Autoerotic Asphyxiophilia

Autoerotic Asphyxiophilia, also known as erotic asphyxiation or “breath control play”, is the intentional restriction of oxygen to the brain for the purpose of sexual arousal.  Some people find that reducing or severing air flow via strangulation or suffocation can heighten sexual arousal and orgasmic pleasure. Colloquially, a person engaging in this activity is sometimes called a “gasper.”  Autoerotic asphyxiation can be performed with a partner, but is most often performed alone. 


The act of autoerotic asphyxiation is extremely dangerous.  Cutting off oxygen to the brain can lead to brain damage or even death.  It is highly recommended that this sexual practice be avoided at all costs!

Information And Background         

The exact reasons why individuals engage in this practice are unknown.  However, some physiological responses to the reduction of oxygen to the body and brain might help explain the appeal of this dangerous sexual activity. Author John Curra writes, "The carotid arteries (on either side of the neck) carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain. When [the arteries] 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 masturbatory sensations."1Author George Shuman describes the effect as such: "When the brain is deprived of oxygen, it induces a lucid, semi-hallucinogenic state called hyposia [a condition in which the body as a whole or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply]. Combined with orgasm, the rush is said to be no less powerful than cocaine, and highly addictive."2 Hallucinogenic states of mind brought about by chronic hypoxia may be similar to the hallucinations experienced by climbers at altitude and could be a reason why mountain climbing is said to be very addictive.  The practice of autoerotic asphyxiation has been documented since the early 17th century.  It was first used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. The theory was that oxygen restriction and then a sudden influx helped engorge blood vessels in the penis.   

Various tactics are used to achieve the level of oxygen depletion needed, such as a hanging, suffocation with a plastic bag over the head, self-strangulation, gas or volatile solvents, chest compression, or a combination of these.  Sometimes, complicated devices are used to produce the desired effects.  Participants oftentimes rig some sort of "rescue mechanism" as a safety release in case they lose consciousness.  Sometimes, however, the safety release does not function correctly or the individual is not able to accurately measure the correct amount of oxygen restriction, which may lead to serious brain injury or death.  Uva (1995) writes, “Estimates of the mortality rate of autoerotic asphyxia range from 250 to 1000 deaths per year in the United States."3 Males constitute the great majority of known erotic asphyxia related deaths.  It is still unknown as too why this is, but some experts say that it could be related to the fact that in general, males are more likely to participate in risky behaviors then females.  Commonly, teenagers are most likely to commit suicide, so in some cases autoerotic asphyxiation may be falsely ruled as suicide.

Once again, autoerotic asphyxiation is a very dangerous sexual practice and should not be used to achieve sexual gratification.  If you or someone you know is partaking in this sexual play it is highly recommended that one stops performing this act.  The consequences may be deadly.


1. John Curra (2000). The Relativity of Deviance. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage

2. Publications, Inc. p. 111.George D. Shuman (2007). Last Breath: A Sherry Moore Novel. Simon & Schuster. p. 80

3. Uva, J. L. (1995). "Review: Autoerotic asphyxiation in the United States". Journal of Forensic Sciences 40 (4): 574–581.


Last Updated 9 January 2013