Bagging, scarfing, choking, erotic breath play—the ritual of cutting off oxygen to the brain for increased sexual sensation is known by many names.
Beyond caressing, sucking and biting, after your heart kicks into high gear and blood rushes to your rapidly growing erection, your breathing naturally becomes heavier. It’s the interruption of this last part—the breathing—that some men have discovered adds fuel to the erotic furnace.
While it’s very rare that serious injury or death occurs when there are two of more participants (nicknamed “gaspers”) involved, it goes without saying that being choked to near unconsciousness isn’t a risk-free venture.
“One can start reducing oxygen in the blood fairly quickly and get a rush by limiting breathing, but it’s doubtful that both will pass out,” says Kathryn Ando Ph.D, sexologist and board member at San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture. “If they do, they’ll just break apart, start breathing again and wake up.”
The risk factor increases dramatically, though, when sexual smothering is performed solo. Cutting off one’s air supply, usually by hanging while masturbating, is called auto-erotic asphyxiation (AEA), and it has been deemed a seriously perilous gamble.
Like two-partner breath play, AEA allows the individual to stir up a sense of euphoria by stemming the flow of oxygen to the brain. But without a trusted partner to cut him loose and get him breathing again, the erotic adventurer can easily go from getting all choked up to checking out for good.
The unaccompanied choker relies on specialized knots that are supposed to release under pressure, but even the best of these twisted knot knitters can be tripped up. All too often the sophisticated hangman’s noose gets tangled.
According to a report presented to the American Alliance for Health, PE, Recreation and Dance National Conference and Exposition, Andrew P. Jenkins Ph.D. noted that in nearly all cases of AEA-related accidental strangulation, there was some failure in the operation of the “safety” or “escape system” built into the strangulation tool.
The danger of getting one’s kicks by solitary asphyxiation is reflected in the data. It is estimated that between 250 and 1,000 people (mostly young men) die each year in the U.S. while attempting AEA. In actuality, this figure is probably even higher, as many crime scenes are tampered with by embarrassed lovers and relatives of the deceased.
In the long run, erotic breath play—like any other sexual variation—is going to be attempted by those who are a little more curious than cautious. Remember that if you attempt to get turned on by tying off, don’t go it alone. It’s just not worth it.