Breath Play: There's No Fun & Games If You Don't Play It Safe
Updated: Jun 29
Written bt Nadia Deen
Erotic Asphyxiation, or Breath Play as it’s recently been rebranded, is the act of cutting off, limiting or restricting air supply to your partner during sexual play. This can happen in many forms including (most popular), strangulation, choking, suffocating or putting a bag over your head. Yikes!
The earliest documentation of Breath Play is from the17th century where it was used as a “cure” for erectile dysfunction. It was noted that men who were hung, died with erections. Medicals also saw that the lack of oxygen to the brain encouraged men to experience longer and more intense orgasms.
OK, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Breath Play is the riskiest and most controversial type of sexual play there is. Many kink experts are reluctant to talk about it as it can result in brain damage, cardiac arrest or even death when performed incorrectly. It becomes even more dangerous if the person is already at high risk, for example, they have health problems such as Asthma. To put it bluntly, even Christian Grey (50 Shades of Grey) deemed it too extreme.
So, with the danger signs being so glaringly obvious, why are people still into it? Well, it’s complicated. Lack of oxygen releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine into the system which can induce light-headedness, exhilaration and the heightening of senses, which in turn, intensifies and prolongs the orgasmic experience. Adding to this, the play on the Sub/Dom roles give more depth and arousal to the situation.
When done correctly and safely it can be an intensely pleasurable experience for you both. “Having your partner’s hand around your throat is incredibly intimate. You are entrusting them, you are vulnerable, you are surrendering,” says Kathryn Peterson, expert and Founder of Yoga For Intimacy
“Energetically, the throat chakra (at the neck) mirrors the sacral chakra (at the sex organs). They are connected by the vagus nerve, which controls sensual stimulation and relaxation.”
Talking to Your Partner
It’s not just good practice to talk to your partner before attempting to perform ANY type of Breath Work, it’s vital! If you’re nervous about broaching the subject, a good tip is to have a podcast or video talking about it playing the background which can be used as an ‘organic’ conversation starter.
I’d usually suggest trying a sexual activity alone before broaching it with a partner, but in this case, DO NOT try this alone. There is estimated between 500-1000 reported deaths in the US alone each year from Auto-Erotic Asphyxiation (Breath Play whiles masturbating). Instead, try and think about why you want to explore this type of play? Could it be an extension of the power play dynamic? Maybe it is the amplified sensitivity? It’s worth exploring these with your partner. There is usually a safer alternative to severe Breath Play that could give you the same feeling.
Now that you have spoken to your partner and have both agreed that this is just the kind of fun you both want to get into, another must is to be setting your boundaries, intentions and safety. No matter what your role in this play is.
It’s important and potentially lifesaving to educate yourself on the anatomy of the neck and throat. Fully understand where to place your hand, so to not put pressure on the larynx or vocal cords. It's recommended that you gently squeeze on the two main arteries located on the outside of the throat only.
Safewords are usually the standard when it comes to any type of sex that engages in the power exchange, however, when it comes to Breath Play this is just not enough. A combination of a safe word AND a safe signal is crucial. Some people find that tapping your partner’s hand in a certain rhythm or squeezing when you at your limit is a good signal.
For an extra layer of protection, I would suggest frequently checking in with your partner and reading other non-verbal signs. It is your responsibility as the person in power to stay constantly engaged with the person you are choking. Missionary position is a good place to start as you can clearly see how the other person is reacting and maintain eye contact.
If this all sounds like too much work, and you’d prefer to not accidentally kill someone, there are many other safer options including;
Focusing on synchronising your breathing - “In yoga, we focus a lot on the breath, because breath is life. When you and your partner become one with your breath, with your life, it’s deeply intimate! Practice synchronising your breath with that of your partner during slow lovemaking” suggest Katheryn Peterson, Founder of Yoga For Intimacy.
Breath with your pelvis - Katheryn goes on to explain “You can also synchronize your breath with your pelvic floor, which we call the Mula Bandha to practise yoga. Inhale while contracting the pelvic floor, and exhale while releasing the pelvic floor. Paying the same attention to muscle release expands our sensitivity to pleasure. Adding the breath helps us to fully embody that pleasure.”
Hold your partner’s neck without squeezing - This can still give you the feeling of dominance without restricting airflow.
Important things to know - Non-Negotiables
Breath Play is not recommended for long periods of time. The chance of brain damage, heart attack and death greatly increase the longer you starve your body of oxygen.
DO NOT even attempt to participate in Breath Play if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Just like you wouldn’t drive or operate machinery.
If your partner loses consciousness, you need to STOP IMMEDIATELY and call an ambulance right away.