Take My Breath Away
Edge-play: Choking and breath play in BDSM
By Ena Dahl • 9 min read • ENGLISH
Edge-play: Choking and breath play in BDSM
By Ena Dahl • 9 min read • ENGLISH
Never before have I started an article with a disclaimer, but this time it’s due: Do not try this at home, especially not alone or with an inexperienced player. Choking and breathplay are potentially hazardous, and, in the absolute worst-case scenario, deadly.
Now that we got that out of the way, I’ll admit; choking to the point where I lose consciousness is an unbelievable, euphoric feeling, unlike much I’ve experienced. It doesn’t take more than seconds of your (experienced) partner pressing firmly on your carotids, looking into your eyes, and commanding you let go, until you dip into Elysium—only to be pulled back, moments later, by the same hands that brought you there—usually via a hard slap in the face.
For a brief time after coming back, your entire body is hypersensitive; each pore is alert, every sensation is heightened, and your body is basically a receptacle for sensual pleasure. At the same time, you’re giddy and giggly; high as a kite, fluttery like a butterfly.
Maybe you already went there in your mind, but I’ll say it nonetheless: Few things feel otherworldly like deep penetration in those moments; when you’re basically a butterfly on ecstasy.
I can hear the skeptics on one hand; why would you ever do that? On the opposite end, I hear the adventure seekers; wow, that sounds amazing! I bet you do this all the time.
Both reactions are legitimate, and, as I sympathize with both, I’ll address them as I go along. As s bit of a thrill-seeker myself, my first reaction would be the latter; where do I sign up? But, since I’m also highly concerned with safety, I haven’t played at the edges of breath and choking play for a while, and I don’t know when, or if, I will—and, I’m fine with that—because, no matter how much I truly enjoy being over the moon, I prefer to remain here on planet earth for now.
The seriousness of this—and any kind of breathplay—combined with how much I equally covet the feeling, is why I hardly talk about it: I don’t want to encourage something that has the potential to cause irreparable harm.
In the instances that do I share, I’m met with oohs and aahs and mixes of shock and intrigue — which was what happened when I told this to the owners and editors of SPNKD, Paul and Miriam, who promptly requested I write more about it here.
It’s therefore with a tinge of hesitation that I proceed. Let’s first learn what a choke-out is:
A chokehold or blood choke is a strangulation technique where the carotid arteries and/or the jugular veins, found on each side of the neck are compressed. This doesn’t constrict the airways but causes brain ischemia, a temporary condition in which there’s insufficient blood flow to the brain. Note that the flow is not entirely cut off, as you’re still supplied via the vertebral arteries in the back of the neck.
A proper blood choke doesn’t require much physical strength, and will usually lead to unconsciousness in between five and fifteen seconds. Doing it one-handed requires fairly large hands, depending on the size of the person’s neck. A chokehold can therefore also be done by wrapping the entire arm in a triangle around the neck to squeeze the arteries with the bicep and forearm.
The technique is originally applied in combat to render an opponent unconscious in order to launch an attack, get them to submit or tap out. It’s mainly in use among army special-forces and in different types of martial arts, such as MMA, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, and wrestling.
Of the two partners who I let do this to me, one was a previous fighter and the other an ex-military. Both had trained to master the technique, under close supervision, and knew exactly what they were doing—as well as what to look out for. Since this isn’t something to play around with, I’d strongly warn against experimenting with anyone without who isn’t 100% sure they know the drill.
My butterfly on ecstasy description is the most accurate I can come up with. Before passing out, you’ll start to see stars, almost like when you stand up too fast from a really hot bath, and/or if your blood sugar is low. Then, before realizing it, you’re out—not to understand that you’ve been gone until you’re back again.
As newly oxygenated blood flushes the brain, you’ll feel almost disoriented and a bit woozy. This gives the sensation of being high, which can be quite addictive.
Done in a sexual context, particularly in a D/s scenario, there’s an erotic component added; the feeling of being taken out and brought back in the hands of your dominant partner can be an extremely powerful way to fully submit and let go.
Done right, by someone with experience, to a healthy individual, the risk is low and the chances of any long term consequences are minuscule.
BUT—there’s no absolute guarantee, and someone could have underlying health conditions they’re not aware of. Performed on someone with a cardiac disorder or hypertension could cause seizures and other complications.
It’s also imperative to never hold a choke after the person loses consciousness, or for an excessive amount of time—various sources suggest twenty seconds maximum—as this can cause permanent damage as well.
