This Practice Made Men Arouse Me, Which Is Unsettling
A few weeks ago, I was staring a strange man in the eyes during an energetic coaching session. I’d met him just a few hours before; like nearly all men I’ve known for a few hours, he was nice but average, unstimulating; I’d introduced myself with a polite handshake and didn’t think much of it. This is why now, locked in eye contact, it was absolutely disconcerting that my vagina was wet. This had never happened to me before.
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I’m not exactly a noob to seduction. When I was 20, I went on a semi-harrowing OKCupid date and woke up the next morning in my date’s bed. I asked him how did you get me to sleep with you? He shrugged and handed me a book on pickup artistry, and I sat down on his couch and read it. Then I went and read more; I joined pickup artistry forums, reddit’s r/seduction, joined ‘game’ chat rooms where the men circled me like sharks around blood in the water. I learned about compliance testing, kino escalation, oneitis. I liked getting seduced well, and would sometimes explicitly identify a man’s techniques to his face before sleeping with him.
So when I found this stranger successfully generating arousal in me without using a single seduction technique, I was intrigued and a little terrified. This was beyond my rather extensively developed models! It was not in my worldview that someone could be hot by staring at me and using energy or whatever.
I was hooked. I kept working with this coaching, as an assistant. The structure was that a man would stand before me, and we’d stare at each other. Then the coach would come around and give small corrections and feedback. “It seems like you’re cut off from your stomach,” the coach would say. “Move your shoulders up and back.” The guy would move his shoulders. “Relax your butthole.” The guy’s butthole presumably unclenched. “Did your mom do this to you?” the coach would ask. “You’re searching for her approval”, “it’s okay to feel this”, “say it again but into the ground,” he would say. At one point I heard him say “Bite me, bitch.” The coach was weird and charming; a 32-year-old broad shouldered man inexplicably wearing a backwards baseball cap. He seemed to straddle the line between random wildness and uncanny perceptivity.
I’d pay close attention to my own experience. I’d say whatever I felt was true for me in connection with the men, even if it didn’t make sense or I didn’t understand it. “I feel afraid of you,” or “I want to hurt you,” or “I feel motherly towards you.”
I’d never sat and stared hard at my own experience about a man in front of me before, at least not in a coaching context where I was explicitly framed as an object of desire, against which men were working through their issues with women.
“Do you want to fuck her?” The coach asked the man before me. “Yes,” said the man, locked in eye contact with me. “I don’t believe you,” I said, because I didn’t. The man took a breath, settled down into himself, and said again “I want to fuck you.” I eyed him, and checked inside my body if I felt like I trusted him. “Okay, I think I believe you,” I said.
I noticed that with each man, with each question, my careful meditative attention kept falling towards the same place, like there was a gravity well inside me. I wanted to know - what do you want?
I searched for it in their eyes, in their bodies, in the tone of their voice, the speed of their breathing. I noticed that actually quite a bit of the way I felt around these men depended on the degree to which I believed they were trying to conceal what they wanted.
For me, what they wanted didn’t matter so much, it was just how visible the want was. One of the men made me feel tense; I felt wary and shut down in connection with him. The coach worked with him for a long time, and eventually we reached a point where the man told me, with a spark of raw genuineness, that he was furious that he wanted to have sex with me, furious with the power I held over him that he’d never asked for, that he wanted to rip me apart. I was surprised to find that with this, my tension relaxed - because here, finally, he wasn’t concealing. In laying himself out honestly before me, it was also not for me; we were staring at each other, but he spoke the truth into the floor, into the world, owned and full and unapologetic. It wasn’t to try to get me to view him a certain way. It was completely independent of me. And with that, my brain compulsively flashed a visual of us having sex.
This kept happening with the other men. The things they concealed were all different, or for different reasons, but each time a man touched a state of letting me see directly what he wanted, I found him slipping into a sexual frame.
For me (and probably most women), men enter by default into the “friendzone frame”. I meet them, say hello, and they are nice and polite and no part of my attention goes to checking my genitals, or theirs. Sexual energy feels off the table. This is an explicit thing pickup artists try to subvert; when interacting with a target, you want to make sure you keep yourself in a sexual frame in her mind, so that somewhere in her subconscious she’s continually evaluating you in sexual terms, not nice guy terms where the idea of doing sex is as weird and impossible as the thought of doing traditional paintbrush making in Taipei. You want to demonstrate you are unafraid of sex, that you don’t find a sexual context with her intimidating - so you do things like casually reference your own cock, or make a context-appropriate joke asking if that laugh is what her sex noises sound like, etc.
This is what I mean by sexual frame - I was surprised to find that each time a man seemed to me like he stepped fully embodied into revealing to me what he wanted, even if the want itself might seem offputting or shameful, I found my brain shifted him into the sexual frame category - like I’d just been talking to a friend who got back from a paintbrush-making apprenticeship in Taipei and laid out how she did it and offered me a paid scholarship for next spring. I might not actually go, but it had moved into a clear, concrete space of touchable possibility. I started evaluating him as a potential sexual mate, where it hadn’t been even considering that option before.
