Apr 7, 2021 • 5M

Hypnosis

Robin Craig
Comment2
Share
 
1.0×
0:00
-5:09
Open in playerListen on);
Monthly essays about sex and culture.
Episode details
2 comments

Detail from Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière by André Brouillet (1887).

Hypnosis straddles the intersection of medicine and entertainment. The Mayo Clinic cites the benefits of ‘hypnotherapy’ or ‘hypnotic suggestion’ in controlling chronic pain, addiction issues, and weight gain. Meanwhile, stage hypnotists such as Derren Brown build careers from touring hypnosis shows where he ‘hypnotised a man to assassinate Stephen Fry’ and ‘convinced middle-managers to commit armed robbery.’ 

Hypnosis is also, inevitably, a fetish. Erotic hypnosis videos and audio can be found easily online on websites such as eSuccubus, a site touting ‘free erotic hypnosis MP3s for everyone’ and an archive of recordings from 2019 to the present day.1 Hypnosis videos can also be found on major porn sites such as PornHub or XVideos. 

The contents of hypnosis porn varies depending on where it is accessed - on mainstream sites where hypnosis is a sub-category, much of the available videos feature women pretending to be hypnotised by male partners or therapists to engage in sex acts. There are videos, however, that claim to directly hypnotise the viewer to become a slut, masturbate in a certain way, or be transformed into a ‘sissy’.2 This direct engagement is the predominant theme of specialist hypno fetish sites such as eSuccubus, some of which promise the listener will be ‘programmed’ with trigger words that activate sexual behaviour.

Hypnosis fetishes hinge on the exchange of power between a hypnotist and the subject. One account from Michal Daveed, a woman with a hypnosis fetish, explains that in sexual fantasies ‘all they would be capable of doing, or even thinking, was what their new master wanted (which, wouldn’t you know it, was usually lots of sex).’ The fantasy of hypnosis is also a fantasy about relinquishing consent and having one’s own thoughts and desires quite literally replaced by those of the dominant party. 

Daveed notes that, prior to become involved with the BDSM scene, she was haunted by fears that her fantasies ‘were akin to rape, the opposite of consent’. However, in hypnosis the active desire for the loss of control precludes consent violation: You cannot truly be forced to do something you want to do. Providing that discussion around boundaries and pleasure take place before an erotic hypnosis session, and they are adhered to throughout, the fantasy of losing control is maintained without the actual loss. This power play is at the root of many BDSM practices - “I’m going to force you to do something you really want to do.”

The loss of control hypnosis porn promises is far more about fulfilling the subject’s desire than the reality of hypnosis itself. The efficacy of hypnosis is widely disputed and, despite Derren Brown’s claims, peer-reviewed medical literature describes hypnosis as a tool of suggestion for psychosomatic issues rather than a flip-switch cure-all that can radically change behaviour. For example, a 2007 randomised trial of 286 smokers found that 20% of people who received hypnosis managed to quit compared to 14% of those who received standard counselling. Hypnosis can push people to do something they wanted to do anyway, just with slightly greater success rates.

‘Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière’ (1876-80) by D.M. Bourneville and P. Regnard. Sourced from HyperAllergic.

The history of hypnotism is rooted in misogynistic ‘cures’ for women with hysteria in the 1800s. History Today cites the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer as the inventor of medicalised hypnotism, who introduced the practice to Paris in 1778. Over the following century, what was known as ‘mesmerism’ grew into a Victorian pastime alongside other mysticisms such as seances. 

In the UK, John Elliotson was the major proponent for mesmerism as a cure for a variety of ailments, predominantly in young women. The most famous example was the teenage Oakey sisters, Elizabeth and Jane, who were admitted to his hospital in 1837 for treatment of epilepsy. Elliotson would hypnotise the sisters into a ‘mesmeric trance’ before inviting spectators to pinch them, pull their hair, and stuff snuff up their noses to prove they could not feel anything. The women achieved celebrity status before Thomas Wakley, another physician, exposed them as frauds.

Hypnotism, 1891. Sourced from Science Photo Library.

Many of the Victorian illustrations of hypnotism feature beautiful young women swooning into the arms of their hypnotists or being held motionless in a chair while a man stands over them, apparently in complete control. Christopher Green writes in his book on hypnosis that “if one image could sum this story up, it would be a high-status man, slightly winging it, leaning over a hysterical woman and using experimental, mysterious forces to calm her down.” There were women mesmerists, such as Annie De Montford, but they were the exception rather than the rule, and it was by far a male-dominated pastime. 

The misogyny present in early mesmerism may well have filtered into its eroticism today. Misogyny is regularly fetishised by men and women alike for various reasons, namely that We Live In A Society where patriarchy is a dominant power structure and fetishes function as sexual play to make sense of power structures and our places within them. So sexual hypnosis doesn’t work as advertised, but that’s also not the point. Like all kinks and fetishes, it is less about the reality and more about the imaginary. Hypnosis play is a way to experiment with power and control in a pre-negotiated, eroticised setting. Force me to do what I want, please.

Robin Craig is a PhD student and freelance cultural writer. You can find him on Twitter at @robin__craig. You can buy him a coffee on his Ko-Fi.

1

I avoid linking to 18+ websites because of Substack’s ‘no porn’ rule that I am constantly skirting around, but Google it and it’s the first result if you’re interested.

2

Sissy porn will eventually be its own article on Looking at Porn so I’m not going to get into it here.