Sunday, November 28, 2010

Consent and Hypnosis

lxr asks in a comment to my last post:

Do you have any thoughts on issues of consent with regards to hypnoplay?

After a certain point in trance, I can't imagine how one could even think to safeword.

Before a trance has commenced, consent in hypnosis is just like in other kinds of activities that involve mind-altering states, such as subspace, inebriation, or an adrenalin rush. You negotiate (or not) and agree (or not) to the things you're about to do together. The chances of your hypnotist nefariously taking advantage of you is about the same as your rope rigger nefariously taking advantage of you; you should check your partners out, negotiate clearly, set expectations, etc.

Consent during trance is a different thing, though. Different theorists have different takes on what's actually happening during hypnosis, but I like to think of us as having a conscious and subconscious mind. The conscious mind is your personal narrative mind; it's the thing you're thinking with when you think thoughts that you're aware of. The subconscious mind is everything else, and is most of what's going on in your brain at any given moment.

Normally when we're talking about giving consent, we're talking about an activity of the conscious mind. When you negotiate in advance, you're talking and thinking and agreeing. If you're tied to a table and safeword, it's usually a choice; it's not automatic. You have to decide to say the word.*

The subconscious mind is capable of consent as well. And it doesn't always agree with what the conscious mind thinks about things. For instance, a person's subconscious mind might really want to have sex with that hottie over there, while the conscious mind remembers "oh wait, I'm married." Or the conscious mind might think "a person like me should want anal sex" but the subconscious mind thinks "no way." In day-to-day life, this can look like a person who regrets doing something or who seems confused about what they want.

During a hypnotic trance, the hypnotist is speaking to their subject's subconscious mind. Suggestions can do impressive and amazing things because the subconscious mind encompasses so much of our selves and our personalities, but ultimately, they're just words someone says to you. The subject is the one who has to implement the suggestions. Nothing will happen, hypnotically, that the subconscious mind does not allow.

So at a certain level, hypnotic trance and hypnotic suggestions cannot happen without the subject's consent, making questions of safewords entirely irrelevant.

No problem, right?

Well... no. My subconscious might allow some things that the conscious me wouldn't.**

Fortunately, most subjects during trance have a conscious awareness of what's happening, that I call the observer. It's like the conscious mind has stepped to the side but is still watching everything going on. I have rarely entirely lost my observer, although occasionally my observer has been distracted. Usually, though, my observer is engaged in the trance, noticing stuff, sometimes helping out.

The observer knows what the conscious mind would consent to, and can interrupt. The observer can safeword, or break the trance. To me, this is approximately as difficult as safewording during any other BDSM scene. Other subjects' mileage may vary, depending to a large extent on what they believe about hypnosis.

The hypnotist can make it much easier for their subject by asking them to communicate during the trance, by checking in, by inviting them to safeword. If you use the color system and include green, you can reduce some of the common anxieties around safewording.

The best solution I've seen is for the hypnotist to just give a safeword suggestion to their subject. If a hypnotist instructs their subject to safeword easily, naturally, automatically whenever it's appropriate, even in trance, and refreshes the suggestion periodically, then you're all set. The subject can safeword when they consciously need to, and they will automatically safeword when they subconsciously need to.

I have four automatic safewords: red, yellow, green, and ow. The ow is for when something is causing me physical discomfort that I believe my partner did not intend, but I'm in a state when I could not otherwise communicate it. I have used them in trance without any difficulty.

Negotiation and communication are better tools for establishing and maintaining consent than safewords and always will be. But you can certainly safeword during hypnotic trance, if you believe you can.

* This is part of why safewords are problematic; a lot of players, when they're having things done to them, don't have very much of their conscious mind on-line at the moment. Remembering and forming the intent and saying the word is sometimes not possible. This doesn't mean safewords are useless, as some will contend, but it does mean you can't rely on them in all cases.

** Annoyingly, my subconscious won't allow some things I really want it to. I want my partner to be able to give me hallucinations! Except apparently, deep down, I don't.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Hypnosis: Part One

A reader asks:

What experience have you had with hypnosis?

This question is much bigger and more complicated than it seems!

I have nine months experience with hypnosis. Before February 2010, I didn't really believe it would work. I figured there was maybe something there but it seemed... new-agey and bogus. Out of curiosity and a certain sense of recklessness, I found some people who do erotic hypnosis and hung out with them at a con. I was boggled!

Hypnosis works.

Not for everyone, of course. If you don't want it to work, for whatever reason, then it won't.

The first time, I was skeptical about whether it was actually doing anything; I felt like I was making decisions to play along. However, having decided to play along with the game, it stopped being a game. I did fall into trance! The rest of that evening at the party, I went in and out of trance, and it felt really, really good.

It was a life-changing experience.

In the past nine months, I have been tranced lots of times, mostly by my boyfriend, Mr. Shiny. I have not hypnotized anyone else; I generally prefer to be on the submissive or bottom side of powerful activities, although I've seen others get hypnotized. Most of my trances have been in person, but I've had one from watching a video of an induction, and I've had trances induced by light-sound machines.*

I have a set of posthypnotic suggestions that can control my behavior if Mr. Shiny wants them to. He can drop me into a trance, freeze me, make me passive, make me eager to please, make me compliant; he can alter my mental and emotional states directly. He can indirectly alter my physical state: he's used suggestions to help manage pain.

