Monday, February 20, 2012

Kink Monday - Breath Play

It's been a while since we've had some Kink Monday info to share, but I'm happy to host a breath play expert today at Kinky Ever After: Mr. UberSadisticBastard2.0, an acquaintance of mine and an active poster on Fetlife under the username USB20. He was kind enough to answer several tough questions for us in his direct and inimitable style. Note also: numerous safety warnings and suggestions on how to educate yourself before you attempt this type of play. Breath play is edge play. Enjoy!

AJ: First of all, can you give us a quick and dirty explanation of what breath play involves?

USB20: Breath play, as defined by me, is that set of activities that involve manipulation or control of the breath of one or more humans, by oneself or by the action of one or more others.

AJ: What are some of the different ways people do it?

USB20: The ways in which this is done are as varied as there are people doing it. There are nonetheless some general commonalities. Choking, smothering with the hands or a pillow, ligature strangulation, hanging (a favorite of mine), full encasement of the head in rubber or plastic, shoving the head under water. The list goes on.

The simplest form of breath play in terms of people, is doing it oneself. This can range from the classic auto-erotic asphyxia of hanging oneself by a belt or rope from the closet bar to complex self bondage scenarios coupled with fully encasing latex or rubber hoods. Or just simply holding your breath. Auto-erotic asphyxia carries some risk, and although I mention it as being within the set of activities that comprise breath play, I don’t suggest it. You might recall Mr. David Carradine, who it appears died from this activity in Bangkok, Thailand.

AJ: Oh yeah, I remember that. So what is it about breath play that moves you?

USB20: Breath play itself doesn’t move me. Pain doesn’t move me. Largely, I’m moved by fear. Breath play and pain are just tools to instill fear. Why do I like fear? Because I’m a dick.

AJ: Is it more a physical experience, or an emotional one?

USB20: Yes.

AJ: Is your attraction to BP dominance-based or sadism-based or both or neither?

USB20: Yes.

AJ: LOL. Have you had a difficult time finding partners interested in BP?

USB20: Surprisingly no, but I think that’s largely because I have a fairly large sample size of partners. I’ve found things simply work best when we have compatible interests. There are times when I’ve chosen a partner outside my interest pool – e.g. fucking a seriously hot woman who has common, vanilla sexual habits because she’s so fucking hot I figure her amazing body will make up for the lack of common interest. Or fucking a woman who couldn’t fuck her way out of a paper bag because she had good social connections, was an excellent hostess, and looked like a good future mother.

I’ve since learned that things just work out best if I stick to my own kind. I will say that of the ratio of prospects who are into breath play – those people you meet who you have a passing physical or social interest in – versus qualified prospects – being that subset of prospects who you’ve determined have a interest what I do, no disqualifying habits or pathogens, and a similar set of interests – is pretty high.

More people seem to be opposed or reluctant to try breath play than there are those who enjoy it. My sample is not exhaustive or scientific.

AJ: Have you ever convinced someone who wasn't into it to try it, and if so, what happened?

USB20: Let’s take a quick break from answering questions and try something.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Now hold your breath while you count to three.

Breathe again.

If you did that, you just engaged in one of the simplest forms of breath play.

There’s a fellow who writes really awful BDSm books and offers himself as a safety presenter. I don’t have much respect for his views. For one thing, he’s been seen in public wearing socks with velcro sandals. This automatically makes one's judgment suspect.

He also states that there is no safe way to practice breath play.

I suggest that it’s a matter of range and degree. We’ve just proven that there is a safe way to engage in breath play. I challenge you to find anyone who can prove holding your breath for a three second pause is in any way dangerous.

I certainly agree that wrapping a partner’s head in plastic and tape, fully cutting the air flow, and leaving them in that state for two minutes because, “Well, that’s what he wanted me to do,” is dammed foolish. It means you’re an idiot. It doesn’t mean that breath play is dangerous. It means that when you engage in breath play with one or more idiots, yes, it’s probably damned dangerous. Being surprised the scene had a bad outcome makes you yet more of an idiot. And then when you start running around talking about how dangerous breath play is based on your one moronic attempt, you simply show yourself to be a flaming idiot. And yes, that is an actual real example.

So, to answer your question if I’ve ever met anyone opposed to it, who I later convinced to try it, well you’d have to go count the number of people who read this, and who were initially opposed to breath play, and who actually held their breath as described above. As to outcome, I think they’re all still fine.

Generally speaking, if someone tells me they’re not into breath play, I simply find it easiest to find a different partner. I have that option as a slut. If you are in a monogamous relationship with a partner who isn’t into breath play, and you really want to convert them, I’m not the right one to give you advice.

AJ: Have you ever had something go wrong, or had an oh shit! moment in your BP experiences?

