The Psychology of Breath Play: Why Do I Want to Be Choked During Sex?

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Erotic asphyxiation (EA for short) is the “official” term for breath play, a type of sexual activity that involves intentionally cutting off the air supply for you or your partner (for a very brief moment) with choking or suffocating. 

Before diving in, I suggest you check out my earlier “5 Things You Need to Know About Breath Play” article, as that contains quite a lot of good info on this particular kink including some safety advice. 

When it comes to this particular kink, I am among those who understand the appeal, but I’m also among those who understand the risks involved and heavily advocate for others to really research this before trying it themselves. 

First, let’s start off with a few definitions so we’re all in the clear about what breath play really is (and what it isn’t). 

Breathplay vs Choking During Sex 

Choking during sex is much of what it sounds like - the act of “choking” someone (typically with your hands around their neck) for the purpose of sexual arousal or release. 

It’s important to note that choking during sex can be something as simple as wrapping your hands around your partner’s neck without applying any pressure (simply giving the look and feel as if you were about to choke them). Some people still find this to be incredibly erotic. 

Breathplay, on the other hand, is an edgier form of BDSM play that actually involves restricting and regaining your partner’s airflow through choking or suffocating in order to increase erotic play or intensity an orgasm.

Breathplay is a bit less common in the world of kink as most people who enjoy choking are attracted to the taboo of it, the trust of being vulnerable with someone and the “rough hands around the neck” vibe.

An erotic asphyxiation study in review...

Honestly - there aren’t a lot of real statistical facts out there on choking or breathplay. This problem has been highlighted in many educational resources for kink, including this study on the Characteristics of People Who Enjoy Erotic Asphyxiation. 

I find this study to be one of the only resources out there that contains real information on how many people enjoy this particular kink and why.

The study included 137 adults (between the ages of 18-71, with a median age of 32). The goal of this study was to determine some parameters of this lesser-studied sexual kink, which questions being asked about how often you participant in EA, if you would ever do so alone and how you feel about breathplay in general.

To get a better idea of this study, there are some things we should be mindful of...

The gender breakdown of this study is as follows:

  • 39.7% of people identified as CISmale
  • 44.1% of people identified as CISfemale
  • 2.9% of people identified as Non-Binary
  • 5.1% of people identified as Gender-Fluid
  • 1.5% of people identified as Trans-Women
  • 6.6% of people did not disclose their gender

The sexual orientation breakdown is as follows:

  • 44.5% identified as heterosexual
  • 1.5% identified as gay
  • 0.7% identified as lesbian
  • 21.9% identified as bisexual
  • 6.6% identified as queer
  • 13.9% identified as pansexual
  • 3.6% identified as demisexual
  • 2.9% identified as asexual (ACE)
  • 4.4% did not identify their sexual orientation

Another important thing to note in this study is that 18.7% of people were living with their romantic partner, 24.6% were married, 1.5% of people were separated, 0.7% were widowed and 9.7% of people were divorced. 

The study collected data from people who endorse “general airplay” (the use of asphyxiation in a sexual way). 

Results of this study…

The complete breakdown of the results of this study can be found here (page 41) - but I will give some of the highlights below. 

“Are you a part of the BDSM community?” 

73% of participants positively endorsed themselves to be a part of the BDSM/kink scene, while the remaining 26% of people claimed they were not part of the BDSM scene. 

“Do you use oxygen restriction (breathplay) during sex?” 

93.4% of participants positively endorsed the use of oxygen restriction during sex, with the remaining 6.6% negatively endorsing it.

“Have you ever participated in breathplay scenarios without a partner?”
50.9% of participants explained they had never participated in solo breathplay practices.

“How often do you participate in breathplay kinks?”
49.1% of participants explained they had participated in breathplay practices with a partner and nearly a quarter of those people stated they do so “frequently” (weekly or more than once a week). 

“When did you begin to experiment with breathplay kinks?” 

61.4% of participants explained they began breathplay in adulthood (after they turned 18), with 31.4% admitting they were underage (younger than 18) when they first experimented with breath restriction during sex.

“Why do you find erotic asphyxiation to be sexy?” 

13.09% stated they found the feeling of giving over power to another person to be erotic. 

7.7% stated they enjoyed the increased connection and trust it forged with their partner.

1.54% stated they found the idea of choking to be erotic. 

6.93% stated they found it sexy because their partner wanted to try it. 

2.31% stated they were merely curious and wanted to experience something new.

3.08% stated they enjoyed the “risk” and “panic” they felt to be sexy. 

