Sex in the Big Easy: Take My Breath Away – a Guide to Understanding Erotic Asphyxiation


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Warning: Neither the writer, nor Big Easy Magazine directly endorse the sexual practice of breathplay, erotic asphyxiation, or especially auto-erotic asphyxiation. Consult a medical professional before trying any of these practices. The author completely discourages most forms of auto-erotic asphyxiation. For more details, continue reading the article. Before any play, consider talking to someone more experienced in this subject. 

Tracy Carlson of Connections Psychotherapy & Wellness wants to make it clear for this interview, that she’s a sex therapist, “With your first questions, and your concern with breathplay, just a reminder, that I’m not a medical doctor. So, I can’t offer any kind of medical advice.” 

WHAT IS IT?

The shortest answer is that breathplay, which can involve either a couple (or more) people involved, or be done individually as auto-erotic asphyxiation, is, in short, the withholding of oxygen to achieve an effect. For some people this effect is orgasmic. Others place it in the same range as subspace, which we’ve talked about previously.

WHY WOULD PEOPLE DO IT?

For various reasons. Some people find it achieves a higher level of orgasmic satisfaction for the person experiencing having their oxygen withheld. For others, it’s the joy that comes from having such a high level of intimate control, an exchange of power, what they feel is a sacred trust between individuals.

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According to Dr. Carlson, “So breathplay can also be erotic asphyxiation, can also be auto-erotic asphyxiation, so it’s actually something that has been practiced for centuries. A lot of times people will engage in it to achieve sexual arousal, with that restriction of breathing. Sometimes that can heighten the sexual arousal experience, or even heighten the orgasm they might experience as well. A bit of euphoria. But that has risks with it.” 

Chelsea is in a happy marriage, with someone who is relatively “vanilla” compared to her. But before that, she lived a wildly polyamorous lifestyle. When it comes to breathplay, as Chelsea describes it, “It’s a euphoric experience.” Adding, “I think of floating in that space between consciousness and unconsciousness.”

Clark is in a polyamorous marriage. He is a self-described, “pudgy enby (nonbinary) queer,” and a “breathplay bottom.” He says, “So how I practice breathplay involves restricting breathing, usually using the hand, by wrapping it around the throat and clamping down. Adding, “Choking, etc.”

Clark says, “It’s the power and trust and ability to let yourself go entirely with another person.”

Thirty-year-old professional, Peter Faye Sittingly, says, “I feel a tremendous sense of release at giving control of my breath to a partner. I also feel very close to that person if she chooses to smother me with her ass. Part of the thrill is the clash of something that is seemingly degrading with someone who is both beautiful and trusted.”

According to Kent, one of the only dominants I spoke to for this article, his reasons are quite simple, “A type of edge play in which the flow of air is cut off or restricted, resulting in mild hypoxia, which some people find euphoric. It is a type of power exchange that shows extreme trust.” Despite not having his own breath constricted, he gets plenty out of it, saying, “First of all, the power exchange aspect. There is something incredibly intimate about the trust between two people. On a visceral level, the sound of struggle is exhilarating. The lovely gasp for air when you let them breathe again is delicious. While… engaged… the effects of breath play are amazing. Internally, there are clenches and twitches that are absolutely exquisite”

Talented and deeply attractive artist Margo admits she’s enjoyed it to a degree that might be a little extreme for some. Talking about her partner, she says, “We’ve done breathplay from the beginning. I guess the most dramatic thing on that front is that he’s choked me hard enough that I passed out for a few seconds. Which was exhilarating. I want to play more on that front because it truly felt like I was transported to a different dimension.

HOW DO PEOPLE DO IT?

There are different methods used in breathplay. In some cases, it’s chest compression. For other people I interviewed, it was done with smothering, in one case with the ass of one of the partners.

While many people engage in choking, that isn’t the only method, Clark, for instance, says, “I’ve done some crushing/chest compressing. Adding, “It involves putting weight of some sort on the chest to compress lung capacity.”

