I was 4 years old and watching The Jungle Book. It was the scene where Kaa, the snake, was hypnotizing Mowgli to make him an easier meal. He was singing about it too — “Trust in Me”:
Slip into silent slumber
Sail on a silver mist
Slowly and surely your senses
Will cease to resist
I loved the song. I hated it. I needed to pee. But, as always happened when I watched this scene, when I went to the bathroom, nothing happened.
I eventually figured out a pattern, something so automatic and physical it had to be completely natural: A movie or TV show would feature some form of mind control, and it would feel like the most compelling thing I had ever seen, and I would feel an annoying physical sensation in my groin.
I mentioned how I felt to a friend or two, but by the time I was 6, I figured out that not everyone felt the way I did. An odd, nerdy kid in general, I was used to being a bit different. But this felt shameful in a way that my stamp collecting or obsession with fairies did not. I uncharacteristically decided that this was a secret — and I kept it. Very occasionally, I played games with my friends that involved kidnapping and magical spells that turned someone into a slave. But mostly I just daydreamed about hypnosis and mind control — constantly.
A decade later, when I was 14, I noticed the feeling that I got when a story included mind control was growing stronger — there was a heat to it now. Some new need I couldn’t place drove me to Google “hypnosis stories,” just to see what came up.
Of course, I immediately found erotica, and as I scanned some of the worst prose I have ever read (I eventually found better), the feeling roared into a fire in my stomach. It was one of the most intense sensations I had ever experienced, and I suddenly understood.
The nerdy innocent, I had been the last girl in my class to even learn what intercourse was. And now, a word I had heard maybe a couple of times came bubbling into my mind with startling clarity: “This is a fetish,” I thought. “I have a hypnosis fetish.”
Now that I had hit puberty, my fetish also took clearer shape. I didn’t just like the idea of mind control, I knew I wanted it to happen to me. In the stories that captivated me the most, some malevolent controller would lure, or trick, or kidnap some young innocent. Through conventional hypnosis, or drugs, or some sci-fi machine, or magic, the victim would slowly crumble to their captor’s will. In the end, 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).
“This site is for fantasy only,” declared MCStories.com, the most popular mind-control erotica site. “The situations described here are at best impossible or at worst highly immoral in real life. Anyone wishing to try this stuff for real should seek psychological help and/or get a life.”
The words hit me hard, confirmed what I already felt; that wanting something so horrible to happen to me made me bad — that there was something really evil inside me, something to be feared. And it was crushing to know that even if I wanted to cave to my desires, what happened in those stories was impossible.
And so, I accepted this realization like the diagnosis of some incurable disease. I’d live with it, probably forever, but I’d do what I could to manage it, to minimize its effect on my life. All sexual desire became a threat, the thing that could push me over the edge into addiction to a fiction that could never be.
My exposure to the BDSM scene first came when I was in college and got involved in the steampunk community. To this day, I don’t fully understand the overlap, but the geekier the subculture, the more likely it is to include proud perverts. My kinky friends explained how crucial communication is in BDSM. An exchange starts with a conversation about what is — and isn’t — about to happen, including likes, limits, and safe words. What plays out within that context is acceptable, even if it looks like something that’s unacceptable in the outside world, like hitting another person. Conversely, a simple exchange that violates that system — say, a kiss without asking — is a huge infraction. All that talk of negotiation and consent sounded well and good to my new friends, but it never occurred to me that it would be relevant to me — my fantasies were akin to rape, the opposite of consent.
Eventually, I opened up to these friends, who I at least knew wouldn’t judge me, even if I doubted they would understand me. Most had never heard of a hypnosis fetish, but one urged me to go to an upcoming BDSM convention with her. There would be a so-called hypnokink meetup, she had heard. I hesitated for weeks and ultimately went so last-minute that when I arrived I still wasn’t sure if I was going to go through with it.
The hypnosis meetup turned out to be disorganized, so an experienced hypnotist named David started teaching an impromptu class. He had long brown hair and eyes that lit up when he talked.
Over the next hour, he explained how there are misconceptions about hypnosis. A trance is like other altered states, like subspace for BDSM practitioners, he explained. You establish consent and boundaries before you engage in it, and respect all parties involved. Hypnosis wasn’t mind control, but if a hypnotist and a subject wanted to try that sort of fantasy, it could be a collaborative act, one of care and excitement.
