It started with an email from a mother, frantically worried about her daughter. Since then, in the past few weeks I’ve been contacted by several people on the subject. Yesterday, I met with a group of teens and young adults, worried and wanting more information about one of the riskiest forms of sex play.
The technical term is erotic asphyxiation – the practice of restricting either breathing or blood flow to the brain to enhance sexual pleasure, either alone or with another. The very idea scares people, even to the point of silence. Unfortunately, silence can also be deadly.
I had not intended to address this topic, as many others had done so before (such as Jay Wiseman's well-known article) especially after the recent death of actor David Carradine (as Gloria Brame has done). But given the requests of the past few weeks, and the amount of myths and misconceptions I've heard, it's clear we need more people speaking out and informing people about the real risks involved.
First, we need to understand the attraction of erotic choking. When oxygen levels to the brain are reduced (hypoxia) it can lead to a momentary feeling of euphoria. Combine that with the powerful pleasure of orgasm, and you can see why some would find it addictive. But there’s much more to it. There’s the thrill of risk, and the connection of trusting another with your very life. As one young woman tried to explain to me: “It’s so intense, so on the edge, it feels beyond being in love.”
The problem, of course, is the risk inherent in the practice. Whether restricting breathing or applying pressure to blood vessels, robbing the brain of oxygen can lead to severe consequences. Even if the person doesn’t pass out, a relative lack of oxygen can cause some neurological damage, which can accumulate with repetition. It also changes blood chemistry in a way which can lead to a heart attack. Pressure or even a sudden grab on the throat can trigger the vagus nerve to send signals to the heart, causing it to slow down or even stop. And, worst of all, there is no way to predict when any of this might happen. There have even been cases of individuals who initially seemed to have no ill effects from being “playfully” choked, only to suffer cardiac arrest hours later.
We all desire pleasure and connection, and I can understand when some feel compelled to pursue forms “so intense, so on the edge.” Unfortunately with breath play, there’s no real way to keep from falling over the edge completely. So, if you’re thinking of doing this, please think again. And if you know someone who might be doing so, don’t be afraid to share your concerns with them.