As Peter mentioned, it’s a combination for him, “Ideally, but in the best scenario my partner would choke me while riding me as well as sit on my face at different points in our intimacy.”

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES

Chelsea says of her own experience, “So, I’ve only ever let one person do breathplay with me.  I had known him for a while prior to us ever doing it.

“He and I had discussed it prior to a party one night.  Along with his partner at the time. She was there to watch and make sure it didn’t go wrong.

“When we got to the party, he, myself, and his partner went into our own space and played a bit with impact (spanking, kicking, etc.)  After I was floating in subspace, he laid me down and put his hands on my neck.

“His partner sat by me and watched my breathing.  He put pressure on my neck to where my breathing was restricted.  He gradually applied more pressure, but I always could breathe, even if it was restricted. The restricted airflow sent me deeper into subspace.  I was floating, relaxed, breathing when he let me.

“I fully trusted him to not kill me, because, I mean, it is dangerous.”

“He would stop frequently, ask me if I wanted to keep going, and would proceed until he and his partner knew it was enough.  After he was done, he laid with me and made sure my breathing returned to normal and made sure I didn’t hurt or have bruises on my neck.”

Peter’s story is simple but erotic, “I had a partner for a while who would wake me up in the morning with light slaps to the face and once I was awake, she would slowly lower her lightly clothed ass onto my face. We had discussed this as a possibility before it ever happened and knew that three taps meant I needed a breath.”

Kent’s story is potentially darker, “I had a sub whose favorite method of breathplay was via forced oral. She liked her air cut off by having her partner’s member down her throat. We decided to try a ring gag. I learned that you need to… try things on first. I put the gag on her and the first thrust, I find that my girth exceeds the diameter of the ring and I get it stuck on the base. So, this thing is strapped to her head with me stuck in it and down her throat. She starts struggling as I am trying to unstrap it.” 

“At the moment it was terrifying. Once I get it off her, we dissolve into a 30-minute fit of giggles. That is why RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink, a way of being informed, aware, and consenting to a particular practice) is so important… there are risks… and you have to play accordingly.”

Margo says, “I’m trying to remember the hold that he used. We weren’t actually having sex at the moment – kind of like, between positions – but we’d talked about it ahead of time. He had planned a scene that we were going to do in a few days and wanted to see if this was something he could include. Since we’d never done it that extremely before, we wanted to give it a test run. Previously I would always tap out when I felt close to passing out.

He has martial arts experience, so if I’m remembering correctly, we were positioned so that the crease of his elbow was on my neck, and his other hand pressed my head forward a bit. As far as losing consciousness goes, it was a pretty smooth transition out.

“I remember seeing lots of bright colors and hearing very loud noises. Almost like really aggressive music. When I came to, I was really disoriented, I didn’t remember who I was for about thirty seconds, much less where I was.

“It felt like I’d been under for years. Like I said, it seemed like going to a different dimension. According to my partner, I twitched very violently before he woke me up again. After regaining consciousness and control of my limbs I felt very giddy. Breathplay always makes me feel kind of high, and so I’m hoping to try this out again sometime soon.”

HOW SAFE IS IT?

It depends. Auto-erotic asphyxiation is the most dangerous form, especially by “usual” methods, such as hanging. Without another person around to check on you, you could in fact accidentally kill yourself. And while it appears to be incredibly rare, it’s not entirely unheard of. 

The second most dangerous practice is strangulation. Strangling someone doesn’t involve just one part when you do it. Wrapping your hands around someone’s throat involves several different kinds of structures within the respiratory system including the trachea and larynx. Blood flow and oxygen deprivation are also at issue and damage to cartilage can occur. 

Dr. Carlson says, “It’s risky engaging in that practice. In one of your questions you ask, ‘is there a way to guarantee safety?’ and the answer is no, you can’t guarantee that.” Adding, “There’s no way to predict what could happen.” As an example of one of the more dangerous practices, she says, “So you talk about strangulation, for example, the larynx and the vocal cords in your throat can be pretty delicate, and you don’t know a person’s threshold, where that damage could occur.” 

