The field of unusual sex is subjected, like any other, to fads and fashions. That is due in part to the tendency to always seek out novelties typical of curious people, partly to imitation and partly to the misguided but frequent one-upmanship of newcomers who somehow feel they must flaunt a brighter plumage than the competition to attract some attention. This is why, for example, we have seen a race for more and more elaborate and colorful latexwear during the Nineties, or the intricacies of Japanese-style bondage have almost completely eclipsed the “old” western style of tying up your erotic partners since the turn of the century.
The latest fad seems to be erotic hypnosis: once a tiny subculture, it has now gained enough traction that it even appeared on mainstream media such as Vice. All of a sudden, lots of people seem to be practicing it at kinky parties, holding workshops about it or participating to gatherings large and small dedicated to putting someone in a trance for sexual purposes. And what about the legions of online wannabe Svengalis? I guess this is also the time, then, to take a closer look at this phenomenon.
The appeal of erotic hypnosis is pretty self-evident, and it is anything but new. If you are old enough to remember those awful mail-order stuff ads in the closing pages of vintage comic books and questionable magazines, you will recall how “become an unstoppable hypnotist” manuals were a staple along with X-ray goggles and 7-days body-building courses. The common trait of those scams was their intended target: insecure teenagers wishing for a magic solution to turn them into sex gods… or at least to finally get some, whatever it took.
It is no surprise, then, if those very ads still live on as sleazy banners and websites on our screens – or more precisely on the screens of their new audience of desperate, ignorant men (and a few women) who also spend fortunes on ridiculous “pick-up artist” courses and “science of seduction” manuals. This is the true main audience of the amateur hypnosis industry: socially maladjusted people who never learned how to relate with their fellow humans and instead of bettering themselves hope to circumvent their faults through improbable artificial aids. They also are, fortunately, exactly the type of people who do not pose any serious risk simply because they will hardly ever gain the opportunity to put the theory into practice. But there is another category into this kind of activity.
Sexual explorers – especially within the BDSM community – generally have no difficulty in finding willing partners. To them, hypnosis is just another way to experience the power dynamic of domination and submission: a pleasant thrill of getting to control every sensation, feeling and action of the “subject”, or to let completely go of their will and abandoning themselves into a totally defenseless state. Assuming that they are mature, ethical people, there is no malice or abuse of power in their interactions: everything is SSC (safe, sane and consensual). A trance is but a tool like rope for bondage, say, with the added bonus of allowing far more bizarre and creative forms of play.
With hypnosis you can, for example, control the arousal or pain sensitivity levels of your partner like they were regulated by imaginary knobs; inhibit or intensify their orgasms at will; bind them with invisible ropes; apply mental blindfolds and gags just as efficient as real ones if not more; make them experience role-playing scenarios as if they were real… The possibilities are endless and, honestly, rather more fun than the parlor tricks you have seen performed by those television “magicians”. Who, by the way, usually do not practice hypnotism at all.
Let me digress a moment to offer a bit of context, since most people don’t know what hypnosis actually is. First of all: ‘stage hypnotism’, the dubiously entertaining kind of show where audience members are “mesmerized” into becoming human planks to be balanced between two chairs, are made to behave like animals or to perform embarrassing acts… is 50% conscious exhibitionism, 40% a deniable excuse to indulge in narcissism, 9% basic physiology and 1% actual hypnosis. This is not my opinion, but fact as stated by the most authoritative book on the subject.
Actual hypnosis is a mental state of both deep relaxation and hyperattention that can also be reached under the guidance of another person, and that allows direct communication with the unconscious part of the mind. Simplifying things a bit, since every conscious action and thought is actually initiated by the unconscious, this priority access to the “control room” of our brain can yield actual and frankly spectacular effects. An astounding application, for example, is in the operating room where hypnosis is used to block any pain during surgery when the patient’s conditions don’t allow the use of regular anesthetics. Such extreme cases, however, are more the exception than the rule.
