Bringing Together Conservative Voices

University of Manchester PhD student conducts research by masturbating to fantasy ‘comics’ about sexualized ‘young boys’

Warning: Graphic material

The University of Manchester has faced a deluge of complaints and social media backlash after the public learned that it had published a paper written by one of its students who conducted research by masturbating to shota, a subgenre of Japanese “comics” that portray “young boys” in sexual situations.

“I wanted to understand how my research participants experience sexual pleasure when reading shota, a Japanese genre of self-published erotic comics that features young boy characters,” wrote Karl Andersson, a visual anthropology Ph.D. student at the University of Manchester. “I therefore started reading the comics in the same way as my research participants had told me that they did it: while masturbating.”

Andersson said that during his Ph.D. studies, he had hit a brick wall and struggled with developing a new angle of scholarly research. Then, he said, “I realised that my body was equipped with a research tool of its own that could give me, quite literally, a first-hand understanding.”

A long-term relationship had recently ended at that time, he said. So, he created a laboratory of self-examination by forgoing any kind of sexual relationship with a partner and all forms of pornography except for shota for a period of three months. He then documented and assessed his personal sexual response to shota.

The result was an article entitled “I am not alone — we are all alone: Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan.” In it, Andersson describes in graphic detail his masturbation processes and his assessment of their supposedly salutary benefits.

“I experienced a sense of self-care, which I also call the ‘spa effect,’ since I often felt so relaxed after these [shota] sessions that it reminded of going to a spa, or why not an onsen, a Japanese hot spring,” Andersson wrote, adding: “While my previous masturbation habits had been rather routine, masturbating to shota became more of a ritual: carefully choosing a [comic] (what am I in the mood for today?), creating a comfortable position in the bed, dozing off a bit afterwards – it was all part of the ritual.”

Because shota fantasy explicitly depicts “young boys” in various sexual encounters, many countries have outlawed it, including Canada, Australia, and the U.K., where the University of Manchester is located.

The university has received so many complaints since the article was published in April that it has issued a statement.

“The recent publication in Qualitative Research of the work of a student, now registered for a PhD, has raised significant concerns and complaints which we are taking very seriously,” the statement reads.

“We are currently undertaking a detailed investigation into all aspects of their work, the processes around it and other questions raised. It is very important that we look at the issues in-depth.”

Below, Andersson describes his first month as a PhD student at the University of Manchester.