Erotic asphyxiation, also known as “breath control play” or simply “breath play”, is the deliberate restriction of respiration to pause the flow of oxygen to the brain with sexual arousal, erotic enjoyment, or intensified sexual pleasure and orgasm as the goal. This kink activity is a form of edge play and practiced with a consenting partner. Erotic asphyxiation is considered a high risk level kink activity that can result in injury and death.
While it is often explored as part of BDSM dynamics, it is not exclusively performed between kink practitioners. When this act is performed alone, it is referred to as autoerotic asphyxiation. Someone who practices breath control play may be called a “gasper” while a slang term for the act is “scarfing”.
The History of Erotic Asphyxiation
The history of erotic asphyxation can be traced back to the 1700s. It is believed that erotic asphyxiation began as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. The technique was likely based on observations made at public hangings. Onlookers noted how prisoners would often get an erection and sometimes even ejaculate while being hanged.
References to erotic asphyxiation were also made in the notorious and controversial pornogrpahic literature by the infamous philosopher and writer Marquis de Sade, who wrote in the latter part of the 18th century.
Breath Control Play Methods
Any activity that restricts breathing and blood flow to the brain can be considered erotic asphyxiation. Some popular means of controlling someone’s breath for erotic enjoyment include:
- Placing a plastic bag over one’s head
- Covering one’s mouth with a hand or fabric
- Applying pressure or compression to the abdomen
- Choking with hands on either side of the neck to apply pressure to the carotid arteries, while avoiding the trachea
- Strangulation with the length of an item such as a belt or scarf
- Facesitting, when someone positions their crotch on their partner’s face with the intention of smothering them
Safety and Risks
Hypoxia is the formal term for the condition of oxygen deprivation in body tissues, which affects the neurochemistry of the brain. The side effects of hypoxia can include fatigue, numbness, tingling sensations in bodily extremities, lightheadedness, and dizziness. More intense effects can include disorientation, confusion, shifts in behavior, hallucinations, reduced consciousness, while the most severe possible effects are heart failure and death.
When restricting blood circulation, even in a controlled way, there are potential risks. In the case of prolonged or chronic hypoxia, there could be a risk of short- or long-term physical damage, severe injury, or death.
The acronym RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink) refers to participating in BDSM and kink activities like breath play that, while they may pose a greater perceived risk, can still be enjoyed to a degree of safety by partners who engage in consciously safe, consensual ways. When practicing any form of breath play, it is important to do so with trusted partner(s), as well as negotiate the terms, conduct any necessary research, set communication expectations such as safewords, prepare emergency procedures, and have the appropriate aftercare plan in place all prior to engaging in the breath play scene.