In a hypnosis scene, you can use a trance for removing inhibitions, enhancing creativity. You’re essentially using your imagination for anything from hearing “your foot is stuck to the floor” and believing it, to responding to “you feel really submissive toward me.” And a hypnotist can implant a suggestion that works afterward, as long as both parties agree to it, like, “Every time I say ‘good kitty,’ you’ll start acting like a cat.”
I felt like lightning struck me. I felt jubilant. I felt like an idiot for not getting it sooner. Still, I sat, balled up in the fetal position on my chair, the only one not getting up when David asked the room to try an exercise. Aspiring hypnotists grabbed partners and rocked them gently by the shoulders to get them into a trance — no words needed. I was aroused, and freaked out, but I didn’t run away.
After the class, there was a queue of people who wanted to chat with David. I was patient, studying him carefully. When he had a moment, I asked if we could talk. He sat down with me, giving me his full attention.
“First of all, hypnosis is my fetish,” I began.
“Mine too,” he said.
And we were off. Over the next three hours, we talked about kink, about our lives, about our similar Jewish upbringings. His partner hung out with us too — I knew a few polyamorous people through steampunk, but I was surprised by how easy it seemed for these two. Finally, in the middle of the night, we were still talking when David stopped and asked me:
“So, would you like to try?”
Back in his hotel room, we sat across from each other in armchairs. He asked permission to touch me — just to hold my hand, or steady me if I slumped over. I nodded. I was ready.
David started talking — simple instructions about how I could slip into the state I had always craved — and within moments I knew that this was what I really wanted. I felt like I was underwater, but breathing was easier than on land. My thoughts, rather than disappearing, took on focus and clarity — I just stopped noticing what wasn’t important. And what was important was how good I felt, listening to David, sharing this moment. The longer the scene went on, the more it felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. I felt content. I felt excited. I felt very, very turned on.
The scene was simple. David took me into a trance, then he took me out. He gave me a couple of post-hypnotic suggestions, such as one to improve my posture for the rest of the weekend, since I had been treating my spine like a turtle shell all evening. He reminded me that I could stop anytime I wanted. I had no desire to stop.
David lived near me, so after the convention we started seeing each other more. I would go to his apartment, he would hypnotize me, and we began to explore. He hypnotized me to go into a trance at the snap of his fingers, to act like a dog, to inhabit a “slave girl” persona, to have orgasms at his command. He hypnotized me in front of a class of 30 people to teach them how erotic hypnosis works. He introduced me to other hypnokinksters, to other kinds of kink. After some months, we decided to start using the labels of Dom and sub, to identify as owner and property.
And that’s how we’ve been, going on six years now.
We’ve reached the point in our relationship where I want something just because David does. It’s impossible to extricate love, hypnosis, and conditioning, but however the sausage is made, mind control isn’t just a fantasy shibboleth we throw around — it’s what we’re accomplishing. I frequently tell David that it’s like he’s reading my mind.
“That’s because I’m writing it,” he always responds.
My timing was impeccable. I entered the hypnokink scene in early 2013. Prior to 10 years ago, the hypnosis community existed entirely online. Fetishists and the curious tranced each other in chat rooms (they still do), shared hand-drawn art and hypnotic audio files, talked technique, arranged the occasional real-life date. But eventually, some in big cities realized that their numbers were robust enough for in-person gatherings. (David cofounded the New York City meetup.) That time also saw the birth of the New England Erotic Hypnosis unConference, or NEEHU, the first recurring erotic hypnosis convention, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year.
These days, there are roughly five annual weekend conventions or retreats. I try to go to about three, in addition to monthly classes. Many cities have regular meetups, sometimes hosted by more established BDSM institutions. In the beginning, I was content to serve as David’s subject for demonstrations when he taught — I still love to help him show everything from new techniques for inducing trance to methods for combining hypnosis and erotic humiliation. But I also wanted to show that being submissive didn’t mean being passive, and eventually I was teaching classes of my own, from the subject’s perspective.
When hypnosis met BDSM, though, there was grumbling from both sides. Old-guard hypnotists had reservations about associating with the whips-and-chains set. Some argued that we were aligning ourselves with perverts. Others held on to dangerous, antiquated ideas about hypnosis and power exchange, arguing that BDSM negotiation and consent were too limiting for hypnotic play.
As I first entered the general kink scene, mentioning my fetish would often be met with horror. I have been asked more than once: “Hypnosis? But that takes away consent! Isn’t it automatically abuse?”