This felt like the orange-on-a-tree to pickup artistry’s orange-flavor juice. While pickup artistry often involved slightly warping yourself to becoming a probability-of-sex-maximizing-machine, this practice felt more like surrender; instead of sex-goal orientation, this was letting go in full honesty. It was that ancient annoying trick of getting the thing you want through not trying to get the thing you want.
The meta game of revealing wants was fascinating too, because many of the men seemed to be aware on some level that being vulnerable and honest was attractive, and so attempted, presumably subconsciously, to present themselves vulnerably in order to gain my approval. I found that by the end of it, basically all of my attention went towards authenticity-detection. Did my body, on some gut level, really believe them? Did it believe the man was hiding something, whether he was aware of it or not? It was a full body, very subtle, energetic experience. I was a bit surprised at how good I felt at it, and I wondered how much this had evolved as a deep feminine skill - the ancient rivalrous game of men doing a bluster and women squinting their eyes and detecting a bluster. It was well beneath my conscious thought; I either trusted him or I didn’t.
The coach explained this in terms of embodied communication. His frame was that people’s bodies subconsciously close off parts of themselves, learned from past coping mechanisms or trauma, and that these shut off parts limit the capacity of connection with others. This seemed compatible with my own frame - I was staring at these men trying to figure out what they wanted; if they had parts of their bodies closed off, it made sense that some subconscious part of me was registering this as a black hole of ??? and spending lots of cycles trying to figure out what the hell was hiding under the table between us.
The coach said that men came to him usually to improve their relationships with women - to be more attractive to women, to allow women to feel more connected with them, to be more sexually satisfied with women - but that the best way to do this in practice was to get deeply in touch with themselves. I am surprised at how true this is.
It’s possible that this embodied connective work isn’t the most efficient thing for getting indiscriminately laid - that would probably be hiring an escort or becoming a famous billionaire, and then maybe followed up by pickup artistry. But I’d guess it’s surprisingly effective for getting laid in healthier ways with more compatible people. With the men in this coaching, it was like some sort of filter came off, and instead of having a blanket desexualized “I might as well become a paintbrushmaker in Taipei,” I was able to look directly at how much I sexually vibed with each person in a clear, raw state. And some people I still didn’t want to have sex with, but some people, I was absolutely shocked to find, I did. My guess is that this training is especially good to help men present themselves without the filter, so that when a woman actually does resonate with him, that she’ll be able to feel it clearly in his presence.
If you’re interested in this coaching, I’m continuing to assist in it and may end up co-running some of it with the original coach. Submit your email here if you’d like to be contacted for future events.
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This concept can actually be applied more broadly. Without taking regular inventories, goal seeking behavior (be it for sex, relationships, employment, possessions, etc.) will turn in upon itself. People will begin to mask their own wants and desires to project outwardly what they believe is needed to achieve the goal. They fail to connect that the masking may be a sign that they actually are no longer truly interested in the goal. Then, when they achieved said goal, they will wonder why they are still dissatisfied and fail to connect that the person they are internally was not the person they had to project.
Long winded way of conveying the trite adage, "Be true to yourself." But trite is trite for a reason.
Hi. Long time Twitter follower, brand new subscriber... indeed, brand new subscriber because of your tweet linking to this Substack post.
I write mostly to ask this question: Given your keen interest in this esoteric-sounding (to me at least) coached "energy work" practice, have you yet looked into the social psychology literature about "experimental interventions" to "elicit short-term closeness"?
I ask since many such studies do include what I think is generally called an "eye contact intervention" taking the form of asking each pair of subjects to sit silently and look into each other's eyes for usually 4-5 minutes, with instructions they should endeavor to complete the whole time period and be non-judgmental about whatever feelings arise, with a nod toward the fact this may feel very awkward.
I think that would be a good baseline off which to judge how much the coached "energy work" helps or not, even though any rigorous comparison will be massively confounded by the fact just participating in this coached "energy work" is selecting for people both interested in esoteric(ish?) practices in general and seduction in particular. My own first Occam's Razor-esque cut on the primary thing happening in this practice is that the coaching both:
i) helps the people gazing into each other's eyes stop giving off the presumably offputting signs of insecurity and doubt that even confident people might give in this definitely-not-done-in-daily-life-for-this-length-of-time practice even if you're a freakin' hypnotist as your day job, and...
ii) ... keeps the people gazing at each other for a long time after they begin to get the hang of it and maybe kinda "break the ice" / distract a little from all the definitely-being-elicited "escalating self-disclosure" going on.
<<< Attention Conservation Notice: Well, that's the main bit. What follows is a hopefully helpful guide to the relevant psych literature from me, an educated layperson. But again, the above bit is the key part of this about-to-become-even-longer comment. >>>
Now, I must say I'm an educated layperson. I have no psychology training. I'm just a theoretical physicist who's hopefully not conforming to the stereotype of the annoying theoretical-physicist-butting-into-other-fields perfectly depicted in https://xkcd.com/793/ You can see [endnote 1] for a tad more explanation on my background, but here's probably one sentence that, like a picture, is worth 1,000 words: I became aware of this literature through the highly popular and extremely clickbait-ish 2015 _New York Times_ article "To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This"
(As you can see from the URL, it ran in the Style section, not the Science section.)
