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TikTok pick me boys
via TikTok (@povswithnolan and @oliveraull)

‘Pick me boys’ are roleplaying consent for clout on TikTok

The bar is truly in hell

TikTok is no stranger to POV-style thirst traps. Remember all those Draco Malfoy videos? Whether you’re into it or they make you physically cringe, there’s no denying that these videos get hits: #POV currently has 472.2 billion views. Videos where male creators pretend to be the viewer’s ‘respectful boyfriend’ perform particularly well: in some these men roleplay how they’d act if you were on your period, while in others they show you how they’d reassure a girlfriend that was worried about stretch marks.

Within the POV thirst trap trend, there’s also been an increasing number of creators enacting scenarios where they ask the viewer for consent. Nolan (@povswithnolan) has 1.3 million followers, having built his following using the POV trend. In one of his videos, he asks the viewer for consent in a video captioned: “#pov: consent is everything. No means no and just because they say yes once doesn’t mean that you always have consent.” In the video, Nolan asks “Are you ready babe?” as he goes to take off his shirt. However, he notices the viewer “doesn’t seem ready” so suggests they go to Chick-fil-A instead. “You didn’t disappoint me,” he adds.

Of course, promoting sex positivity and consent is unequivocally A Good Thing – but is that really what these creators are doing? The context of these videos, in which creators frame asking for consent as something to thirst over, feels somewhat depressing. This kind of behaviour should be seen as normal – the bare minimum, really – but it’s being presented as a dreamy fantasy. Is the bar really so low? Why are these videos being made in the first place? At best, these videos are the cringe but harmless creation of ‘pick me’ boys. At worst, they’re an insidious way to garner clout.

“The reason why I like making those videos is because I realise that I have a younger audience that most likely have not been through that yet. It’s one of my duties to show the realities of what can happen at college parties,” Nolan tells Dazed. “I want to stress to guys that if they see their friend doing something bad, stick up for the girl. Tell them to stop.”

It’s true that men have a huge role to play in changing harmful approaches to violations of consent, and TikTok can be a powerful tool in getting the message across. Yet there’s no denying that the target audience for these types of videos is overwhelmingly straight women – not straight men – bringing into question the creator’s real motives when they post this content.

Sally Baker, a professional sex and relationships therapist, acknowledges that starting conversations about the importance of consent is a positive. “Conversations are needed on every single platform available, so in a way it’s good that discussions have begun,” she says. “These kinds of videos are anodyne, but they might spur someone on to find out more.”

However, she also highlights the separation between these scripted POV videos and real life. “When consent really becomes important, it rarely looks like this. It’s much uglier. Alcohol, drugs and manipulation can be involved,” she explains. “Consent comes into question when a bloke has a hard on in your bed and you don’t know how to turn him down. The lines are blurred and yet violations of consent still happen, it’s rarely this black and white, good and bad moment. The rose tinted view of this serious issue is an issue – but it’s also a start.” 

Nolan goes on to say he’s well aware that the thirst trap format of these videos helps bring in views: “That’s just how TikTok is. That’s how media is in general. Sex appeal and all that stuff, they’re just trying to get their views.” And views translate to clout which translates to financial gain: TikTok star Noah Beck, who became famous by creating thirst trap videos, now stars on the cover of magazines and is estimated to be worth $5 million. It’s no wonder other rising TikTok creators are wanting to cash in too.

Like Nolan, Oliver (@oliveraull) also creates POV-style thirst traps and has also discussed consent in his videos. “Thirst traps get views, that’s why I do them. It’s what my followers like. I’ve tried to talk about serious issues before but these videos don’t do well and impact my engagement so I delete them,” he tells Dazed. He explains that he’s now changed tack, and has started discussing important topics (about self-love, or not drinking too much at parties) within the thirst trap format: “The thirst trap draws them in, and then they get hit with the serious topic.” 

It’s worth noting that POV-style boyfriend videos don’t solely rack up views from women fawning over them – they’re also watched by people who are intrigued by how painfully cringe they are, and have even been satirised on Instagram shitpost accounts such as @on_a_downward_spiral. Oliver recognises this, but doesn’t seem to care. “Either way it gets me views, especially when they battle in the comments.” He even admits that he cringes at his own videos: “I’m not like that in real life, I like to keep a part of myself away from the internet. I deliberately use words that are cringe to create these POV scenarios, but it’s acting. I know it’s not real.”

@oliveraull Hi I need your help - more POVs like this or more obvious satire? // #pov #massage #ledlights #love #couple #consent #cute ♬ cant believe this bloody blew up - <3

Creators aren’t just luring in viewers by promoting consent. On the ‘pick me guy’ side of TikTok, many creators also depict themselves as body positive, deeply caring, or supportive of their imagined girlfriend’s eating disorder recovery. Again, responses on these videos are divided between those who praise them for raising awareness, and those who accuse them of virtue signalling and wokefishing. 

Berni Good, a cyberpsychologist, is part of the latter group. “It may appear that some of the TikTok POVs are seeking to draw females in by appearing progressive and explicitly saying things in their POVs about consent,” she suggests. “My view is that these males could actually be manipulating females. If consent should be a given that females should absolutely expect, then why would it be used as a thirst trap?” Good goes on to describe thirst traps that revolve around consent “a manipulation of human emotions.”

Promotion of active consent is essential, but as Baker points out, issues of real life consent rarely look like this. Conversation must also take place in the real world, away from the scripted realm of POV TikTok, where the lines between meaningful digital activism and individualistic clout-chasing are blurred.