Erotic hypnosis is a pretty niche corner of the BDSM community. Groups of people around Australia are meeting up, pairing off, and hypnotising each other. The usual setup sees one of the couple become the hypnotist, while the other becomes submissive to the sexual commands of the other. And in this way it’s a pretty familiar variation of S&M, but with an oddly Victorian twist.
I wanted to know more so I emailed a guy named Marn,* who runs an erotic hypnosis group in Melbourne. Marn started by telling me that the Australian hypno scene has really grown in the past six months, with around 150 members currently on their Fetlife forum. They’re also hosting monthly play parties around Melbourne and Brisbane, which he described as “pretty chill.” People brought snacks and played cards, he said, and hypnotised each other. He then invited me along and I said yes.
A few days later I found the place at a Brunswick yoga studio and entered a room of 15 fairly nerdy-looking young people sitting in a circle, barefoot, and shyly chatting. A few of the men were dressed in David Copperfield-esque outfits. One lady wore a kind of vaudevillian corset and dress set. Someone had brought colour-changing lights to amp up the sex appeal, but their costumes were probably the only indication that they were there for something kinky.
Marn started with a rundown of the night. He told me a hypnotist and subject pair would typically play multiple times, and steadily build up a rapport. Some people respond better to hypnosis, he said, while hard skeptics would find it impossible to go under. “But it’s just an altered state of mind, he explained. “It’s when you’re very relaxed and just kind of going along with things, which is where the suggestibility comes in. Someone gives you an idea, and it’s just like, sure, let’s go along with that.”
We then heard a long spiel from professional erotic hypnotist who I’ll call Wordsmith. He got us all to pair up and practice asking people whether they’d like to be hypnotised, and drawing up lines of consent. Though a few women expressed an interest in being hypnotists, it seemed like the domination/submission thing was drawn along pretty traditional gender lines.
I was paired with an older guy of about 60. He offered to talk me through a basic Elman induction, which is the go-to process for putting people under via spoken cues.
“Visualise the happiest moment you’ve ever experienced,” he told me. Slowly I got this sense of immobility and the room dissolved into a kind of underwater scene. But then out of nowhere I started thinking about all my career regrets, and the faces of old lovers and long-lost friends flooded in, ruining my happy place. This was an intense feeling and I began to weep, uncontrollably.
At that point my hypnotist rather frantically pulled me out of the trance and tried to lighten the mood as I brushed away tears. It was weird, but I was no longer a cynic. I'd definitely been hypnotised.
Since hypnosis is basically a form of dissociation, my next question was how anything sexual in a state of hypnosis could be consensual. Wordsmith replied that a good hypnotist would always discuss boundaries beforehand. Marn also thought the public’s perception of how much a hypnotist could control mind and body was incorrect. The hypnotist can only provide ideas, he said, and it was up to the subject to comply. “At any point you could go, ‘you know what? This isn’t for me, I’m waking up, this is done.’”
While you're here, why not check out a VICE doco on BDSM abduction fantasies?
I sat back and watched around the room as people drifted in and out of variously incoherent states, and I realised that for many of them submission was actually the appeal.
Thorn* was a tiny but boisterous woman in her early 20s who explained that being in a trance was just an extension of her proclivity for submission and fur play. “If you're hypnotised, you feel that you're completely at their mercy,” she said. “The results are… incredibly intimate and intense. Surrendering control on that level has to be felt to be believed.”
Someone else who was into the submission thing was Wordsmith’s partner, Juliette,* who assured me it was possible to orgasm via hypnosis. “Yeah?” I asked incredulously and they offered to demonstrate. Then, taking Juliette’s hand, Wordsmith explained that hypnosis allowed him to reach her whole body though her nerves. “I’m able to link any part of Juliette’s body to her clitoris,” he said. “Just touching the skin on the back of her hand can produce an intense feeling of pleasure. It’s a great party trick.”
Wordsworth then began to perform some unspeakably sensual rotations with his finger on her hand. Juliette’s reaction was pornographic. She moaned, squirmed, gasped, and then sighed irritably when he stopped. I asked where she'd felt it—on the back of her hand or in her groin?
“It was kind of both,” she said. “I knew he was touching the back of my hand, I could feel the pressure. But the pleasure was in my groin. It felt very real.”
While I did feel the mind-altering effects firsthand, I still couldn’t buy into some of the community’s wilder claims, like subjects being physically unable to move due to psychic bondage, or experience orgasms that go forever.
Personally, I left feeling suggestible and lucid, but with my body feeling quite heavy and lazy. I thought about how much nicer hypnosis might have been in a more intimate, private setting, with a more trusted partner.
Erotic hypnosis certainly seemed less dangerous or creepy than I first assumed, so long as clear lines of consent were drawn up and boundaries were respected. And I really liked its emphasis on stimulating that biggest sex organ of all—the mind.
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