Last Updated 21.11.2022
10 min read

Breath Play: Are The Risks Worth It?

Alan Schin (he/him/his) is the Chief Editor at Taimi. He wears several hats daily as a writer, editor, blogger, and content contributor. He began his university studies as a Psychology student but found his passion in Advanced Communication Studies. Alan loves having the opportunity to write and help our content team shine. According to Alan, his education helps him to understand the dynamics behind dating and socialization better. When he isn’t busy with Taimi, Alan works on his first novel, a sci-fi thriller, and creates works of art in his ceramics studio.

A few decades ago, BDSM was a taboo topic, but recently it has become socially acceptable. More and more people get interested in BDSM play in general and breath play in particular.

Despite all the risks associated with erotic asphyxiation (EA), breath play is growing in popularity. If you are thinking about trying it out, make sure to learn the basic safety rules and evaluate all the risks before getting into it.

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Table of Content

    What Is Breath Play Exactly?

    Breath play is a type of sexual activity in which one partner restricts another partner's breath by choking, suffocating, kinging/queening, corseting, or using items that cut off the air supply (gas masks, hoods, plastic bags, etc.).

    Another popular type of breath play is solo play, also called autoerotic asphyxiation. It goes this way: a person masturbates while strangling themselves using ropes, scarves, cords, ties, plastic bags, or any similar items that work for this purpose.

    Why Do People Practise Breath Play?

    People get into this dangerous game to experience euphoric sensations. When our brain doesn't get enough oxygen, it affects our perception of our feelings and makes orgasms get more intense.

    "Lack of oxygen (hypoxia) that approaches — but avoids — fatal strangulation can produce temporary euphoria," explains Michael Castleman, a sexuality journalist and counsellor.

    In other words, breath play is popular among people who want to get some extra pleasure from sex. They accept the danger and health risks of erotic asphyxiation to explore power dynamics, indulge their curiosity, and experience the best orgasms in their lives.

    Major Risks Involved

    The trickiest thing about breath play is catching the moment between experiencing a high and losing consciousness. If you or your partner miss this moment, you may get a severe hypoxic brain injury or even die. Let's talk about each of the possible risks in detail.

    Health Issues

    Choking and other activities of breath play are extremely dangerous for your health. If you don't stop the game at the right moment, you may get permanent damage or even die.

    Brain Damage

    You know from biology class that problems with breathing cause oxygen deprivation. When you stop breathing for a minute, your brain cells will start dying. If you hold your breath for longer, it will result in total organ failure, and your brain will be the first organ to fail.

    Scientific fact: Permanent brain damage begins after only 4 minutes without oxygen, and death can occur as soon as 4 to 6 minutes later.

    Many people don't really understand how dangerous this sexual experience can be. Since the porn industry has normalised BDSM, people see it as a "fun game". Here is a tweet from a user who is concerned with this issue.

    Cardiac Arrest and Other Heart Issues

    Another risk associated with breath control play is cardiac arrhythmia or abnormal heartbeats. In some cases, cardiac arrhythmia has no adverse consequences, while in others, it may cause abnormalities and lead to cardiac arrest.

    Definition: Cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heart cannot pump oxygen-rich blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs. The victim dies if adequate treatment is not provided within a few minutes.

    Breath play can also lead to a heart attack. In contrast to cardiac arrest, the attack can occur a few hours or even a few days after sex.

    Definition: Heart attack is a condition in which coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked and which heart doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood. Heart tissues start dying slowly. The longer it takes the patient to start getting treatment, the more likely the lethal outcome is.

    Note that these health issues may occur regardless of whether your heart is healthy or not. You should understand that every sexual activity that constricts blood flow comes with an inherent risk.

    Neck Injury

    When one partner constrains the breathing of another partner through choking, strangulation, or placing something around the neck, it may result in serious injury to the neck and throat. Here are some of the symptoms that may occur:

    • Pain in the neck or throat

    • Difficulty swallowing

    • New weakness or numbness in arms

    • A hoarse or raspy voice

    • A thick feeling in the throat

    • Coughing.

