Ethical Brainwashing

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A while back, I made a note to myself that I should discuss the idea of “ethical brainwashing”–what it means, and what it implies about the D/s relationship of its practitioners. So let’s start by first saying that yes, there is such a thing as ethical brainwashing in the context of kink. In fact, a lot of consensual D/s relationships practice it even without realizing it; any time you hear someone talking about “training their slave”, they’re doing some brainwashing. But we’re dealing with it in the specific context of conscious conditioning, so let’s break down a little what we mean.

Brainwashing, in this sense, is the use of hypnosis (frequently combined with other behavioral conditioning techniques studied and employed in classical psychology) to effect permanent changes in the submissive’s behavior. These can be as simple as a new habit, or as complex as deep, permanent personality changes. This isn’t something that can be done simply or easily, which is why I said initially that “brainwashing” implies a relationship between the Dominant and the submissive; you can’t instill a permanent change in a single session. It is inherently a long-term project, and it will both require a bond of trust between hypnotist and subject to succeed and build a bond of trust between hypnotist and subject if it does succeed.

But what does it mean to be “ethical”? Simply put, ethical brainwashing involves starting with a mutual, consensual communication of the end goals of the behavioral changes, with the understanding that the brainwasher will stick to only modifying the personality of the brainwashee in ways they’re comfortable with. It also involves making sure that the ramifications of the brainwashing are considered and planned for before things get underway; if the subject wants to have their intelligence reduced, they need to discuss what that means in terms of their job, their college plans, and their family life, and “I don’t care I just want to be a bimbo” isn’t a good answer.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that “permanent” doesn’t mean “continuous”; you can have a trigger that engages this change, if one of the things you realize is that there are things that it would be inconvenient to have full-time. (Even something as simple as “you don’t want to wear clothes in your bedroom” might have some complications that need to be discussed.) But a lot of brainwashing suggestions are going to be permanent, and you should be aware that people will think in that context at least at first.

“Now wait,” I hear someone in the back saying, “if all you’re doing is making them do things they already want to do before the brainwashing even starts, how is it even brainwashing?” The answer is simple–wanting to do something isn’t the same as doing it. I might want to exercise daily, but to forge that habit and make a permanent change to my behavior takes time and effort. It’s no different with D/s. A submissive might want to (for example) have difficulty thinking whenever they’re wearing their collar, but that doesn’t just happen on its own without hypnosis and pleasure conditioning teaching them how to attain that foggy-minded state.

So if you plan on doing ethical brainwashing, as a Dominant or a submissive, the first step is to have a conversation together outside of scene, as equals, in which you lay out what you’re actually going to do. You don’t need to discuss every detail down to the exact verbiage, but you should at least have an idea of what you want the dynamic to feel like by the end. This is important, because at least one of the unintended side effects is probably going to be a certain amount of deference to the hypnotist, and reopening the conversation later on may wind up with the submissive agreeing to things they might not be as comfortable with deep down simply because they want to make their top happy. That can, in turn, cause problems down the line because as I said above, the whole thing depends on a bond of trust, and nothing kills trust like a barrier to effective communication.

In general, these are the questions I think you should at least start with when you’re having this conversation?

1. What does the submissive want to become? This speaks to the really obvious (but very important) point of consent, and it’s also going to be easier to submit to brainwashing that your conscious and subconscious mind are congruent on achieving. Again, this is a conversation outside of scene, and you should feel free to speak to your Dominant as an equal and a friend. Don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, I know we have fantasy roleplay all the time about turning me into your furniture, but that’s much hotter as a fantasy than as a footstool.”

2. What does the Dominant want to achieve? Again, not only does the Dominant get to consent just as much as the submissive, but the Dominant is going to be putting a lot of work into these behavioral changes and they get to say, “Um, I know that being a himbo is really hot for you, honey, but I like to have conversations with my boyfriends that aren’t about bodybuilding. Let’s make the intelligence reduction a situational thing.”

3. What are the practical obstacles to these goals? There can be a lot of these. As much as we all want to, we don’t live in Kinkworld 24/7, not unless we’re super rich and a character in one of my stories. You should be talking about the impact on other relationships–family, friends, metamours if you’re polyamorous; you should be discussing the impact on work and career. You should be thinking about possible inconveniences or annoyances that might come up in taking a fantasy to a reality–it’s nice to imagine an irresistible compulsion to go naked in your house, but you want to think about what happens when the UPS truck stops by.

If all this sounds like work, it kind of is. But “ethical” doesn’t mean “unless it’s hard or boring.” If you really want to make permanent changes to another person’s personality, you are taking ownership of the effects of those changes and any problems they might cause, and you need to make sure to prevent those problems before they happen and fix them if they do. That’s one of the implications of D/s; you wanted to own someone, well, that means taking care of them. It’s a commitment to another person’s well-being and safety, not just another way to have kinky sex. That can be a little heavy sometimes, but anyone who’s been in a relationship that involves ethical brainwashing will tell you that it’s totally worth it.

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