Chelsea says, “It takes a lot of trust, number one. Number two, you need to know your body. You need to know when you need to tap out, which I always had the option to do. You definitely don’t want to do it alone.  There are too many things that could go wrong. I recommend another person aside from you and your partner. And it doesn’t hurt to have the other person familiar with CPR, which both my play partner and his partner were certified. Breathplay is dangerous.  It’s erotic and fun, but with everything, things can go wrong.”

Or as Clark says, The most important part of breathplay – like with any kink – is setting boundaries and having some level of trust in your partner. Like I fuck around a lot but don’t engage in breath play with just anyone; as a breathplay bottom it’s much too dangerous to allow someone that much control over your ability to breathe.”

Clark even admits to auto-erotic asphyxiation, saying, “So I’ve done light auto-erotic versions where I’ll tightly wrap a piece of fabric around my neck while masturbating but not tied off, something where if my body goes limp it’ll unravel on its own

“I think it can be very dangerous though. Females who participate in auto-erotic asphyxiation tend to use scarves in a noose fashion to avoid rope burns/marks but it’s still super dangerous. People die–infrequently of course, but it happens.”

Peter says, “Agree on safe words or safe gestures with partners and discuss any concerns desires beforehand. Like anything, if you’re trying it for the first time it’s always safer and more ethical to try when you and your partner are sober. Don’t think that your partner has to have experience with it either, it’s always okay to watch videos and experiment together. And also, don’t take things too seriously, it’s okay if things are funny sometimes.”

There are some practices that are safer than others. According to a nurse practitioner, who I’ll call Lois, who practices primary care, “The safety kind of depends on a lot of things. I can tell you that most of the injury and mortality associated with breathplay, is self-induced breathplay. So that’s when people are using some kind of a ligature for strangulation, and that’s having an unintentional suicide related to the strangulation.” She continues, “Partner breathplay, I think injury or death related to partner breathplay is extremely rare.” She adds, “That being said, there are medical conditions that can add risk to breathplay.” 

Lois continues, “So if you’re doing anything that causes you to stop breathing, the main thing that that’s affecting is the oxygen, needed to oxygenate your heart, and needed to oxygenate your brain. So those are the organs that use the most oxygen in your body. They’re the most sensitive to being asphyxiated, so if you have any condition that makes it already likely you don’t get enough oxygen to your brain or your heart, meaning if you have cardiovascular disease or cerebral vascular disease or a history of cardiac arrhythmia or lung disease, any of those things would make it more likely you would have an injury related to holding your breath.” She, too, warns against strangulation. 

The safest breathplay, according to her would be where you simply try to stop yourself breathing–in this case, at the command of a dominant. 

WHO WOULD RECOMMEND IT?

Interestingly, Peter would recommend it for the sake of addressing previous trauma, “I can’t speak for others, but for me, it’s a way of positively reclaiming negative experiences I had as a child at the hands of those I did not trust. This is one of the many ways I can use my sex life to heal from past trauma…through discussing them with partners and using sex to heal I have grown as a person and in my ability to be empathetic.”

WHAT TO DO IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE

Seriously, talk to a medical professional, talk to your medical professional. Try to find someone who has experience with it, preferably someone reputable in the community. Do some real research and take your time. And don’t just go around choking people, especially randomly. No one’s going to appreciate that. 

And when it comes to safety, Kent wants you to know, “If you do not feel comfortable with breathplay, don’t do it. If you feel completely comfortable with it but you don’t know what you are doing and can hurt someone badly… don’t do it. This play is extremely dangerous, and you should never feel complacent engaging in this practice.”

According to Dr. Carlson, while most breathplay can’t be 100% safe, for those interested, she recommends checking out the work of Tristan Taormina, a sex educator, who does cover this sort of work. http://tristantaormino.com

All names have been changed except Dr. Tracy Carlson’s, as a way to maintain their privacy.


Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. If you like this piece, you can read more of his work here.

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