19.25% stated they enjoyed the heightened pleasure during orgasm to be the main attraction.

2.31% stated they had a particular fetish (example: plastic bag arousal) that led them to this.

3.08% were not able to give a specific reason why they found it to be sexy.

Are There Different Types of Breath Play?

I bet you didn’t know there are actually a few different types of breathplay. Welcome to the world of kinks, where there is always something new going on (and always someone there to write about it!)

“Typical” Breathplay Scenes

The more “typical” breathplay BDSM scenes look something like this: you and your partner will have discussed this beforehand, coming up with safe gestures, talking about boundaries and safety concerns and going over “just-in-case” scenarios. 

If it’s your first time, you’ll go slowly, allowing your partner to first place their hands around your neck without applying pressure - get used to the feeling of them there. Slowly, your partner can begin to apply pressure in the right places (which is never in the middle of the throat and always closer to where their fingertips are). 

Where your partner applies pressure is crucial, as applying too much pressure in the middle of the throat can cause serious damage. Again, I go over most of the safety stuff surrounding breathplay in my previous article, if you’re interested. 

You will slowly start to feel breathless. Timing is also important, as the goal here is to make you breathless and then allow you to breathe again, not to cease your breathing altogether for an extended period of time (because that can also be really bad). 

This “typical” scenario looks a bit different for everyone but this is the type of breathplay that’s most common. 

Self-Directed Breathplay 

There is a newer type of breathplay that relies heavily on the person who wants to experience it and less on their partner. During this kind of breathplay exercise, you would become more conscious of your own breathing in a way that can stimulate a classic breathplay scenario. 

You could do this using meditation or even erotic hypnosis, and the goal of this is to rely on the psychological impact of hyperventilation or self-controlled breath restriction in order to feel the same sexual arousal and release you might feel if a partner was really restricting your airflow.

Breathplay As A Secondary Kink

Think of breathplay as being the collateral kink here - the kink that happens due to practicing some other kink. A “happy coincidence” for most who experience it. 

These kinds of situations are less about the actual restriction of airflow and more about what you’re doing to cause the sudden feeling of breathlessness in your partner. 

Other than actually restricting airflow, there are a few other ways where the change in your breathing may add to the arousal:

  • Being “smothered” by your partner’s genitals (Kinging or Queening)
  • During the use of gas masks or hoods during sex
  • Corseting (which is the compression of the chest)

The Psychology of Breath Play

Why do people find breath play or being choked or feeling breathless during sex to be so appealing? Is there a psychological link to our sexual desires? 

While the previous study (mentioned at the top of this article) did go into some detail of why breathplay was appealing for some, there is a very large psychological component to this that we should talk about.

Sexual desire represents a complex psychological experience that is not dependent on hormonal or physical factors, but if more instinctive, more basic, more primal. 

Think of it this way: it’s all about the difference between proceptivity (the basic urge for sex) and receptivity (the ability to become aroused by exposure to certain things). 

Sure, we might seek out sex because we’re hardwired to do so, but the things we like during sex come from something else, something more intricate and unique to each one of us.

These things, in my opinion, can be pinpointed to either a physical or psychological appeal. Things we find physically appealing mean they feel good to our bodies and things we find psychologically appealing titillate our mind and play tricks on our brains to allow us to feel sexually aroused by things we normally wouldn’t. 

Breathplay or choking during sex has both psychological and physical appeals for many people...

Physical appeal: the actual loss of oxygen. 

The rush of breath that comes after being choked releases endorphins. This, combined with everything else that’s going on during sex (oxytocin release which causes a surge of affection and attachment feelings, cortisol level dips which decrease your stress levels, etc) can produce a somewhat euphoric feeling. 

Psychological appeal: something of a placebo effect. 

Even if your partner lightly places their hands on your neck during sex, not applying pressure anywhere or changing your breathing at all, the act itself can be what turns you on. The thought of being choked, of being restricted during sex can be arousal enough without actually having to experience it. 

Physical appeal: the feeling of being choked. 

“Having a man’s hands around your neck,” explains sex therapist Christine Milrod (Ph.D.), “plays into the fantasy of being taken...the biggest turn-on here is that he wants you so much that he is prepared to do anything to have you.” 

While this may seem like a strictly submissive domain, there is a way you can use this in a dominant position. You have this kind of erotic power over your partner, they want you so much they are literally clawing at you.

Psychological appeal: the idea of being choked. 

Again, switching from reality to some eroticized idea of reality - sometimes the thought of being choked breathless is more enticing and appealing than having your partner actually take your breath away during a breathplay scene. 