I bring up this article since, IMHO, it's a good pop-science-ish place to start for anyone who's never heard of this social psych literature. It remains good IMHO even though the article not only has the already-mentioned blatantly clickbait-ish framing, but more specifically, it somewhat misleadingly [endnote 2] combines its discussion of the following two commonly studied interpersonal-closeness-promoting interventions:
A) Structured questionnaires meant to elicit "escalating self-disclosure" between the pair of subjects taking part, here the one taken from one of the major papers in the field [and I dare say *justifiably* major in terms of being a well designed study find a large effect, see endnote 3 if you want more]
Arthur Aron, Edward Melinat, Elaine N. Aron, Robert Darrin Vallone, & Renee J. Bator (1997). The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363–377. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167297234003 [open access]
B) The aformentioned "eye contact intervention"
With a little Google-Scholar-ing off the lead of that (Aron, et al. 1997) reference, I'm willing to say that this article published this year...
Caroline Zygar-Hoffmann, Lara Cristoforo, Lisa Wolf, & Felix D. Schönbrodt; Eliciting Short-Term Closeness in Couple Relationships With Ecological Momentary Interventions. Collabra: Psychology 5 January 2022; 8 (1): 38599. https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.38599 [open access]
... should serve at the very least as a good guide to the literature since (Aron, et al. 1997), including studies treating not only the questionnaire and eye-contact interventions, but also "memory sharing" interventions (i.e., share narratives of specific episodes of your life rather than statements of your preferences) and "life achievement" interventions (i.e., participate in some partner-building or larger-team-building game, physical activity --- no, not *that* kind of physical activity... they need human-subject-IRB approval, for Pete's sake ;) --- and such together).
1. Shortish --- and hopefully witty and urbane statement --- of why you might trust my judgment despite my admitted laypersonhood (laypersonality? IMHO, at least one of those 2 words should enter the English lexicon): I'm not a social psychologist. I don't even have an undergrad psych course in my past. I'm just a quantum computing theorist who procrastinates wayyyy too much by reading a tremendous amount from other fields, both pop science and actual academic research. I admittedly do NOT procrastinate so much that I doublecheck their statistical methodology [though see endnote 3 for some specifics pertinent to (Aron, et al. 1997)]. That's to say I'm not Scott Alexander or anything like that... and maybe I'd feel better about myself if I were since then all this procrastination would be defensibly intellectually constructive and not just momentarily anxiety-defence-mechanism-effective. [Endnote-to-this-endnote: Did I include this endnote out of attempt to elicit interpersonal closeness through "escalating self-disclosure"? Maybe... though I do swear a major motivation was to help you, Aella, and the rest of the readers judge just how big a figurative grain of salt they should take this (I hope) seemingly well-informed comment.]
2. I say the NYT article "somewhat misleadingly combines" these two since I, at least, upon reading the article thought the author meant both (A) escalating self-disclosure questionnaires and (B) minutes-of-silent-eye-contact were studied in that Aron, et al. article, when in fact only (A) was. And, of course, the NYT article did flagrantly clickbait-ishly write the article with the angle that (Aron, et al. 1997) was explicitly about eliciting romantic attraction as opposed to proper, academically-respectable and human-subjects-IRB-approvable "intellectual closeness". [To be fair, though, the (Aron, et al. 1997) article does amusingly include this giddy parenthetical "(including one pair who married!)" in explaining how they were motivated to do the studies for the paper after hearing their preliminary work throughout the 1990s seemed to lead to at-least-months-long increases in reported closeness among the subjects... though I'm guessing that might just mean that paired subjects, almost assuredly undergrads, became friends for the rest of the semester.]
3. I think the assessment that (Aron, et al. 1997) is a "major" paper is justified because:
(i) the claimed effect size was large as academic psych interventions go in the sense the mean interpersonal closeness measured for the experimental intervention population as a whole was +0.88 standard deviations above the mean interpersonal closeness reported in the control population. (Anything over 0.8 standard deviations is generally acclaimed as a large effect.)
(ii) moreover, (Aron, et al. 1997) claims no statistically significant diminuition of the increased closeness effect even after doing comparisons based on whether the pairs had (a) major disagreements in their attitudes probed by the questionnaires, (b) low *expectation* that this intervention would increase closeness, (c) low *preference* that this intervention would elicit more closeness
(iii) (Aron, et al. 1997) claims that, yes, they checked to make sure they had adequate statistical power to do (ii).
Personal honesty compels to say, however, that I must answer no to all the following questions:
--- Did I personally doublecheck the questionnaire (Aron, et al. 1997) used for self-report for sense of interpersonal closeness in (i) seems well-formed? No.
-- Or personally doublecheck that the statistical tests in (ii) are well-chosen? Again, no.
-- Or personally doublecheck the claim of adequate statistical power (iii) is justified given those tests in (ii)? Nope.
-- Or finally, did I doublecheck to see the study ever had a high-quality direct replication? Yup, you guessed it, no I did not. :)
=== If you've read to the end of this, thanks! It makes me feel like my procrastination was intellectually constructive! ;) ===