Guaranteed to take your breath away. Pun intended.
In the heat of the moment, your partner places their hand around your throat and provides a gentle squeeze to the sides. You feel the tingling of an instant rush to the head, all senses heightened, all pleasure magnified as you fall into an other-worldly state of bliss. Gently, your partner releases and you feel the welcomed oxygen spread throughout your entire body as you return back into yourself and the moment – racing endorphins completely engulfing you.
Erotic asphyxiation, or breath play, comes in many forms - with choking becoming increasingly normalized in today’s mainstream society. I myself have become a fan of choking during intimacy but have to admit that I was very skeptical of exploring that side of my desires due to a combination of misinformation and fear-based education.
Breath Play & Erotic Asphyxiation History: Enjoyable, or a Disorder?
Erotic Asphyxiation started to be documented in the US back in the 17th century as a self exercise to help erectile dysfunction. They saw that those who practiced depriving themselves of oxygen held erections for longer and even felt lightheaded from the intensely pleasurable sensations. Yet since then, erotic asphyxiation, or “asphyxiophilia”, has come to be classified in some medical journals as a psychiatric disorder – an extremely dangerous activity to engage in.
Sadly, they refer to the more extreme and dangerous practices associated with erotic asphyxiation, the ones which come with much higher fatality and injury rates than the more mainstream, safer practices. For starters, practicing breath play and depriving yourself of oxygen whilst on your own is never a smart idea!
Breathe Play also technically covers a wide range of actions: choking, strangulation (using ropes, belts, chains, etc.), using bags over your head or various kinds of masks to restrict airflow and/or the inhalation of gasses. Scary stuff! It’s no wonder breath play has got some bad press over the years!
Breath Play: Practicality
After reading the above, it is easy to see why experimental couples may move away from the concept of erotic asphyxiation due to all the negative associations with the more extreme practices.
While we must respect that breath play can be dangerous, we shouldn’t undervalue the incredibly positive effects a less extreme and more responsibly practiced form of breath play can have. Learning how to properly and safely practice choking, to engage in breathe play, can have many benefits. Not only can it be divinely enjoyable (think mind-blowing orgasms…), but it can also be a great way of deepening intimacy and trust between yourself and a partner/s.
I am excited to take you through the science of breath play, best practices, and of course implementation!
Breath Play: The Science
Scientifically speaking, erotic asphyxiation involves cutting the supply of oxygen to the brain by compressing the carotid arteries on each side of the neck. When done correctly, this gives you a feeling of pleasant lightheadedness and heightened sexual arousal. Your body’s natural reaction to danger is to thank for these feel-good sensations: they’re part of your “Fight or Flight” response.
Essentially, when your brain senses you can’t breathe it thinks you’re in danger (smart, right?). It then floods your body with hormones like adrenalin and endorphins to help you either fight off the danger or flee away from it. Think racing pulse, heavy breathing, tightened muscles, sweaty palms…
Since you are not actually in any real danger, you can utilize this reaction for sexual pleasure. All your senses will be heightened, which means you’ll feel pleasurable sensations more deeply and intensely. Makes sense, right?
As mentioned above, some people practice this In many extreme forms that could potentially be dangerous, so it is important to be mindful of your practice and to understand the anatomy of the neck and chest before you start.
Breath Play: Anatomy and Safety
The goal of breath play is to reduce your oxygen supply for a very short period of time by squeezing the sides of your neck very gently to compress the Carotid arteries. You can find these arteries by putting two fingers directly underneath the side of your jaw, on your upper neck. You will feel a very light pulse, and those are the arteries we wish to work with. You MUST avoid putting pressure on the larynx, or front area of your throat that holds your vocal cords because this can cause discomfort and lead to injury.
It is VITAL to realize the two main risks associated with reducing oxygen to the brain incorrectly and irresponsibly. Limiting airflow and cutting off oxygen from the brain can lead to brain damage and/or death. Once again, this is much more prevalent when practicing the more extreme forms of erotic asphyxiation in an irresponsible way, including by yourself.
Other risks involve bruising to the neck, larynx damage, and causing other forms of permanent damage to the arteries and surrounding tissues.
We must ALWAYS be mindful that breathe play is, in fact, one of the most dangerous sexual practices out there and that it is not to be taken lightly. It is a practice that needs to be done with extreme care, and I advise against doing it alone.
Beyond Science, Why Do We Like Breath Play?
