Neil S. has felt the pinch of the recession. Last month, he began advertising his services as an erotic hypnotist for $150 an hour. On offer is “the chance to experience erotic sensations and to live out sexual fantasies through hypnosis.” So reads the rather hastily created Web site, erotichypno.blogspot.com, that Neil has begun posting links to, most recently on Craigslist. “I’ve had guys believe they’re robots, strippers, dumb jocks, superheroes and more,” goes the pitch. “For some guys, the ultimate fantasy is to be controlled using hypnosis, and I’m more than happy to oblige.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
Neil, who is 39, spent roughly half his life working as an IT. For the last seven years, he was humming along at a tech company here in the city, doing software development, corporate “client facing” and other things that had become very boring. But he made and saved a lot of money; he had a plan.
In May, he decided it was time. He bought an apartment on the Upper West Side, leaving aside about $100,000 in savings. In August, he quit his job. He had budgeted at least a year off before setting about setting up a proper hypnotherapy practice—one that would include, but not be limited to, the erotic.
Hypnotherapy is quite popular these days, in case you haven’t noticed—particularly among smokers and the obese.
“The plan was to get into hypnosis as a field,” Neil told me over a cappuccino at the Venus Café on Eighth Avenue on a recent Friday, but the options with his company didn’t pay out as much as he hoped. His hair was buzzed to a stubble that matched up perfectly with the sculpted goatee accentuating his long, friendly face.
After six months of getting up at noon, going to the gym during the day and clubs at night (though coffee is his only vice, he said), he forced himself to take account of his situation. At this rate, he wouldn’t be able to make his mortgage payments after summer.
This is how he came to find himself in places like the hotel room in Queens he’d visited the night before, wearing a leather harness. In the three weeks his ad has been up, the Erotic Hypnotist, as he calls himself on the site, has had about 18 calls and five emails from people expressing interest in a session. Three two-hour sessions have resulted, one with a fellow who needed help with anxiety issues. The dude Thursday night, a repeat customer, had a specific sexual fantasy.
“He wanted me to dress up in leather—this is making me sound a little more like a rent boy, which I’m not,” Neil said. “I only like, you know, wore a harness and hypnotized him to think he was my slave.”
While Neil might do some dressing up (or down) to encourage the mood, he will not engage in the physical, save for a touch of the finger to activate a psychological “trigger” during the suggestible post-hypnotic state.
“So for instance, I set a trigger so that when I touched him on the forehead and said ‘balls,’ he would feel that his balls were being squeezed,” Neil said.
The hotel client had sensitive nipples, and could be brought to multiple orgasms, Neil claimed, by mere mention of the trigger “nipples.” Totally hands-free.
NEIL S. hypnotized his first subject in 2001. He had become bored with his middle-management IT job at a large corporation. He had his own office, and one day while surfing the Web, he discovered an e-group for people interested in hypnosis and sex. After taking an online tutorial and reading a book on the subject, it was time to practice on a willing subject, a fellow he met in the group.
“We met and did like a scene where I hypnotized him and had him feel some sensations and, you know, it turned into us basically fooling around,” Neil said. The experience awakened a fantasy that had been tickling the back of his subconscious for many years. He continued to hone his skills online, on people he would meet on Yahoo! groups (“gay hypnosis,” “gay erotic hypnosis,” “hypno slaves”).
In 2003, Neil forked over $600 for a two-weekend intensive course on basic hypnosis and hypnotherapy techniques, run out of Tribeca. This boosted his confidence and taught him how to get out of certain thorny situations.
“An ‘abreaction’ is basically, colloquially, freaking out during a hypnosis session,” he said. It can happen for different reasons. “Usually you trigger some kind of old trauma, and you hit on it by mistake. The person can start crying, become violent—it’s pretty rare. But it does happen.”
In the 200 to 300 people that have gone under Neil’s spell live over the past eight years, he’s had only a few instances of tears, which can usually be sorted out, and two instances in which the people go dark in an uncomfortable way, in which case he’ll stop the session. (He also generally deletes a trigger once the session is finished.)
He’ll begin easing the client into a trance by asking him to imagine a beautiful beach. Weather’s beautiful, sun’s shining, birds chirping, the smell of salt in the air, sand beneath your toes and so on. “This one guy saw a sinking ship and people drowning and flames,” he recalled.
It generally takes about an hour to bring a subject to a hypnotic state. Techniques differ, but the goal is to convince the conscious mind to retreat into the background, allowing the subconscious, which is “what we call suggestible,” Neil said, to reign free of obstruction.
“Once you let down your guard, your subconscious will pretty much agree to do anything that I suggest,” he said. “Within a certain limit, because, for instance, your self-preservation instinct is also in your subconscious. So if I were to tell you to jump off the roof, you wouldn’t do it.”
Soon he became bored with the gay-hypnosis online scene, which is dominated by fetishists. “There’s a whole subculture around that which I just don’t get into. There’s a lot of drama there. Lots of drama.”
I asked him kind of drama he was referring to.
“Oh, people stealing each other’s ‘subs.’ And lots of people pretending to be under hypnosis when they’re not. It’s hard to tell when you’re not there in person.”
He said that people online trot out all the standard “triggers.”