The thought of being choked by your partner might be “enough” for you to feel the same kind of sexual arousal and release that you’d feel if you were actually being choked with force (this is more my area of the kink) - and this is by far a safer way to incorporate choking into your sex life.

Psychological appeal: the taboo.

Choking is somewhat of a taboo kink in that it can be dangerous and risque, which can make it all the more appealing to people who find arousal in pushing limits. For some people, choking is merely a tool to push boundaries and make sex more interesting. 

Psychological appeal: domination. 

Choking or breathplay can be erotic for both partners, not just the one who is left gasping for air. Being “in control”, dominating your lover and feeling as though their life is in your hands can be exceptionally erotic for some people, which is how the dominant person in the situation can also feel sexual arousal or release from choking their partner. 

Psychological appeal: total submission. 

The act of submission, the feeling of giving someone “power” over you, of being literally under someone’s grasp can be exceptionally erotic for those who crave this kind of intimacy. 

As with most other BDSM activities that require some form of submission, choking or other forms of breath play can be something you and your partner experience as a way of building onto your submissive/dominant dynamic. 

Physical and psychological appeal: vulnerability.

It’s not often that both the physical and psychological appeal align, but here we are. Despite the “dangerous and kinky” vibe EA has, a lot of trust, responsibility, and vulnerability is involved in allowing a partner to choke you during sex. 

This can be a physical turn on (as your partner is physically doing things with their hands to your body that leaves you vulnerable) but it can also be mentally stimulating as it’s a kind of “psychological trust exercise” of knowing your partner won’t go too far. 

This is a BDSM act that requires a lot of trust, communication and lots of research before getting into - and some people (including myself) find that level of intimacy and vulnerability with another person to be incredibly erotic. 

Physical and psychological appeal: the danger. 

Hybristophilia” is the paraphilia where sexual arousal is based on being with a partner who is “dangerous” - maybe they’ve committed a crime (or are roleplaying as if they have) or maybe it’s that they have cheated on you or wronged you in some other way. 

You know - this is why so many women are attracted to serial killers

This type of kink is more about how you feel in regards to something your partner has done - there is an element of danger, fear or a kind of “survival instinct” that kicks in when you’re with them. 

This can obviously be applied to breathplay kinks as they are inherently dangerous BDSM acts that usually involve your partner choking you or restricting your airflow in some way. Your body (and mind) perceive them as a threat, and for some people, this is the ultimate sexual gratification. 

Many BDSM experts and sex educators have explained that there literally is no “safe” way of participating in breathplay kinks, as there is always some danger involved - you could lose consciousness, cause serious damage to your throat, you could suffer brain damage from lack of oxygen. Really - there is a lot of danger involved that some people don’t even take the time to consider (which you absolutely should) - but then, this danger is what might appeal to you in the first place.

Safety is Sexy, Trust Us

What’s not sexy? Losing oxygen for so long it causes brain damage. Or permanently damaging your trachea because your partner put pressure in the wrong place. Or going into cardiac arrest because you've been stressing your system with improper breathplay techniques. 

Breathplay (and really any form of choking) is inherently dangerous - and while you can never be totally safe while participating in choking activities during sex, there are lots of ways you can be safer. 

CPR Certified Lovers. 

You and your lover need proper training and knowledge to understand and prevent dangerous repercussions from happening during this form of edgeplay - so being CPR certified is never a bad idea! Think of the CPR course as foreplay. 

Do Your Research! 

While I know reading about something is much, much different from actually doing it, there is still so much to be learned about choking and breathplay by reading online articles (like this one) or talking to people who are more experienced in this kind of thing. 

Do your research and ask questions to learn more about breathplay - this isn’t a kink you should just jump right in to. 

A clear mind. 

This is not one of those kinks (such as anal play) where some liquid courage (read: alcohol or other mind-altering substances) are helpful. In fact, you must have a totally clear mind in order to practice breathplay or choking kinks safely. 

Take a course. 

There’s a class for this, you know. Well, not for breathplay specifically, but there are lots of sex ed classes, kink classes and BDSM courses you can take to become more knowledgeable around different kinds of edgeplay kinks.

Know how some people are attracted to intelligence? Well, knowing a lot about different kinds of fetishes is definitely sexy.  
BDSM Course, Bold Pleasures and Kink University (love the name there!) are three of the more well-known training programs you can enroll in, but you can also reach out to sex therapists or educators to get more ideas on how to properly train yourself in the art of all things kink.