For kinksters such as myself, I like to use choking as a form of play during acts of dominance and submission. While my partner may not actually be choking me all the time, the act of having their hand around my throat is hugely exciting when I want them to be dominant. Allowing my throat to be held is very much an act of submission on my end, surrendering to my partner all my power and trust.
I also feel very deeply connected to my partner during breath play because it requires and involves so much communication, both spoken and through interpreted body language.
Since your body is responding by releasing hormones and endorphins, sexual stimulation feels incredibly heightened. For example, a vibrator may feel more powerful against the clitoris when the arteries in the neck are being constricted. During foreplay, a favorite with my partner is having him choke me while I use a vibrator (the Mimi Soft is incredible for this). The vibrations feel amplified, and there seems to be a light tingling and buzzing sensation throughout my entire body. Done in short intervals, this is incredibly sensational compared to just the usual play.
Breath Play: Best Practices
- Before attempting breath play, have a conversation with your partner about safety, intentions, and boundaries. Explore the anatomy of the throat, locate the carotid arteries, and where your larynx is. Establish a way for your partner to have a “safe act”, an act they can do to tell you to stop breathe play. Some couples like to keep an item in the receiver's hand, so they can drop it should they want the act to stop. With my partners, I first establish that I want gentle breath play – and that I will use my hands to pat their back to let them know to back off and stop.
- Really talk about why breath play is of interest to you, and go over the seriousness of the risks associated with the practice. Although fun, it should be respected as a dangerous activity and there should be full awareness before and during practice.
- For me, it feels most comfortable having my partner cup their hand around my throat directly underneath my jaw. Get your partner to practice this and you can let them know if they are doing it correctly or not. (Make sure they are not putting pressure against your larynx, for some people accidentally push down on your throat versus gripping it on either side…)
- Make sure your partner is careful with their arm placement:if they rest their arm against you this can cause pain to your chest and collarbones.
- Choking is not a long-term activity that can be done for the entire time that you are being intimate. I like to take it in small intervals, building my way up. For example, have your partner start by squeezing your arteries for 10-15 seconds, and then taking a break.
- For prolonged breath play, there is no need to squeeze intensely or cause oxygen deprivation the entire time. You can have your partner very gently grip your throat, giving small squeezes here and there – just having their hand around your throat is immensely arousing in itself!
- Always, always stay engaged with each other while you are practicing choking. This means maintaining eye contact and keeping the lines of communication always open.
- If you are the giver, it is advisable to check in constantly to see that your partner is OK and enjoying the experience. You can do this by verbally asking them if they are OK, having previously established the mechanism for them communicating their response (taps to the back, giving a thumbs up, holding up or dropping a prop, etc.)
- Gentle choking should mean that you are able to easily nod or shake your head when asked a question. If this is not easily done, then this should be an immediate warning sign that the choking is too hard!
- If you are in a position where you can’t maintain eye contact,such as doggy style, a great way to stay alert is to have your partner also place their hands above yours. So, if your partner may be choking a bit too hard you can squeeze their hand as a signal to back off. If attempting during doggy style, it is CRUCIAL that you make sure your partner is not straining their neck. This is by far the easiest position to injure the larynx and should be done carefully and gently.
- If at any point someone seems to be losing consciousness, you need to stop everything you’re doing RIGHT NOW. Some signs of losing consciousness would be your partner's body going limp, their gaze going blank, eyes rolling into back their head, or looking drowsy. Even with all these signs, you can never accurately predict when your partner may be losing consciousness. This is why it is so crucial to keep constantly checking in and be always vigilant!
- A great position to start incorporating breath play into is missionary, you can then work your way up to other positions once you have become accustomed to the sensations and have practiced your communication methods.
Alternatives To Breath Play
If breath play feels too intense or it isn’t something you enjoy, you can still enjoy other forms of stimulation that perhaps satisfy a different need. There are many different kinks to explore, and it is okay if breath play doesn’t do it for you! If still interested in the idea of breath play in a less extreme form, I have a couple of suggestions for you:
- As I mentioned earlier, simply having your partner’s hand around your throat with no choking can be incredibly powerful and arousing.
- Some couples may prefer to use different kinds of gags, such as ball gags, to restrict normal breathing. These do not restrict the airways, but are a method of suppressing speech and can trigger the same “fight or flight” reflex as choking and also be very exciting!