CLOSE AND ACCEPT

Terrence Higgins Trust uses cookies to improve your experience of our websites. For more information or to change the use of cookies, please click here.

Breath control

AKA bc, (auto)erotic asphyxiation.

What is breath control?

Breath control is as far out on the edge as edge play gets. It covers suffocation, hanging, rebreathing and auto-erotic asphyxiation (usually involving jerking off).

By far the most dangerous kink activity, breath control kills an estimated 60 people a year in the UK and 250 in the US. Even if all precautions are taken, serious injury or death is possible due to accidents or a previously unknown medical condition.

It’s not unknown for one person to die during a breath control scene leaving the other facing criminal prosecution (including for murder). Any written consent document signed by both parties won’t protect the surviving partner from prosecution.

What makes breath control so risky is the unpredictability of its consequences and how it interferes with the body’s basic requirement for life (fresh oxygen and the ability to get rid of carbon dioxide). It should not be tried by someone with heart or respiratory problems such as asthma. But even for totally healthy individuals the risk is real.

Never surprise someone during a kink scene with breath control. They would have every right to go to the police.

What’s the attraction?

For those drawn to danger, sex doesn’t come riskier. There’s an incredibly powerful adrenaline rush that comes with the panic of not being able to breathe properly. Some say reduced blood flow to the brain increases orgasm.

There’s also a strong power exchange when someone feels tightly bound around the head, or the face or throat is restricted. Breath control is possibly the ultimate in exchange of trust for the bottom and the ultimate expression of dominance for the top. It involves someone putting their life in another’s hands.

Some like the ‘dream-like’ feeling of the light-headedness breath control brings, while the exchange of breath (rebreathing) can be as intimate as swapping body fluids.

Other turn-ons are:

  • restricted hearing or sight when enclosed in a hood or gas mask
  • the sound of breathing through a gas mask
  • restricted vision of a fogged-up gas mask
  • anonymity when behind a hood or mask.

What breath control can mean

Breath control covers:

  • suffocation
  • strangling
  • hanging
  • auto-erotic asphyxiation.

Suffocation

This means covering the mouth and nostrils to cut oxygen levels. A hand is best as it can be taken away at once. Things such as complicated buckled hoods should be avoided.

Strangling

Usually involves pressing on the carotid arteries to stop blood getting to the brain. Used by police (choke hold), this is classed as ‘deadly force’. Due to deaths, its use by police forces is being dropped.

The carotid arteries are in the side of the neck where you can feel a pulse. The trachea (or windpipe) should never be pressed on as this can cause permanent injury.

Hanging

This involves being suspended by the neck and is advised against by most BDSM practitioners (due to high risk of death).

Rebreathing

This is when you gradually lower the level of oxygen in the air breathed in. This can be done through a bag over the head or by two people breathing each other’s exhaled air through connected gas masks or just by holding each other’s noses and breathing through the other’s mouth.

Auto-erotic asphyxiation

Breath control done alone. This accounts for the vast majority of bc-related deaths. No-one will be around to help if it goes wrong – and lots can, from choking on your own vomit to a knock to the head during a faint.

There are many cases of people creating fail-safe methods to do breath control on their own that are designed to let them breathe again if they become unconscious, only for these to fail with fatal consequences.

Last review: 19/09/2018
Next review: 19/09/2021