Anything I can voluntarily do, I can be compelled to do in a trance or by a suggestion or trigger after. Actions that are nominally voluntary but that I wouldn't have the willpower to follow through on are also easy to control. Some things I can't voluntarily do can also be controlled; I can have an orgasm instantly on command, and Mr. Shiny can control the parameters of it:

"Have a slow, silent orgasm," he can say, and I do. That didn't work right away, though; it's taken a while for me to learn how to have lots of different kinds of orgasms.

I'm not as good at some other hypnotic phenomena. I can barely do a positive hallucination, where I sense something that isn't there. At best, it's tactile, and more like mis-attributing a sensation. To my knowledge, I've had no amnesia. I haven't had a negative hallucination, where I don't see something that is there. However, I can continuously disregard something, simply not notice a thing, which is subjectively very like a negative hallucination.

I love how hypnosis allows Mr. Shiny to control me. He can constrain, or restrain, me with two words! How awesome is that?

Other hypnopervs do different things with it. Some enjoy vibrant hallucinations of travel or metamorphoses; some do it to enhance their primary kinks; some do straight erotic feelings with no power exchange at all; some do it because the trance itself is so exciting to them that anything they actually do with it is an afterthought.

Of course, all of this is very different from clinical hypnosis. You can use hypnosis as part of therapy or as part of chronic pain management or during surgery or to quit smoking or lose weight. Hypnosis is different in those contexts.

I've stayed away because I want to keep the lovely erotic charge I get from dropping into a deep trance.

*Hereafter referred to as Blinky Helmets.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Knitting for Not-Quite-Beginners!

A reader asks:

What would you suggest for someone who is just a bit too experienced to be called a beginner?

When you're learning to knit, I think a few skills are good to pick up early:
  • Knit.
  • Purl.
  • Cast on an edge that isn't too firm.
  • Cast off an edge that isn't too firm.
  • Knit in the round.

The first is kind of obvious.

Purl is the reverse of the knit stitch, the backside of the sweater you're wearing.

If you knit flat, every other row you're working on from the back side of the fabric, so you need purl to do the pretty flat stitch that makes the sweater you're wearing.

These are the only two real stitches in knitting; they can combine with a few fancy tricks to make bobbles and lace and all kinds of funky stuff, but that's later. Once you can stockinette, the interesting thing you can do is make ribbing.

Casting off and casting on an edge that is the right stretchiness for your product is the skill that makes the most difference between "Wow, neat sweater" and "Oh. You made me a sweater. I would wear it if I could fit my head through the hole." The usual cast ons and cast offs are very tight, and it's hard for beginning knitters to do them loosely. Especially if they're working ribbing, which is even stretchier than flat stockinette.

But nobody wants to sit around practicing cast ons and cast offs. The beginner trick is to do the same stitch you usually do, but use a bigger needle. You might have to practice once or twice to find out if you need a needle twice the size of your working needles, or just a little bigger, but that's a lot easier to figure out than maintaining the right amount of tension.

Finally, working in the round is the thing where you have to manage four double-pointed needles. It's hard to keep the stitches from falling off and it's hard to manage the transitions between needles and you feel like you need ten hands. But you're likely to find that halfway through your first hat, suddenly it all works. I usually keep those little rubber needle caps on all the ends of my needles that aren't currently handling yarn, so the stitches don't fall off and I always know where I am.

That's all background to what I think you were really asking, which was:

What should I make if I'm not ready to make a sweater but I already know how to make a scarf?

I think you should make something you would actually wear. That's the first thing. Use yarn you like to touch. The goal here is to get you to actually knit the thing, to get your speed up so you can see real progress being made, because you finished something! Yay!

I spent a season making winter hats for everyone. Other people make socks and more socks, but I find them a little fussy and get annoyed by having to make another one all over again once I finish the first. I also developed a quick and easy pattern for cat toys, which I could complete from cast on to cute eyes over the length of a Red Sox game.

You can experiment with different patterns and make more scarves, if you happen to enjoy scarves. They're slower than hats but easier to have something you can just take with you.

The other great not-quite-beginner project is to make a big warm afghan using bulky yarn on big needles. You'll still see rapid progress, but you'll be making something big and substantial.

You're probably not very consistent with tension yet, and the skills you need to fit something to a body are more advanced, so I recommend staying away from actual garments for a little while.

Except for baby clothes. Because if the baby sweater is the wrong size, the kid'll grow into it, or it'll go to the next kid, no problem. If it's some crazy mutant sweater, well, it's not like the baby will care, right? If it comes out really bad just knit on another three arms and claim you did it on purpose.  

Finally, if you're the kind of person who likes to hang out on websites with other people doing your hobby, join Ravelry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Inaugural Ball

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want to do with my life and with my time online. One thing stands out to me: I like to give advice. I like think about problems, I like helping people, I like considering ways what I say could be useful to other people.

Really, I wish people would ask me questions all the time. Then I wouldn't have to seek them out! I would have all my ideas in one place, where I could develop themes and deploy theories.

Thus, I invite you to send me questions. I will answer them. I will answer all of them, unless I get so popular that I'm totally inundated with questions and wouldn't ever get any sleep and my hands would fall off if I tried to answer them all.

I expect to talk about sex, BDSM, feminism, hypnosis, cats, gender, kink, relationships, and polyamory, with possibly some knitting and cooking thrown in for good measure.

Send me mail at!