Breath play is exciting and terrifying at the same time, which is part of its powerful appeal. On the one hand there is the demand for trust as you literally place your life in the hands of another, while on the other the thrill you can achieve as you slip into unconsciousness is like a drug that demands you come back for more. With stories abound of kinksters being found dead perhaps this fetish more than any other demands careful attention to safety.
From a physiological perspective, breath play works by reducing the oxygen and increasing the carbon dioxide in the brain, which creates a giddy and euphoric state before the submissive passes out. When combined with orgasm this effect can become intensely powerful and even addictive.
The psychological viewpoint is no less powerful. The dominant has complete control over the submissive, taking them to a point where death is a possibility. A threat of going beyond unconsciousness, or of repeatedly bringing the submissive to the edge, can enhance the dynamic.
Because of the danger involved in this fetish it is essential that players – be they dominant or submissive – research extensively before attempting play. Even a playful choking can have serious consequences if performed incorrectly.
Styles of play.
There are many different ways of using breath play in a scene. It could be purely sensation play where the submissive is choked for no reason other than to be choked. Or there could be some element of threat, perhaps as an abduction scene. Whatever is chosen it is worth remembering there are some common techniques and styles that underpin breath play and which you should be aware of.
The simplest form of breath play, and perhaps the most intimate, requires no more than the hands of the dominant. With one placed across the submissive’s mouth and the other pinching the nostrils, breathing is restricted and the effects of asphyxia can start to build.
Not only is this simple, it can also feel quite intimate.
Placing one or both hands around the neck is called “choking”. This is perhaps the most common form of breath play because it involves no equipment, can be performed spontaneously and can be done to oneself relatively safely. While “damsel in distress” magazines and fetish photography might imply the hand is placed around the neck and squeezed this risks crushing the windpipe.
A safer (and more effective) style is to place pressure under the jaw where the head and neck meets. This constricts both the windpipe and the arteries that feed blood into the brain. Increasing or reducing pressure allows a degree of control over the speed at which the submissive passes out. Any signs of distress can instantly be dealt with by releasing pressure and allowing the submissive to breath normally again.
To put it simply, a bag (usually clear plastic) is placed over the submissive’s head, which is typically then sealed around the neck with tape or by twisting the bag. As the submissive breaths they consume the oxygen in the bag and exhale carbon dioxide, slowly polluting their own environment until they pass out. Submissives can enhance the effect by breathing in hard and sealing their own airwaves with the plastic.
This approach can be quite powerful as the submissive is not dependent upon the dominant maintaining pressure. Some submissives also prefer this approach as the time it takes to pass out can be longer and the effects of hypoxia enhanced. If anything goes wrong the dominant can rip the bag off the submissive’s head and allow breathing to start normally again, assuming the bag isn’t too thick it can’t be broken.
Hanging is what it says. A rope is placed around the submissive’s neck and tightened until the air supply is restricted. There are variations on how this is done: from the dominant simply lifting the rope up to full neck suspensions.
It is very easy to get into trouble with this, so approach with caution. Not is there the risk of asphyxiation, there are also risks around damaging the spine. It’s worth remembering that judicial hanging often works by snapping the neck, not choking the prisoner.
Found in rubber fetish shops around the world are the rebreather masks. These typically have a form fitting hood with some form of box shape over the nose and mouth, usually with just one or two small holes. They work in a similar way to bagging: the submissive exhales carbon dioxide that is then breathed in again (hence rebreathing).
Particularly effective are the masks that have no eye holes, which leaves the submissive in darkness. It heightens their own awareness of their breathing, which can add to the effects of hypoxia as they sense their breathing change.
It is possible to achieve breath play using gags. With something like a ball gag the mouth is already restricted, so the submissive relies on their nose for breathing more. A hand across the mouth and pinched nostrils can restrict their air supply and start asphyxiation.
An alternative is to use a gag that has a tube placed inside the submissive’s mouth. Closing off the end (and pinching the nostrils) again restricts breathing.
BDSM activities tend to have a degree of risk around them by their nature, but perhaps none more so than breath play. Risk is at the centre of it and for that reason far more care needs to be taken with safety. With a whipping the injury might be a cut or scar : with breath play it could be brain damage or death.
Reactions to asphyxiation.
Different submissives react in different ways and it is important for the dominant to understand their submissive given the high stakes. The most common reaction is a calmness as the oxygen supply to the brain falls and the body tries to conserve what it has to prolong life.
Panic can also occur. The submissive will fight and struggle in an attempt to get free and start breathing again. Sometimes this will slow as they asphyxiate; other times it’ll simply stop as they pass out.
It’s important to remember there is no right or wrong reaction. You need to learn how you react, where the limits are and when the submissive is genuinely in trouble and needs help. The latter is particularly important because the effects of asphyxia reduce the submissive’s ability to understand what’s happening to their body as the brain shuts down.
Whilst there might be a temptation to dive into a full abduction scene with plastic bags, rebreather masks and perhaps a bit of hanging, moderation is required. Time is required to understand the reactions to breath play and where physical, as well as psychological, limits lie.
Even for experienced players, a safer approach can be to introduce breath play into the mix gently, building up an awareness of one another over a series of sessions where it’s used as a secondary element in the scene. Once confidence and trust is built then a full-on “breath play scene” can be undertaken.
The list of notable people who have died as a result of solo breath play is quite long. These people have died, in general, because they place themselves in a position where they cannot breathe and no one is around to save them. They pass out with bags on their head and slowly suffocate, or choke themselves on ropes when they slip and fall or have even tied their hands together so they can’t get free easily to heighten the buzz. Yet auto-erotic asphyxiation remains something adults continue to do in the quest for a greater high.
I can’t advocate breath play as a solo activity. If you have no partner and want to experience the rush I’d strongly suggest finding a professional dominant who will help you.
All BDSM activity has an inherent risk of injury or even death, but breath play stands out. If you get it wrong you risk a slow death through suffocation, or long term brain damage through oxygen starvation. These risks are inherent to breath play, perhaps even the reasons it creates such a thrill.
As a dominant you must remain fully aware of your submissive at all times. This is not something where you can leave them alone to their own devices for a few minutes. Stay with them always, keep a close watch on them and be ready to stop the scene and get them breathing again at a moment’s notice.
If you’re the submissive know your limits and understand how your body responds to being oxygen deprived. Don’t push your dominant to do more, faster and longer, let them work within the limits where they feel safe to take you. And most importantly of all, don’t think you can get a quick fix with some solo-play.
Enjoy your play safely.
Breath play is dangerous, deadly even. Yet with the right approach, attentive partners and attention to safety there is no reason why it can’t be a thrilling, exciting and rewarding part of your BDSM relationship.
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