Erotic Asphyxiation

autoerotic asphyxiation by john cuneo

Erotic asphyxiation is the intentional restriction of oxygen to the brain for sexual arousal. It is also called asphyxiophilia, hypoxyphilia, or breath control play. Colloquially, a person engaging in the activity is sometimes called a ‘gasper.’

The carotid arteries (on either side of the neck) carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain. When these are compressed, as in strangulation or hanging, the sudden loss of oxygen to the brain and the accumulation of carbon dioxide can increase feelings of giddiness, lightheadedness, and pleasure, all of which will heighten sexual sensations.

When the brain is deprived of oxygen, it induces a lucid, semi-hallucinogenic state called hypoxia. Combined with orgasm, the rush is said to be highly addictive. Hallucinogenic states brought about by chronic hypoxia may be similar to the hallucinations experienced by climbers at altitude. The practice has been documented since the early 17th century. It was first used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. The idea most likely came from observing subjects who were executed by hanging. Male victims developed an erection, sometimes remaining after death and occasionally ejaculated when being hanged.

Deaths often occur when the loss of consciousness caused by partial asphyxia leads to loss of control over the means of strangulation, resulting in continued asphyxia. Victims are often found to have rigged some sort of ‘rescue mechanism’ that has not worked in the way they anticipated as they lost consciousness. Lawyers and insurance companies have brought cases to the attention of clinicians because some life insurance claims are payable in the event of accidental death, but not suicide.

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