Tickle torture is the use of tickling to abuse or dominate someone. The victim will still laugh even if they find the experience unpleasant. This laughter, in this case, is an innate reflex rather than social conditioning.
Chinese tickle torture is a term used in Western Society to imply an ancient form of torture practiced by the Chinese, in particular the courts of the Han Dynasty. Chinese tickle torture was a punishment for nobility since it left no marks and a victim could recover relatively easily and quickly.
Another example of tickle torture was used in Ancient Rome, where a person’s feet are dipped in a salt solution, and a goat is brought in to lick the solution off. This type of tickle torture would only start as tickling, eventually becoming extremely painful
There are a small number of documented instances of tickle torture. They happened in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and in these instances restrained victims were tickled upon the bare soles of their feet, apparently against their will and for the pleasure of their tormentors.
There is currently no evidence that tickle torture was ever widespread or was practiced by governments. The very small amount of related documentation discovered thus far is all from England and America.
'Orrible Murder: An Anthology of Victorian Crime and Passion Compiled from the Illustrated Police News (by Leonard De Vries, published by Book Club Associates in London in 1974) (pp 73–4) reissued a news item first published in the Illustrated Police News on December 11, 1869: 'A Wife Driven Insane by Husband Tickling Her Feet.' The account states that Michael Puckridge had previously threatened the life of his wife, described as "an interesting looking young woman." Puckridge tricked his wife into allowing herself to be tied to a plank. Afterward, "Puckridge deliberately and persistently tickled the soles of her feet with a feather. For a long time he continued to operate upon his unhappy victim who was rendered frantic by the process. Eventually, she swooned, whereupon her husband released her. It soon became too manifest that the light of reason had fled. Mrs. Puckridge was taken to the workhouse where she was placed with the other insane inmates." (page 74) The husband was given away by Mrs. Puckridge's niece who was aware of the torture and spoke to neighbors about it. The article does not say if Puckridge confessed his crime to the niece after the deed was done, or if the niece actually watched the feather relentlessly scraping away at her aunt's soles, and ultimately, her sanity.
A Sunday, September 6, 1903, special to the New York Times included a small item on its first page (page 1, no byline), "Treated Patient Brutally." At the Hudson River State Hospital, one suicidal patient, John Hayes, was immobilized on a bed for his own safety. While he lay helpless, the patient's woes were multiplied by one of the hospital attendants, Frank A Sanders. "Sanders is said to have confessed that while intoxicated he amused himself by tickling the feet and ribs of Hayes and pulling his nose." (page 1) Sander's also gave his restrained victim a black eye. Another hospital employee came upon Sanders while he was entertaining himself at his patient's expense, and the criminal was brought before a grand jury.
The third instance of documentation is found in David Ker's New York Times article, "England in Old Times" (page 11 of New York Times, November 13, 1887), where Ker writes, "Gone, too, are the parish stocks, in which offenders against public morality formerly sat imprisoned, with their legs held fast beneath a heavy wooden yoke, while sundry small but fiendish boys improved the occasion by deliberately pulling off their shoes and tickling the soles of their defenseless feet."
Additionally of interest, the April 14, 1872 New York Times article (page 11), "Terrible Punishments: The Russian Knout and Turkish Bastinado--How the Punishments are inflicted," the author (byline of L.G.C., no name is given, only initials) refers to foot tickling in an effort to explain the intense pain caused by the bastinado. "I have heard men cry out in agony . . . but I never heard such heart-rending sounds as those from the poor bastinadoed wretch before me," the author remarks. Three paragraphs later he writes "Such is the bastinado. And of the intenseness of the agony which its infliction produces, one has only to think of the congeries or plexus of delicate nerves which have their terminus in the feet. Even 'tickling the soles of the feet has often produced death; what then must be the excruciating pain when cruel violence is done to those most sensitive members?"
Tickle torture in popular culture
The Howard Stern Show has had several women on the show getting tickle tortured including Pamela Anderson, Carmen Electra, and Belinda Carlisle
A villain from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles named Don Turtelli uses tickling as a method of interrogation, such as tickling April's bare soles with a feather.
Jake Redder is a popular fetish artist whose artwork often depicts women being tickled on the soles of their feet.
Olive Oyl, the girlfriend of popular cartoon character Popeye, was twice tickle tortured in 1930s-era Popeye the Sailor cartoons, evidently to amuse her captors:
Shiver Me Timbers - Olive is tied down, with two dripping milk bottles hoisted over her bare feet. Two cats are then set free and begin licking her milk-drenched feet.
Bridge Ahoy! - Olive dangles upside down from the edge of a girder, secured only by her shoe clinging to the girder. Knowing she is helpless, Bluto then peels back the sole of her shoe, revealing her bare foot, and tickles her incessantly thus driving the frustrated Olive to laughing hysterics.
Joshua Falken is an adult 3D artist whose computer generated artwork often features tickling scenes. In an episode of Wow Wow Wubbzy Wubbzy , Widget and Daizy are tickle tortured by Widget's machine.