Know the ropes first.
I was 21, in the midst of an intense hook-up with an ex, when I felt his hand pin down my wrist, taking caution before tracing up my neck.
We stared into each others’ eyes, glossed over in the throe of things, both curious as his hand cupped itself around my neck.
“Don’t move,” he whispered.
Right there, in that moment, erotic asphyxiation, or choking – as it’s most commonly known – became normal. Not even just normal, it became craved. It introduced a whole new take on sex. Maybe it was the submissive action I, a typical control freak, was forced to comply with, or maybe it just kept me on the edge of excitement. Whatever it was, I liked it.
If you’re not already familiar with it through personal experience or your porn-viewing habits, erotic asphyxiation, or EA, is the practice of controlled strangling – either to oneself or a lover – to heighten the sensations of sexual arousal and orgasm by temporarily depriving the brain of oxygen.
However, any type of strangulation or deprivation of oxygen can be potentially dangerous, and in extreme circumstances, even fatal. So before engaging in EA, it’s important to school yourself on these six key things…
1. EA can lead to brain damage and cardiac arrest if performed incorrectly
Prolonged or intense pressure on the neck can cut off the flow of blood through the veins in the neck, causing blood to congest in the brain; the result of which can cause the lightheadedness most fans of EA become addicted to, and eventually, unconsciousness. Losing consciousness causes the body to go limp, thereby tightening the choke and decreasing circulation through the neck arteries, ultimately causing brain damage, and even heart attack.
“One of the biggest risks of breath control play is cardiac arrhythmia – irregular heartbeats – which could cause a person to go into cardiac arrest and die,” sexologist and sex educator Lisa Hochberger explains.
In fact, several notable public figures have lost their lives to EA, including Kung Fu star David Carradine and INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence.
For this reason, most experts warn against performing EA altogether; however, if you are going to practice it with a partner, including the use of a ‘safe word’ and agreeing to a set time limit of no more than a few seconds can help reduce the risk of going too far.
2. EA can be practiced at varying intensities
While a little light choking in the heat of the moment may seem harmless enough, depending on the intensity level, EA can become extremely dangerous. Some fans of the practice integrate ropes and bags to heighten the sensation, which can prove fatal.
Conservative British politician and journalist Stephen Milligan was found dead and naked with an extension cord around his neck and a plastic bag over his head, in his home in 1994, having pushed the boundaries of EA too far while practicing it alone.
“I put EA in the same category as skydiving or cliff-jumping – people will die from it, but I wouldn’t ban it. It is just important for people to know what the risks are before they do it,” erotic writer and EA practitioner, Daniel Guy told VICE.
The use of ropes and belts during EA is extremely risky, as it can ultimately put too much pressure on a part of the neck called the carotid body; a small cluster of chemoreceptors located near the carotid artery. Pressure on the carotid body causes a discharge from the vagus nerve which slows down the heart and leads to unconsciousness; so steer clear of any devices which put pressure on the neck if you’re going to practice it, and never do it alone.
3. Choking in porn and X-rated films is very different to real EA
Porn may have been normalized to the extent that we measure our sex lives against it, but it’s important to remember that porn sex is nothing like sex in real life. Watching EA on a porn site is very different to practicing it yourself.
“What mainstream porn glosses over is stuff like negotiation, particularly when it comes to kink, and also how consent is obtained. This can be a problem,” says adult actress, Lucie Bee.
“I think porn also makes sex look very…easy.”
In reality, there’s nothing simple about choking someone during the act of sex or mutual masturbation. EA is, and should be approached as, an incredibly serious act with potentially dangerous consequences. For this reason, you should never spring it on someone. Always discuss anything new you’d like to try in bed with your partner before performing it, including your preferences around intensity, any safety concerns, and devising a safe word or even hand gesture either of you can use, should you feel uncomfortable or in pain at any stage.
4. It’s essential to know your limits before becoming submissive
“We know asphyxiation creates excitement and eventual euphoria because of the adrenalin produced by the body when it perceives a life-threatening condition,” Hochberger explains.
“There are also feelings of power, control and, submission – a person building that feeling of control by bringing themselves to the edge.”
If you’re excited by the idea of being submissive to a sexual partner, it’s important to work out exactly how submissive you’re comfortable with being. You should never feel like you have to participate in any sexual act, EA or otherwise, which causes you to feel like your boundaries have been violated.
5. Releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine can be addictive
“I don’t believe that a person who is into asphyxia is genetically wired for it, or that they have a different chemical make-up; rather, I lean more towards social constructionism in which people have discovered or picked up on this trait in life,” Hochberger explains.
And once you do pick it up, chances are, thanks to the dopamine rush temporary oxygen deprivation can cause, you may find yourself craving it again, and at increasing intensity to achieve greater ‘highs’. But as with any addictive behavior, this can quickly get out of control, leading to more and more dangerous uses of the practice. So while it’s easy to get carried away in the throes of passion, you should avoid attempting to up the anti, and stick to an agreed comfort level with a partner you trust, who knows and respects your limits.
6. Safe words are not saviors
Safe words are good idea when experimenting with anything new with a partner, however, during choking, a person may not be able to speak. That is why introducing alternative safety precautions is necessary.
“People who practice different forms of BDSM usually have an agreement with their partners to help them communicate signs of pain that can be too much,” reinforces Hochberger.
So, before engaging in EA, work out a system that works for both you and your partner, even if you are in physically compromising positions. Alternatives to safe words include hand gestures, eye movement (such as tightly blinking quickly three times in a row) or even pressing an alarm app on your phone.
As with any sexual practice or kink, the most important factor is open, honest communication between you and your partner. And, as with trying anything new, get to know your limit, and stick to it.
Images via rebloggy.com, tumblr.com and giphy.com.
Comment: Do you have an EA experience? If so, what was it like?