USB20: Only once. I was wrapping my fingers around a friend’s trachea – if you press your fingertips on either side of the trachea, then push backwards towards the cervical spine while wiggling your fingers, you can eventually get your fingers mostly around it. It feels really freaky.

I gripped a bit harder than I should have, having overestimated the strength of her and her body in general.

The sides of her trachea flexed with a sickening popping sound. I stopped immediately. It popped right back into its normal shape, and the biggest problem she had was a sore throat from bruising for a couple days.

AJ: Wow. Scary. Okay, conversely, do you have a BP experience that stands out in your mind as being mind-blowingly powerful and memorable?

USB20: I’d have to say that two come to mind. One was the night I water boarded ten people in a row at a water boarding demo. It was just a hedonistic bout of gluttonous fun.

The other one was when I was fucking a woman and used a belt ligature to take her to brief unconsciousness while I was inside her ass.I don’t know if you’ve ever been taken to unconsciousness in a martial arts class. I have. It’s disorienting. One tends to feel like one has been asleep for about four hours. When you wake, you tend to be confused and disoriented. Watching her go out, feeling her body struggle, then relax while I was deep in her. Then the look of confusing, startled disorientation to wake finding oneself nude and getting fucked. Then the look of warm comfort as she came around and realized what was going on. Letting someone do that to you takes a high level of trust and intimacy. That was a pretty decent one.

AJ: I really like that last comment, about it involving such trust and intimacy. I think a lot of people hear about breath play and think--why on earth would anyone want to do that? But I imagine that heightened opportunity for trust and intimacy is a big reason why. So, in closing, what are the baseline things people need to know before they start dabbling in BP? What's the best way someone interested in this kink can educate themselves about it?

USB20: One, the human body generally won’t survive for three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food.

Two, it’s really easy to fuck up when you hang yourself alone. You might want to consider not doing it.

Three – don’t play with the murderous or the stupid.

Four – learn CPR, basic lifesaving, and develop an understanding of anatomy.

Five – don’t do stupid things just because your partner asked you to.

Six – read the following books because they’re good for you in both life and kink – Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture, Plato’s Republic, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Musash’s Book of Five Rings, Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Suzuki’s Essays in Zen Buddhism, and Herigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery. That last one has a great section on breathing.

And if you have a great ass, aren’t too crazy, and aren’t otherwise disqualified, and are willing to let me put my penis in you in a number of possibly unpleasant ways, I’m probably willing to give you some hands on instruction.

Many thanks to USB20 for sharing his knowledge and experience about breath play with us today. If you enjoyed this, you can find some great writing on his profile. Despite his nickname, he doesn't bite and welcomes new friends and readers (as noted above!) One last time as well...please, please don't play around with breath play unless you are being extremely responsible and cautious. It can be a wonderful exercise in trust...and a very hot fantasy...but not something you want to try on the fly.


  1. We have a rather large pool (it's a forty year old house, they made their inground pools big back then), and in the summer I regularly swim down and back (two lengths of the pool) without coming up for air. By late summer I can do three lengths if I put my mind to it. Swimmers hold their breath for long periods of time without anyone freaking out. If you have a heart condition, or some other condition that makes you have low blood oxygen levels to start with, you don't want to do it, of course. But if you are healthy to start with? Totally agree with USB20 - just make sure you aren't playing with an idiot. Don't put your trust in a Top unless you're sure they're worthy of it.

    My husband has timed me in the pool, he knows how long I can stay under. He also knows that's with a full breath of air. He has a very good idea of my limits without a big breath of air first, too.

    We had an opportunity to play around with an oximeter a decade or so ago, with me holding my breath and watching my blood oxygen levels, getting an idea of how it felt when they dropped down close to the danger levels. You can buy them from Amazon for less than $30 now, for those couples just wanting to be sure they are safe. (You want to stay above 90. I have a friend who is a nurse and also a Domme, and she stops at 92.)

    As Anneke said, be sure you know what you're doing before you begin breath play. I believe restricting oxygen by blocking off the nose and mouth is the safest way to do it if you're new. You really have to know what you're doing before you begin putting pressure on the throat.

    Also, saying a safeword is out of the question when you can't breathe. Agree on something else - a hand signal, or (if your hands aren't bound) a set of taps on whatever body part of his you can reach. As a backup, agree that should you not be able to safeword with your hands (maybe he forgot they are bound behind you) agree that blinking your eyes is a last ditch safeword. Blink-blink, pause, blink-blink, pause.

    Like USB20, I'm pretty sure my hubby gets off on the fear aspect of it. No matter how much I trust him on a rational level, I can't stop my body from freaking out. The level of control is also a big turn on - for someone to control something as basic as breathing. I breathe when he says I can. It's power exchange in one of it's edgiest forms.