What Is Breath Play? Part One

This is a bumper weekend on the blog, with two essays on Breath Play. In this first piece, Lola Jean talks us through the whats and whys of this risky kink.

Image Credit: Audrey Fatale

When you think of breath play, what method or mode comes to mind? Hand covering a mouth? Pallet wrap? Facesitting? Gas mask? For Mistress Shayne, a Pro Dominatrix and BDSM practitioner, breath play has crept its way into her practice as it adds electric energy to a scene. For Shayne, the gift of that level of vulnerability is at the core of what D/s play means for her. 

What Is Breath Play?

Breath play is defined as any BDSM activity that involves the restriction of breath or airflow to the lungs either via the mouth, nose, chest, or a combination. While people typically assume that breath play is just choking or asphyxiation, breath play actually includes a range of activities. It does not have to be intense, nor does it have to be about restriction! Pro Dominatrix, Empress Wu, for example, classes breath play as everything from guided breathing and scent play to hand-over-mouth and facesitting. However, breath play can also include much edgier (i.e. riskier) activities, such as smothering, bagging, dunking, or waterboarding. Wu explains that “breath play can be modulated in volume; combined with fear to create a mindfuck; or synchronized to create a sense of connectedness.”

There are a multitude of ways to engage in this very risky kink. And like any risky kink, you’re going to want to proceed with caution and be as educated and informed as possible before you get started on your breath play journey! 

Draws To Breath Play

If breath play is something that piques your interest it’s possible that you are drawn to control and power play in some fashion. Your specific interest may fall into one of the categories below. 

DANGER: The mental draw could be to the risky nature of the act itself. “The thrill of danger is alluring to people,” says LT Hawk, sex educator and co-creator of Quick ‘N’ Dirty Guide to Erotic Choking. “People love to dance around the edge of something that could be slightly dangerous in the hopes that they are safe and secure. And that results in this huge release of endorphins.”  

FOCUS: The restriction can cause us to keep our focus central and concentrated, as well as potentially giving us more appreciation for the moments where our breath is not restricted. As Wu describes, “breathing is such an integral part of life and our embodied experience that taking that away can make people feel out of control when their breathing is restricted, and then much more present when their breathing returns”. Breath play can be the main course on its own or an accompaniment to other activities, like it is for Andre Shakti: “It is very difficult to quiet my brain when I am trying to orgasm. If and when I get choked it gives me a singular focus where I [can] fully feel and be present to the physical sensations in my body”. 

FETISH: Audrey Fatale, Dominatrix, frequently utilizes breath play in combination with bondage and medical scenes: “It’s thrill-seeking and for some, it’s more fetishistic e.g., in the context of a medical scene, or material focused. I see rubber fetishists who particularly enjoy latex hoods and gas masks as part of their play – it’s both about domination and the eroticism of the material”.

FEAR: As breath play puts our life in danger, this is a very real fear we are playing with – whether it is the fear of death, restriction, or of losing control. “Fear induces all kinds of psychological and physiological effects,” Fatale explains, “which, under controlled circumstances can be interpreted by the body as pleasurable”. Fatale uses breath play as a mode of getting to where she desires psychologically within fear play. For Fatale, it is less about the physical effect of restricting breathing and more about attempting to use breath as a vehicle for fear. 

As the people administering the breath play, Wu, Shayne, and Shakti all get off on the trust and vulnerability rather than the breath play itself. Shakti describes this as ”an enormous mind boner. Knowing how much responsibility that is, they have trusted me enough to put their life in my hands”. Breath play is different from many other forms of BDSM as Wu points out, “there’s no way to brace against that experience in the same way that someone can brace themselves against pain, because breath is such an immediate need for the body”.

You don’t have to engage in breath play to discern if it may be of interest to you! Kim Rose discovered her interest in breath play by watching videos. “Giving someone I trust complete control over my body and breathing makes me very excited. I watched videos of people participating in breath play while being sexually aroused. I instantly felt the need to try it”.

But how do you try, unless hiring a trained professional?

Outside of finding your friendly neighbourhood Pro Domme, the skill of vetting new partners, starting and playing slowly, and learning together all come into play. There is no surefire test or sign that signals a person as safe, so proceed with caution. Don’t be in a rush – even the pros take their time! “Breath play techniques exist on a spectrum from light to extreme”, Fatale reminds us. “With any form of play if someone is new to it I will always start gently and gauge their reaction”.

Understanding the rationale behind a certain kink both for the givers and receivers influences what modes you may use to engage in this kink, if at all. Discover how and when you can engage in breath play and think seriously about whether you’re comfortable taking on the associated risks.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our guide to breath play that details the different ways you can engage with this kink and how to go about it safely.  


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