Yesterday Girl On The Net wrote about how, because she always takes out her lip ring before giving her partner a blowjob, she’s had the ambition of creating in him a conditioned sexual response to her removing her lip ring — and it seems to be working! So they had a discussion about their next sexual-conditioning trick, and it went predictably where you might think, with Mars and Venus having sharply diverse visions of how they ought to proceed:

I’d literally watched as his dick got hard in his jeans, purely as a result of me taking out my lip ring. According to him, that’s the closest we’ve ever come to achieving the lip-ring-Pavlov’s-blow-job response that we’d talked about so long ago.

Naturally, we high-fived, and were generally pretty pleased with ourselves. But of course once you’ve achieved one Pavlov’s blow job, you can’t help but wonder what the next trick should be. He reckons we should literally copy Pavlov and introduce a bell, but I suspect that’s less to do with sexual experimentation than it is to do with the fact that he wants to have suck jobs on demand at the ring of a bell.

Personally, I’d like him to condition me to get wet at the smell of roast potatoes. Not only will I get loads of hand-jobs, in order for the response to work he’ll have to cook me roast dinners a minimum of once each week.

I suppose it’s no surprise that this is not the very first time I’ve encountered the notion of conditioned sexual responses. Thinking back over the last 14 years of sex blogging and reading sex blogs, I seem to remember a fad on the BDSM blogs for awhile for domly doms to claim they had “trained” their subly subs to orgasm on demand in response to voice commands or visual cues, using various forms of conditioning. It’s a potentially-hot fantasy and I get why people liked to play with it, but it’s also a tough claim to verify in actual cases without some sort of biophysical monitoring.

The other context where I have encountered similar ideas is in the unsavory world of pickup artists (PUA). A long time ago when there were only one or two notorious PUAs out there already selling their skeevy “seduction” tips and audio-cassette seminars to trembling chumps, there was still a sort of non-commercial side of that world on Usenet in various groups, and they would sometimes discuss the use of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), which at the time had not yet been so comprehensively debunked as it currently has been. A few PUA optimists were claiming that what came to be called “patterning” could be used to establish conditioned sexual responses in conversational partners (who would thereby soon want to become sexual partners, or so went the hopeful theory.) Say the right words in the right way, repeat with variations, and you could (supposedly) condition your conversational partner to become sexually aroused in response to certain innocuous trigger phrases, all without them ever noticing what was going on. Bullshit you say? Well, rather! But latterly it sold a lot of audiotapes and CDROMs and DVDs, so it must have mapped fairly accurately into the fantasy spaces of many hopeful men.

I think the idea of conditioned sexual response is interesting precisely because of the way it interacts with notions of consent. In different scenarios, the conditioned person could potentially consent to the acts of conditioning without being aware that conditioning was a goal or a potential outcome, or alternatively they might be a full, knowing, and enthusiastic partner in the conditioning enterprise. But even in that latter case, how does conditioning work with consent? If I enthusiastically consent to be conditioned to get hard every time my partner eats a strawberry, should she ask me before she eats one? There’s potential to wind up in a situation where acts that do not normally require consent may have consequences that normally do require consent to achieve. It’s complicated, it’s interesting, and it offers a lot of fantasy fodder, even if the practical difficulties mean that conditioned sexual responses aren’t of enormous consequence in most people’s sex lives.

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