A blood choke works by constricting the supply of oxygenated blood to the brain, while an air choke means that the breathing or air pipe is blocked or constricted. Doing the latter to the point of unconsciousness can be very painful and takes several minutes. In combat, a component will usually tap out far before they reach this point.
All breath- and asphyxiation play is rather controversial, even in the BDSM scene. It falls into the category of edgeplay—referring to all activities found on the edge of safety and sometimes even sanity—it’s the type of play that can be dangerous if not practiced correctly.
Edgeplay challenges the traditional SSC-scheme (safe, sane, and consensual) and demands awareness and a willingness to accept the risks and consequences involved: RACK (risk-aware consensual kink).
With any breathplay, absolute trust is a requirement since you literally place your life in someone’s hands. The act of doing that is also what makes it so rousing; it’s the ultimate power exchange. On top, the physical effects of restricted oxygen intake work to intensify an orgasm or any sexual experience.
There are a plethora of ways to play with breath and choking play that are far less drastic than the blood choke—but they needn’t be any less exciting. Whether it’s the mental or physical aspects of this is what entices you, or perhaps a bit of both, there are ways to (fairly) safely dip your toes—or go all in. I’ve listed some here, with increasing gravity:
Sternum pressure | If you seek the feeling of being overpowered, instead of putting pressure on the neck, the dominant partner can push down hard, just on or above the submissive’s sternum. This provides the intense sensation of pressure, without the lightheadedness and passing out.
Light choking | There’s no need to go all the way to feel both the mental and physical sensations of choking. A firm hand wrapped around the neck can be more than enough. Here, be careful not to put too much pressure on the front of the throat in order not to damage the windpipe.
Blocking of the mouth and nose | If you seek the physical high from the lightheadedness which comes from lack of oxygen, a fairly mild and very intimate version of breath play involves putting a hand over someone’s mouth and pinching the nose closed. You’ll quickly start feeling the build-up of asphyxia.
Gas masks and gags | Those with a thing for gas masks may use these for asphyxiation play, by temporarily blocking the air filters. Ball gags can work to partially block air intake as well, especially if the nose is pinched shut at the same time.
Bagging, masks, and vacuum beds| When venturing back into more extreme areas again, we find the practice of using bags or plastic wrap around the submissive’s face and head to restrict airflow. Rebreather masks are latex masks—some of which also cover the eyes—that have a box around the mouth that causes you to breathe the same air, over and over again. Vacuum beds place the entire body in a human-size, latex, vacuform for combined full-body bondage, sensation play, and potential asphyxiation combo.
This goes without saying, but as this is merely a brief introduction, you’ll need to do a lot more research and preferably learn from a pro and/or at a legitimate workshop, if you plan to experiment with any of these.
Waterboarding and drowning play | Now that we’ve reached the kind of edgeplay that violates the Geneva convention, I will admit that we’ve stepped quite far outside (!!!) my personal comfort zone and area of expertise; waterboarding has been banned as an interrogation technique by the UN and is considered torture, but it’s still alive and well in corners of the BDSM scene. My attempt at pinging our resident masochist Tess Dagger for more insight warranted a strong: DO NOT GO THERE!
Autoerotic asphyxiation | If you ever listen to the Savage Lovecast, you’ve probably heard Dan tell stories of notable religious leaders and rightwing politicians, which openly criticize ‘perverted’ sexual practices, found dead from self-strangulation. The list of people who have died this way is quite long, and therefore, this is another place where I’d strongly warn against going: Do not play with any kind of breath play or asphyxiation unless someone you trust is right there to untangle you!
* The only exception to this is holding your breath while you masturbate—which I discovered early in my solo-sex journey brings me closer to orgasm very fast—and pointed me to realize that certain types of breath play are turn-ons for me. This is safe since there’s no way you can hold your breath long enough to faint; your body’s natural reflexes will override far before you get there.
No matter which route you may choose to take, always err on the side of caution: keep your safeword ready and note that in cases where you can’t speak, you must establish a physical sign as an alternative, such as a tap out on your partner’s arm, or dropping a ball or other object that you’re holding in your hand.
Whether you’re in it for the physical, mental sensation, or both—and whether you like it fairly vanilla or extra-spicy, breath play can be a tantalizing way to trigger everything from the excitement of fear-induced arousal, deep submission, and giving up of control, as well as all kinds of other tingly sensations both in your brain and body. Done right and with safety as a main objective, breath play can be an intoxicating and enriching part of a BDSM dynamic.
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