Over time, those questions grew less frequent, as hypnosis practitioners taught at BDSM conventions, played with it at parties, spread the good word. It’s not as popular as, say, rope or flogging, but it’s not unusual to meet a kinkster who breaks out a pocket watch from time to time (hypnosis has been called the chocolate sauce of the kink world; you can add it to anything, and it will make it better).
In some ways, the timing of this convergence has become especially intense over the last couple of years. Now is a key moment for the kink scene. Both independent of, and in tandem with, mainstream conversations about power and consent, the BDSM community is starting to self-reflect, to expose predators in its midst, to question how well existing attitudes toward consent work, or are protected. Nearly as soon as the hypnokink scene formed, around 2009, it was plagued with the same issues — at least two major conventions have died and been replaced as a result of allegations of consent violations or mishandling of reports of abuse. In San Francisco, for example, this year will mark the debut of a new convention, which came together after one organizer of the previous West Coast event was banned from all of the other major conventions as accusations of predatory behavior reached a fever pitch.
For all the growing pains, it’s worth being part of this community every time I teach a class and see someone’s eyes light up with excitement, or whenever I tell someone about an amazing trance I had and they understand, or even when I bring up The Jungle Book and someone twinges knowingly. And witnessing the creativity of others is wild. I have seen hypnotic vivisections (since you can’t cut someone open for real), the Darth Vader force choke in real life, and mental transformations into everything from robots to Pokémon.
The wonderful thing about having a fetish is that it never gets old. Every single time, without exception, that David hypnotizes me, whether it be with a snap of his fingers, staring into my eyes, or slapping my face (yes, that works), there’s a moment when I think, “Oh my God, it’s happening.” The repression is gone, but every time I go under, I still feel a profound sense of relief.
My pubescent fantasies are all well and good — I still love reading stories where the victim has their identity taken away forever, and that desire is part of the drive of my kinky relationship. But the fantasies can’t compare with the layers of complexity that exist in a relationship that includes both sadomasochism and cuddling. We engage in long-term psychological conditioning (yes, we call it brainwashing), mutually plotting my destruction. But we also talk about the weather, and music, and religion, and complain about work. I still have my friends (including David’s other partners), and family, and a husband I adore (I had a lot of explaining to do when we met). I’ve learned that a fetish is not proscriptive — or prescriptive. It doesn’t have to look like porn for it to be full and real — and it’s better, if arguably stranger, than fiction.
David and I are chatting on his couch, and in a second, before I fully realize what’s happening, he’s pressing his finger onto my forehead, an old trigger that sends me plummeting into a trance. I want to yell from pleasure, but I can’t seem to make sounds anymore.
“That’s right,” he says. “Better and better each time. Deeper and deeper each time. Blank and mindless for me.”
At these familiar words, most of my thoughts slow to a crawl, and the rest seem quiet and distant, like the volume is down on a television. I can’t really think, but I can certainly feel. I feel the rush of letting go, eternal surprise at how fully and quickly I respond, eagerness to please, excitement and pride. I vaguely recall that I always wanted to stop thinking when someone told me to, but that I used to think it was impossible. It feels, literally, like magic.
David continues talking, and I concentrate on every word. And yet, at times what he says grows indistinct. I know by now I’m absorbing it all anyway.
Suddenly, he snaps his fingers, and I awake with a gasp.
“Hi,” he grins at me.
“Hi,” I murmur back. He’s teasing me; he knows all I want to do at this moment is go back into the trance, to let him do whatever he wants to me.
And what will that be? Will he tell me to become another person, making a role-play character eerily real? Will he give me a command for later and tell me to forget it for now? I only manage amnesia sometimes, but lately it’s been happening more often — being hypnotized is like any other skill, and I’m always learning some new trick. Or maybe he’ll make me dumb for a while, counting down like he’s lowering a dial on my intelligence. He might give me visions, make me see abstract, swirling colors, vivid as a dream. On a recent date, he told me that the color red was orgasmic, and then changed the lighting of the room to match.
“How are you doing?” he asks.
“Good,” is all I can muster; I’m still halfway in a trance.
“Good.” He touches my forehead again, and I’m gone again.
Whatever happens next, I’m ready for it. Most of my thoughts are indistinct again, but one cuts through, coherent and clear.
“This is why I’m here.”