    If you experience one of these symptoms after enjoying a dangerous play, call your doctor and make an appointment. Define the problem and start treatment immediately to prevent any complications.

    You Are at Risk Even if You Are at the Giving End

    It's pretty obvious that your partner cannot legally consent to be killed. So if your breath play goes wrong and your lover dies from asphyxiation, you will likely get in jail as a murderer.

    Whether you're on a receiving or giving end, you should take breath play and associated risks seriously. You should accept the fact that a one-time sexual experience can take your life away or ruin it completely.

    Photo by Deepak Maurya

    Safety Rules to Follow

    If serious injury, death, and other adverse outcomes of dangerous role play do not scare you, practice the following rules of safe sex.

    Never Play with a Partner Whom You Can't Trust

    Never get involved in breath play with someone you have just met at the bar. Since you don't know this person well enough, you can't be sure that this person understands all the risks related to erotic asphyxiation.

    You have only one life, and you shouldn't put it at risk. If you want to play, choose a partner you can trust or someone with vast experience in breath play. Extra precaution never hurts!

    Maladroithe, a Twitter influencer, also emphasises the importance of having trust in your partner.

    Use Safe Words Plus Safe Gestures

    If you have tried BDSM activities before, you know that every play starts with defining a stop word — a word used to interrupt the play if it goes out of limits. When it comes to breath play, one safe word is not enough. You should also choose a safe gesture.

    Just think of it. Is it even possible to say a word if you experience shortness of breath? Nope, it's impossible. If you want your partner to save you, you need to use gestures to show that you have already reached a critical point and need to take a deep breath as soon as possible.

    Discuss Every Aspect of Sex Play with Your Partner

    Different partners may have different expectations regarding breath control play. Adult persons say that they felt scared when their partner unexpectedly made an attempt to choke them.

    So if you don't want to scare your lover, make sure to explain your idea and your vision of the game beforehand. Clarify what exactly you will do and what accessories you will use (if any).

    Tip: It's always a good idea to negotiate all the details with your partner to prevent any possible misunderstandings. No matter how well you know each other, you should always speak openly about such things.

    Don't Drink Alcohol or Use Drugs before Practising EA

    Do you usually take a glass of wine before having sex? Be aware that alcohol, as well as drugs, are not compatible with breath play! You need to stay 100% sober — it's one of the obligatory safety precautions you should take.

    BDSM play is incredibly dangerous, so you can't ignore basic safety rules. If you get drunk, you will lose control of your mind and body, and it will increase your chances of getting an injury. And even worse, if your partner gets drunk too, they will not notice that you have problems with breathing and will not stop the game on time.

    Have a Simple Escape Plan

    Solo-play is even more dangerous than partner play. If you don't want to die from autoerotic asphyxiation, you should have a "fail-safe" plan on how to bring your own breathing back. For instance, if you are going to use a cord, you should have a knife to cut it quickly and get enough air.

    "Some deaths by asphyxiation occur simply because the victim made escape too difficult—in one case, a man rigged it so he would have needed a bolt cutter to release his chains," writes Christopher Beam, clinical psychologist and reporter.

    However, the best way to prevent death is to engage sex partners in the play. If something goes wrong, they will help you to get out of danger and make sure that you get enough oxygen.

    Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy

    Is It a Sign of Mental Illness?

    Interest in breath play may be a sign of sexual masochism disorder (SMD). If a person can achieve sexual arousal only when pain or suffering is present, it may be considered a symptom of mental illness.

    Simply put, if you can enjoy sex without experiencing physical pain and humiliation, there is nothing wrong with you. But if you find the breath control play engaging just because it's associated with health risks, that might be a bad sign.

    If you have concerns regarding your mental health, make sure to contact a sex therapist and discuss the issue. Get answers to your questions before engaging in any type of breath play.

    Don't try to self-diagnose your symptoms! Here is a tweet that reminds us that not every form of kinks is a form of mental disorder.

    Enjoy Sex in Whatever Way You Like

    What does breath play mean for you? If it's just a trend your friends are talking about, you should skip it. If it's something that excites you, you should try it out. Just remember about all the risks and follow safety rules.

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