A peek behind the curtain: The basics of BDSM and breath play

The world of BDSM is a diverse one. One area of it is known as “breath-play.”

Breath-play involves the restriction of oxygen to increase erotic play or to intensify an orgasm or sexual experience.

This can either be achieved through solo-play (autoerotic asphyxiation) or through partner play, in which the submissive is the one who’s airflow is restricted.

This is undoubtedly one of the more controversial areas of BDSM “edge-play” as this is literally a game of placing your life in your partner’s hands.

There are a variety of ways in which people accomplish this: breath-holding, nose-pinching, Kinging or Queening (smothering the face of a partner with the genitals of the other), gas-masks or hoods (usually latex gimp or slave hoods), bags or plastic wrap, re-breather bladders, choking or hanging, compression on chest (corseting), pressure on the trachea or around the neck or pressure on the carotid artery.

Self-induced autoerotic asphyxiation can be accomplished in many of the same ways with variations that don’t require a partner.

Also, there are new types of breath-play that involve breath control in which one partner is directed to become more conscious of their own breathing in a manner that simulates classic breath-play, relying on the psychological impact of hyperventilation or self-controlled breath restriction. Each type of breath-play tends toward a different kink in each partner — some are obviously more dangerous.

This would not be something I myself would ever indulge in, because quite frankly, it’s dangerous. The level of trust and experience required in a partner to not royally screw this up is staggering. This is definitely one of those things where pretty much even the slightest thing gone wrong can cause lasting damage to the brain or spine; in fact, the list of possible injuries is as long as the different types of breath-play. I was actually shocked to find out how many people I know personally who have used breath-play and thought that it was a fairly common thing.

I would never have thought that this would be a common practice for people whom I knew in real life. Especially considering that many of them are pre-med or have first-aid experience. One would assume that anyone with any type of medical experience or knowledge would know how incredibly dangerous this type of behavior would be. The most shocking thing, though, is how badly informed people are about what they are doing.

Jay Wiseman, author of SM 101, has been one of many to create controversy around this subject by facing the facts of just how dangerous this behavior is. Honestly, I wholeheartedly agree with him. There is literally no way in which to do this that does not pose some threat of serious injury. And ANYONE doing it should be aware of that.

This is not something to be done lightly, it requires extensive knowledge of human anatomy and significant self-control during sex to even consider the prospect. Still, that doesn’t make this safe.

Nothing is fail-safe. Most people only hear about the largely publicized deaths from autoerotic asphyxiation, like David Carradine’s. Yet every year hundreds of people think that they have found a safe way to autoerotic asphyxiate… and die. Many people are also arrested every year for accidentally killing their partner during suffocation play.

This is actually one of the very few areas of SM that even health professionals involved in the scene have said that there is no way to perform safely. Considering the variety of areas that SM covers, that says something (and not something good). In truth, there is no way to do breath-play without risking cardiac arrest or brain damage from lack of oxygen. And if you think that this is an area where having a partner limits the danger, then you’re wrong. It is in fact just as dangerous either way. The idea that being with a partner makes this safer is completely illogical. You can take as many safety precautions as you want and this can still potentially become life-threatening.

Many will dispute that they don’t do breath-play to the point of unconsciousness or to a dangerous point.

Well, that is just the point. There are far more problems with this than just unintentional unconsciousness. Unconsciousness is not the problem. It is a symptom and you cannot know when unconsciousness hits until it does. Prolonged use of breath-play can cause permanent damage to the brain, destroying brain cells every time.  There is no way of knowing if your partner is about to go into cardiac arrest or if they are beginning to suffer brain damage from lack of oxygen.

Additionally, potential types of cardiac arrest can occur, such as ventricular fibrillation, when premature ventricular contractions occur as extra pacemaker sites are set off within the heart to counteract the lack of oxygen. There is no way to predict these just as you cannot predict any type of heart attack. They can occur at any time with any health history. In the event of cardiac arrest, even with training, the likelihood of saving your partner with CPR is low. So, if they suffer a serious injury from your breath-play, even by the time help would arrive, it would be far too late to save them. Even as little as 15 seconds of pressure on the carotid artery can cause unconsciousness and any longer can induce serious injury.

So really, how can this seem safe?

One Response to "A peek behind the curtain: The basics of BDSM and breath play"

  1. Maddy   February 17, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    Wow the newsletter has really stooped in terms of the quality of topics chosen.

    Reply

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