Much more commonly, everyone experiences the hypnotic state – also called ‘trance’ – a few times a day, if only right before going to sleep and in the very first moments when we wake up. If you ever caught yourself doing anything “automatic” – for example getting home after driving from work without really remembering anything from the journey, or less dramatically finding yourself in front of the open fridge wondering what did you mean to take from it – that’s proof that your unconscious took control while the conscious mind was temporarily “switched off”. Zoning out in front of a television or a video game is another common form of trance.
Really, there is nothing mysterious to the hypnotic state. The trick simply lies in getting the brain in a relaxed state that feeds itself into deeper and deeper relaxation. This is also why you cannot learn how to properly do it from a book of standard spiels or from a YouTube video. A good hypnotist carefully scrutinizes the subject, recognizes their relaxation and tension signals, and builds on them using a mix of numerous techniques. Everybody can do it with relative ease, but they have to study and practice quite hard to actually be any good.
Another frequent assumption is that while in a trance state you can be forced to behave against your will or beliefs. This is not entirely true: due to its very nature, a properly conducted hypnosis session can be seen as a sort of an excuse for the unconscious to do whatever it already wanted to, free from the reins of the conscious mind. The hypnotist is merely a guide in this process, making sure to contain unwanted excesses or digressions.
On the other hand, if you have ever seen an example of unethical hypnosis, such as the famous Derren Brown special The Assassin, you know that abuse of the method is also a concrete possibility. Sure, comparing regular people to a professional mind-tricker is unfair (and various works examine case histories of actual criminal and extreme use of hypnosis that went nowhere in the end)… but ethics is the real point that most erotic hypnosis enthusiasts underestimate.
Let me be as clear as it gets here: hypnosis cannot be treated as a game. Again, this is not the opinion of a mere kink educator, but it comes from no less than the absolute authority on the unconscious: doctor Sigmund Freud. In fact, his psychoanalytic technique originally used hypnosis as a shortcut to reach the unconscious… but he abandoned it in favor of the conversational approach when he realized that he just couldn’t keep his patients’ unconscious at bay, sometimes with harmful effects. Now, unless you are absolutely sure you are better than Freud himself, I guess this means you really shouldn’t play with stuff you cannot really control.
Of course erotic hypnosis is cool and attractive, there are no doubts about it. But picture it like this: you have someone who is positively willing to become an abusable puppet; a power imbalance dynamic that exacerbates all sorts of triggers; the sexual arousal that turns all emotions way past 11; and another person who most probably has but a passing knowledge of techniques that require years of actual study to be half-reliable. Can you imagine in how many ways this could go very, very wrong? Just think of the traumatic effects of a “simple” BDSM session gone sour and multiply them by the lack of control implicit in a trance state. If you weren’t scared shitless reading the previous phrase, trust me: you are either very ignorant or a sociopath, and in both cases you should stay well away from hypnosis.
The classic objection now would be that this practice, just like any other kinky game, shouldn’t be patronized like that. After all, ethics is the foundation of kink; everything is done among consenting, competent adults… isn’t it?
Well, not really. That is how it should be, indeed. But I hope I have explained how improbable is for your sexy hypnotist to really be competent, and how similarly unlikely it is that the subject has thoroughly negotiated and consented to every minute detail of the experience. At the very least, whenever they are in a deep trance they are not aware of the reality around them, and therefore unable to revoke their consent in case of any problem! Unfortunately, feeling sure of your abilities is not the same as actually possessing them.
I have been around enough to know that there are some people out there who can really approach erotic hypnosis in a fully safe and sane way; I wouldn’t be so sure about the ‘consensual’ part, however. Also, I have seen enough self-proclaimed “bondage masters” who don’t know a thing about their rope play, and enough “expert dominatrixes” who are equally clueless about the nature of what they do… that I’d prefer to err on the safe side when dealing with such a delicate practice.
So, I hope you won’t hate me too much for bursting a marvelous bubble but I thought, as usual, that to be informed of the reality and of the risks of any sexual practice is worth more than a fantasy in the end. But look on the bright side: even forsaking erotic hypnosis, you still have hundreds of other, much safer kinky games to enjoy!