Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Ol' Pregnant Man Trick

Okay, so I've been cruising around YouTube enjoying a variety of hypnosis videos, and there are plenty to see. Reputable professionals like Jim Wand giving demonstrations at colleges, adult entertainers in Vegas bringing in the laughs, younger novice hypnotists experimenting happily with their friends. Good stuff. But then, almost invariably it seems (and far too often as clips from daytime talk shows), an old chestnut appears...and reappears, and reappears again. The bit where the hypnotist makes a man, sometimes with his wife sitting nearby, believe that he's pregnant and experiencing the agonizing pain of childbirth. Oh, the hilarity that ensues. For every vindictive, malicious person in the audience.

There is not an instrument large enough to measure my distaste for this routine. Before the ladies in the audience leap on that remark as, "Oh, you're just saying that because you're a man!", permit me to reflect on what I've said.

I cannot say that I understand the pain of childbirth. To do so would be absurd. I can with certainty say that I feel for those whom I love who've experienced it. When I was old enough to hear the story, I learned that my mother not only was in terrible pain during my own delivery, but she hemorrhaged extensively. My sister, with her first child, was in labor for more than 36 hours, emotionally exhausted as she waited time and again for her daughter to appear, only to find that the time had not yet come and hours more pain lay ahead for her. Well, that's taking things out of context, you say. No one expects the man under hypnosis to undergo that. But how can you predict it? Each subject responds to suggestion in keeping with his own perceptions and understanding. I know this firsthand from seeing the very real physical pain of a subject after doing a simple "hypnotic glue" suggestion [see the article elsewhere on this blog]. It is always better to err on the side of caution. I suspect that should I be subjected to such a hypnotic experience as the 'pregnant man' gag, my mind would go right to the image most vivid in my mind, of my courageous mother in 1967, bleeding profusely, blinded by terrible pain in her efforts to bring me into this world. The idea of falling to my knees screaming as I felt my insides cut to ribbons while a mean-spirited crowd of cackling women look on is not appealing in the slightest. But I suppose if they all get a cheap laugh out of my discomfort and humiliation, it must be worth it, right?

If it's just a simple matter of finding humor in forced empathy between the sexes, why are there no routines in which the lady is made to experience prostate trouble? Or perhaps a circumcision? Or just a good swift kick in the crotch? Because that would be disgusting and offensive. It would be seen, and rightly so, as cruel and excessive. And yet, the sight of a man screaming in agony as he clutches his belly is accepted as just plain jolly good fun. And at least for some, it is.

Let's look at the spectacle itself. We're not talking about quick, unexpected, clownish step-on-the-loose-floorboard-and-have-it-smack-you-in-the-face humor here. I've had my share of chuckles over those. Even when it's happened to me. This is an instance of watching someone in steady, unrelenting, ever-increasing anguish. Fess up, now. There is only one reason to find this funny. And it has nothing to do with swapping genders. It's revenge. There is an underlying resentment among some females that can be summed up in childish statements like, "You don't know what it's like to have a baby!" and perhaps more accurately, "How do YOU like it??!!"

There isn't a man worth his salt who, being at the side of his wife and lover during childbirth, wouldn't give anything to take her pain away. There is no more profound agony than to be right next to a loved one in pain and know you can do nothing to lessen it beyond taking her hand, offering her words of devotion, and praying fervently that it will be over soon and she will find relief. What this tired hypnosis routine reinforces is the angry notion that the man's love for his wife will never be enough. He MUST be made to suffer physically. So we can laugh at him. But for him, there will be no hands to hold, no damp cloth applied lovingly to the forehead, no tender kiss upon the back of the hand. Just vicious laughter akin to the bully in the schoolyard, repeatedly kicking the skinny kid in the ribs as all his buddies watch.

A bit too harsh? Maybe, maybe not. But consider this: if I were given the chance, and perhaps a hefty fee, to perform the pregnant man routine, would I do it? Not in a million years. I would instead offer an alternative. Have both the husband and wife go under hypnosis together before the audience. Then give them both, or at the very least the husband, what they've always wished could have happened in that delivery room. I'd direct the husband to take his lovely wife's hands in his, as she reflects on all the discomfort and pain she had to endure to give birth to their wonderful children--remembering it but not physically reliving it. As they sit there connected, hand-in-hand, have the man express his feelings for his beloved through the simple phrase, "I love you."

Each time he says this, his wife feels a bit more of the discomfort, concern, stress, or worry drain from her body, to be replaced by their shared loved. At the same time, the husband can feel the darker sensations removed from the love of his life--drawn from her to him--as he too feels himself filled with their love. That same love, I hasten to add, is what inspired them to come together toward the miraculous end of creating a child in the first place. Before long, the husband is repeating the words that led them to marriage with increasing speed and compassion, and the wife's eyes are wet with tears of joy. Done correctly, the experience should end with the two of them falling into each other's arms. Not exactly a laugh-riot perhaps, but far more fulfilling for both participants and, I should think, the audience as well.

As a Certified Hypnotist, I uphold a Code Of Ethics. I am proud to do so. One of the rules in it stresses that the hypnotist is not to conjure dark emotions or painful sensations in his subject. Ever. Any hypnotist who later pooh-poohs away my position with the offhand remark of "Oh, he wasn't really in pain, he was just acting it out." or "The suggestion had no lasting effects", is full of horseshit. It does have lasting effects, even after the pain--which I assure you is genuine--disperses. Starting with the idea that the wife whom he so loved was on board with seeing him in agony and laughing at him because of it. What do you talk about in the car on the way home after that one?

It's not that I loathe the pregnant man routine because I am a man. I loathe it because I'm an ethical hypnotist. And I find it deeply disturbing to see a crowd of people laughing uproariously at the sight of someone--anyone--in pain.



  1. As a fellow hypnotist, I must admit my own guilt here and say that I have, more than once, used the pregnant man routine in my shows. I only have used it during an adult oriented performance so as to not traumatize a young child with such a scene. I will say that the routine works and works because women absolutely love to see this sort of reaction from any man ...mostly BECAUSE they know we have no clue as to what they truly experience. Ethical hypnosis will always conflict with stage hypnosis ...no matter how careful one might be. I once did a routine where I told some high school students that whenever I used the word "hypnosis" their undershorts would grow tighter and tighter. Everyone had a great laugh but afterwards a principal of the school gave me a talking to because she felt it was a highly inappropriate routine for students ...now honestly, what student hasn't had a wedgie from time time time? I mean, no matter what, someone will get offended. I guess we all must do what we feel is right and do our best not to offend ...I rarely use the "prego man" routine anymore ...guess i grew bored of it myself...great post though!

  2. Rawill, thank-you for your wonderful and insightful comments! Much appreciated. I think one of the reasons I take such personal issue with routines like the Pregnant Man is not only that I dislike seeing anyone in pain (simulated or otherwise), but that I already have such empathy for the extraordinary women in my life who have given birth--Mom being at the top of the list. My last thought is too inflict what they have so courageously endured onto others.

    It's also never been a matter for me of seeing the man humiliated, believe it or not. I have seen videos of shows where high school kids and adults alike were turned into obedient dogs, chickens, who knows what else--and they ended up having as much or more fun than the audience. That's okay. Those routines are more like mutual playtime.

    It's when the audience has its fun at the expense of the subject that my undies get in a bunch--without even needing the suggestion from a stage hypnotist. ;)

    (Incidentally, I think that wedgie routine of yours would be just fine. But yeah, school officials do tend to err on the side of caution, I suppose.)