic flirting. But what they are selling isn’t designed to make women feel good. It’s designed to make men feel like they are society’s definition of a “real man” and the consequences for women are very real: disrespect, harassment and even assault.’
Seduction coaching feeds into a larger constellation of online misogyny which has been dubbed ‘The Manosphere’. It includes men’s rights activists (MRAs), incels (involuntary celibates) and the anti-feminist community Men Going Their Own Way. All share the same basic sexual ideology as many pick-up artists: that masculinity is ‘in crisis’, women are there to be dominated and that any other outcome is a perversion of the natural order. As Cassell puts it: ‘What we’re seeing with feminism is strong, angry women and that’s scaring men who appreciate femininity. There’s a lot of confusion going on.’
‘It’s important to differentiate between slightly confused, socially awkward men looking to improve their confidence and a multi-million-pound industry which at its more extreme end is explicitly targeted at forcing a woman into sex,’ says Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, who is currently writing a book about The Manosphere called Men Who Hate Women. ‘These seduction coaches are adept at targeting and grooming potential recruits online, and their branding fits into the wider misogynistic messaging about a sexual marketplace stacked against men. They whip up myths about the modern world that men have it tough and women have all the power, and that the only way to be successful in a relationship is to trick or scam a woman into bed.’
Eddie Hitchens, whose YouTube channel Street Attraction had over 100,000 views before it was shut down following the Panorama documentary, is unrepentant. ‘[The BBC documentary] is a war against heterosexual men, a smear campaign against normal, natural, consensual relations between men and women. A sick attempt to redefine consensual sex so that every man is on the hook for rape,’ he says. ‘Among a sea of unhappy internet daters spread across all genders, the ability to meet women face-to-face remains the most authentic and genuine way there is to date.’ A YouTube spokesperson says that the platform ‘strictly prohibits explicit sexual, graphic or harassing content’.
Last week, Adnan Ahmed, who styled himself as the pick-up artist ‘Addy A-Game’ and uploaded footage of his ‘one day lays’ and offered tips on overcoming LMR, was sentenced to two years in prison for threatening and abusive behaviour towards women. In the wake of his conviction, many prominent PUAs deleted all their content from YouTube. But Rachel O’Neill says that she doubts the seduction industry will change. ‘Many trainers probably expect the current scrutiny to quickly blow over, as has happened in the past,’ she says. ‘Having said this, I imagine many trainers will at least temporarily remove covertly filmed footage from sites such as YouTube. But they will undoubtedly make this available elsewhere, most likely behind paywalls on privately controlled websites.’
Offline sessions are impossible to regulate. O’Neill relates one disturbing anecdote from her research in which a trainer called Mark held a session in Covent Garden on overcoming last-minute resistance. He opened with the words, ‘Obviously, if a girl says “no” and she really means it, you respect that… Fortunately, 99 per cent of the time she doesn’t really mean it.’