Karl Andersson is a Swedish publisher and researcher of male homosexual desires directed towards boys, and representations of boys. He is best known for Destroyer Magazine and the controversy surrounding it. In 2022, Andersson was involved in a social media outrage with Twitter conservatives and radical feminists, surrounding a peer reviewed journal article, written for Qualitative Research, while studying for his PhD at the University of Manchester, England. In his below-linked article, he used masturbation as an ethnographic technique, gaining insights into boy-directed desires in Japanese culture:
Abstract: 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. I therefore started reading the comics in the same way as my research participants had told me that they did it: while masturbating. In this research note, I will recount how I set up an experimental method of masturbating to shota comics, and how this participant observation of my own desire not only gave me a more embodied understanding of the topic for my research but also made me think about loneliness and ways to combat it as driving forces of the culture of self-published erotic comics.
From I am not alone – we are all alone: Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan
After Alice Sullivan, a radical (i.e. conservative) feminist professor from University College London tweeted her disgust at the paper on 8 Aug, 2022, a social media firestorm ensued, later rousing the ire of the Rt. Hon Neil O’Brien - a Member of Parliament for the Tory Party. Further negative reactions came from the NSPCC Children's Charity and members of the online parenting community, Mumsnet (which is famously considered to be a bellwether for social attitudes in the UK). The article was soon removed from the journal website, with the following message:
Due to ethical concerns surrounding this article and the social harm being caused by the publication of this work, the publishers have now agreed with the Journal Editors and have decided to remove the article while this investigation is ongoing in accordance with COPE guidelines.
The article was then fully retracted by the journal 2 weeks post-controversy:
The Editorial Team recognises the argument that the note legitimizes sexual activity involving sexually graphic illustrated images of children and young people, both as an activity in itself and as a research method. Such arguments make the note highly problematic due to the potential to cause significant harm.
At the same time, the University of Manchester released a statement:
This investigation is not yet complete, however, we wanted to provide initial findings where we are able, and actions we have taken, particularly as there are significant broader concerns about the student beyond research misconduct. [...] The research involving participants described in the paper was conducted for his MA at a University in Berlin. There is contradictory information regarding when the period of self-immersive research activity took place. The described research methodology and data collection were not submitted for University of Manchester research ethics approval. The production of the paper was not part of his supervised PhD programme of study. However, there are wider questions for the University which we continue to investigate [...] Greater Manchester Police has opened an investigation. We are assisting them with their enquiries to establish what, if any offences, have been committed in the UK or elsewhere [...] The student was registered for a PhD but the research design which he developed, and the methods he proposed for conducting the research for his PhD was submitted to, and rejected by, our University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) on 17 June 2022. As a precautionary measure, the student has been suspended pending the outcome of a full investigation under the Student Conduct Discipline regulation [...] There are a number of serious issues raised by this case, that we are still investigating. We have robust procedures for approving new research via our University Research Ethics Committee, in accordance with the standards applied by all research funders aross the sector. The student’s proposed research methods and data collection for his programme of study were rejected. We were not aware of the background relating to this student which has now come to light, and this case has highlighted that we must ensure that our PhD student recruitment processes are sufficiently robust to appropriately scrutinise the legal, ethical and safeguarding issues of the proposed research and applicants’ prior related activities where relevant.
One of the first reasonable responses to the original article from within academia was submitted by Casey Brienza, and is linked below.
Books and publications
Karl Andersson's Swedish book Bögarnas värsta vän - historien om tidningen Destroyer, was published in October 2010 and covers the reactions to Destroyer Magazine. The book made headline in several national newspapers. Aftonbladet published a favorable review, which was criticized by the culture editor of Expressen. Key players in the initial scandals were interviewed by Svenska Dagbladet, including Andersson himself and the former chairman of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights. The English translation Gay Man's Worst Friend - the Story of Destroyer Magazine was published in March 2011, and is listed at the foot of the article with a link to a free PDF version.
The reactions to Destroyer have repeatedly been used in academic discourse as an example of what kind of expressions gay culture or sex radicalism may or may not include, and how that can change over time. One doctoral dissertation describes Destroyer's relevance thus:
The tension along the culturally determined barrier between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sexual expressions is demonstrated in the scandal of Destroyer magazine and the outrage it sparked within gay rights debates.
- The Masturbation Article Affair: Japanese Manga, Scholarly Publishing, and the Twenty‑First Century Politics of Censorship - Full analysis and timeline of the Qual article controversy by Casey Brienza.
- Thoughtful follow-up piece in the THE detailing implications for freedom of speech (unpaywalled and archived).
- Masturbation journal paper exposes deeper problems in research - Negative reaction in THE.
- Academics must speak up about research that could cause harm - Bigoted and moralistic criticism from Michelle Shipworth (UCL) in THE (unpaywalled and archived).
- Gay Man's Worst Friend: the story of Destroyer Magazine
- Personal site
- YouTube channel
- University profile
- PhD Student Who Wrote “Masturbation” Research Paper Also Published Graphic Teen Boy Magazines, by Reduxx (radical feminist outlet)
- PhD student who published research paper telling how he masturbated for three months over extreme Japanese comics featuring young boys is investigated by police for child porn offences - Daily Mail
- Heretic TOC 2022 controversy summed up in column-format.
- Manchester University taken to task for publishing ‘PhD in masturbation’ - Telegraph
- PhD student did ‘research’ on masturbating while reading ‘young boy’ comics
- University investigates PhD student’s paper on masturbating to comics of ‘young boys’
- PhD student publishes research paper telling how he masturbated for three months over extreme Japanese comics featuring young boys - Daily Mail
- Journal website archived after removal
- Original Journal website (retracted at time of retrieval) and archive of retraction.
- University interim update on investigation
- Vaerwater Autoethnography
- Stahre, Ulrika (27 October 2010). "En sorglig pojkdröm". Aftonbladet.
- Olsson, Karin (3 November 2010). "Gossedyrkan". Expressen.
- Andersson, Karl (2011), Gay Man's Worst Friend - the Story of Destroyer Magazine, ISBN 9789163368998.
- Kerstinsdotter, Reb (18 February 2008). The Beautiful Boy, The Destroyer: Sexradikalers förhandlingar om tidskriften Destroyer – en intervjustudie om anständiga bögar, fula gubbar och sexualiserade barn (Thesis). Stockholm University.
- Warburton, Timothy Ryan (2014). From AIDS to Assimilation: Representations of Male Homosexuality in Swedish Literature (Ph.D. thesis). University of Washington. p. 131.