Hypnosis and Sex (Feb, 1964)
Hypnosis and Sex
Despite popular belief, a hypnotized person cannot be made to violate his (or her) moral code. By Hugo G. Beigel, Ph.D.
Whenever hypnosis is discussed with a layman, one question inevitably comes up: “Can you make your subject do whatever you want?”
In posing that question some people think of the crimes which evil characters in cheap thrillers force their victims to commit. Most of them, however, have sex in mind. Women want to know whether they could be taken advantage of. Young men usually mean: “Would a girl undress if I told her it’s bed-time?”
Whatever the implications, the answer is in the negative. Hypnotized persons do not lose control to such an extent that they do or tolerate anything and everything that is suggested to them.
When a prominent stage hypnotist was accused of rape under hypnosis, an expert witness testified: “The danger of becoming a victim of a crime, or of being used for criminal purposes while in the state of hypnosis, is slight. Not one hypnotic crime has been proved beyond reasonable doubt. All serious students of hypnotism deny the possibility of rape on a person in hypnosis; in particular they stress one reason: that the hypnotized person wakes up.”
Since then many other persons have confirmed this observation. Among them are not only well-known students of hypnosis but also the “amateurs” who have picked up the technique and practiced it on their female friends.
They were disappointed. Girls would neither remove “excess clothing” which they allegedly wore, nor undress to “go for a swim,” nor “remain deeply asleep” when a hand started pawing them. They invariably rallied themselves and refused to comply with the suggestion.
These facts notwithstanding, the myth of the misuse of hypnotism for sexual purposes is still believed and sometimes exploited. In Heidelberg in 1934 a man and a woman had to stand trial for certain criminal acts. The woman’s defense was that they had been suggested to her by the man who had also sexually abused her while she was under hypnosis.
The man claimed that he knew nothing about hypnosis. It was brought out during the trial that the 2 had engaged in sex relations for 7 years, and that the first sexual contact took place long before the time at which the woman had placed the beginning of the hypnotic experiments.
She described the first meeting with her accomplice as follows: “He was very helpful when I got off the train. Suddenly he took my hand and it seemed to me that I no longer had a will of my own. I felt so strange and giddy.”
Whatever the mysterious power that overwhelmed this woman, it certainly was not hypnosis. Yet many a girl who has yielded to a persuasive lover cries afterwards, “He must have hypnotized me.”
In some instances girls were really hypnotized, and in this state had sex relations. In all these cases the same results could have been achieved by music, dancing, and sweet whisperings. The girls were simply ready to be seduced. Hypnosis merely provided the condition under which they could yield to their desire without taking the blame.
A young woman had an affair with an actor. Her husband found out about it. Crying, she pleaded that it was all because she had been hypnotized at a party. This party had taken place 6 weeks before she had met the man and 7 weeks before she went to bed with him.
Witnesses confirmed the amateur hypnotist’s statements that he had given her no suggestions that could have had a bearing on her behavior. She admitted that, but insisted that hypnosis had so weakened her will power that she could not have resisted anyone’s overtures.
In all probability this woman was just looking for an excuse. But it is not impossible that she believed her own tale. For many people still rank hypnotism with sorcery.
Thus in May 1963 a New Jersey woman was accused of murdering her child. She tried to temper her confession by connecting this deed to the fact that in the course of her psychiatric treatment she had been hypnotized. Such charges are not unique, but usually they are brought in connection with sex. The reason seems to be that to many women the voluntary surrender to a man’s dictates symbolizes sexual submission.
To some extent this is understandable. For in the state of trance, inhibitions are lowered. As a result sexual thoughts and wishes which are suppressed in the conscious state, frequently rise to the surface. It is this very fact that makes hypnotism a valuable instrument in psychotherapy.
During the last decade it has, therefore, with increasing frequency been utilized as an instrument to cut out of the mind the weedy growth of ideas that impair normal functioning. To that end, the psychiatrist must gain access to repressed material, and by applying hypnosis he can apparently haul into consciousness memories and fantasies which the patient would never reveal otherwise, or only after months of treatment in conventional analysis.
Since in our culture the greatest number of taboos refer to sex, the repressed material is largely of a sexual nature. And it belongs almost exclusively to this category if the patient’s problem is of a sexual nature. In such instances, repression has always taken place because the patients were not able to tolerate their sexual urges.
Now, when the “censor” in the mind relaxes under hypnotism, associations run freely and without consideration of sinfulness or propriety. Similarly, when deteriorated sexual capacities are to be restored, vivid pictures of sexual situations and sensations are deliberately evoked.
Sometimes this has unplanned results. The dreams and the imagined sexual scenes are often so lively the patient is in doubt whether they were products of her fantasy or of reality. People who for moral or religious reasons have always inhibited sexual feelings may be unable to reconcile themselves to the idea that such “dirty thoughts” were stored in their minds. They begin to suspect that what first appeared to be a dream is the vague awareness of an actual happening. Thus an idea—distressing and consoling at the same time—is born: that they might have been sexually abused while they were “unconscious.”
We know of this process because sometimes the patient asks a direct question upon coming out of a hypnotic trance: “Did you touch me?” If this happens, the hypnotist can usually dispel the patient’s worry. Other patients do not express their fear but offer resistance to being hypnotized again. Analyzing the resistance usually helps not only the immediate situation but therapy itself.
A third type of patient, however, refuses to speak up. She carries her fears silently, and the stirred-up sexual thoughts continue to occupy her mind. And as she pictures a situation in which she is being abused by the therapist, the incident takes a definite shape and she “knows” her fantasies to be memories of a real occurrence.
Hysterical people especially are strongly inclined to take the products of their imagination for reality. They do not even need hypnosis. Physicians who go about their work in the ordinary way have also been accused by such females of making sexual advances. But the twilight state that is typical of a trance is particularly likely to make one’s own erotic feelings appear like someone else’s actions.
It is this kind of confusion that gives rise to the great number of false accusations involving rape and sexual abuse under hypnosis in the doctor’s office. Fortunately most courts are aware of this.
Dr. Beigel, psychotherapist and former Assoc. Professor of Psychology, Long Island University, is author of “Sex From A to Z,” and editor of the Newsletter of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.