Erotic Asphyxiation and Helplessness

When I saw that the current Kink of the Week prompt was erotic asphyxiation, my heart leapt. I made a note of it in the Google Doc I use to brainstorm ideas. It seemed like the perfect topic for me to write about, especially at this point in my life.

I’m doing a lot of grown-up things at the moment. I’ve just been accepted onto my Master’s course, for one thing, which feels huge and daunting and exciting all at once. Just over a week ago, I collected the key to my new flat and moved all my stuff into it. And, between the key-collection and the stuff-moving, I bought hosting for my blog, moved everything from my WordPress site to my own shiny new site, and spent multiple days stressing about the fact that I couldn’t get hyperlinks to show up in Merriweather because changing fonts in CSS is an absolute fucker. In so many ways, I’ve been an entire adult, doing adult things.

So, naturally, I’ve been even more inclined towards erotic asphyxiation than usual.

A huge number of my kinks are rooted in a desire to be helpless in a controlled setting. There’s two parts to the appeal of helplessness for me. The first is that, when I’m helpless, I’m also not responsible. Of course I don’t have to worry about my blog – I should be worrying about the fact that there’s no air reaching my lungs! I like the fogginess associated with erotic asphyxiation, even when there’s no oxygen deprivation happening. It’s a combination of subspace making me pliable and vacant, and survival instinct silencing all thoughts that aren’t related to getting some fucking air into my body. Sometimes, when my Daddy takes his hand off my throat, I’ll say, “I’m stupid,” to indicate that I’ve lost the capacity for rational thought in the most pleasant way possible.

The second lovely thing about being helpless is that, in this context, it’s finite. I’ve spent a lot of time recently feeling helpless and overwhelmed about “real life” – I couldn’t figure out how to solve the confusion over WiFi in my new flat, or how to make my Twitter widget display properly on my new site. That kind of helplessness is finite too, but it depends on me doing things to solve the problem at hand. By contrast, the helplessness I feel when someone’s hand wraps around my throat will end without me doing anything. I just have to lean into the sensations of fogginess and mild panic until I’m allowed to breathe again. It’s also a kind of helplessness that puts everything else into perspective, because even when it’s practised as safely as possible, erotic asphyxiation is a matter of life and death. I’m literally putting my life into someone else’s hands, along with my throat.

I specifically like hands around my throat because it makes me feel small, and trapped. There’s no way for me to wriggle out of it, unlike with smothering – my jaw hyperextends, so I can always manage to suck some air in through my mouth when someone’s trying to smother me, unless they’re using a pillow and are exceptionally thorough. When someone puts their hand on my throat, though, they don’t even need to try and blood-choke me or close off my air supply; I’ll just hold my breath in a Pavlovian display of obedience. Even when the asphyxiation itself isn’t rendering me helpless, my own desire to please rules my brain and my lungs.

Obviously, erotic asphyxiation is considered edge play because it’s super high-risk. Its edginess is part of its appeal to me, though, because letting somebody control my oxygen intake feels like the ultimate act of devotion. Staring vacantly into a partner’s face with black spots of oxygen deprivation floating in the edges of my vision makes me feel connected to them and possessed by them. Erotic asphyxiation is part of so many of my scenes with my Daddy, including rope ones and ones with fuckin’, because it’s shorthand for, “I trust you. Do what you will with me. My body and soul are yours.”

Even writing about the fuzziness I experience when engaging with breath play has relaxed me. Knowing that, no matter what’s stressing me out, I can get the sense choked out of me is deeply comforting, and the thought of it alone has cheered me up after a couple of very challenging weeks – so I’d like to thank Molly for the prompt, and encourage my readers to go and look at the other Kink of the Week posts inspired by it!

A red lipstick kiss mark, which contains a link to the Kink of the Week page, where you can find others' posts on erotic asphyxiation

Pride: A Complicated Experience

Stock photo of glitter laid out in stripes to form a rainbow. Glitter is present at a lot of Pride events, in case you didn't know ;)

I haven’t been to a tonne of Pride events.

I came out to myself as bi when I was about 13, and as nonbinary when I was about 17. Unusually, I think, I didn’t feel any internalised shame about my queer identity in the traditional sense. When I realised I was bisexual, I was excited about it: excited about my newfound connection to the LGBTQ+ community, excited about the possibility of kissing girls and excited that I’d found a label that fit me, after a year or two of worrying that I was simply a lesbian who was very bad at lesbianing.

When I came out to myself as nonbinary, I felt a degree of anxiety that I wasn’t not-cis enough (I didn’t experience all the dysphoria that mainstream media promised me, and I’d only put the pieces together as a young adult), but mostly I was, again, excited to find a word that fit my experience of gender. I understood, in theory, that a lot of people needed the Pride movement to allay their feelings of internalised shame, fear and grossness about being anything other than cishet, but whether it was the autism or my mum’s accepting and loving influence, I never felt bad about being queer.

This didn’t mean that I was uninterested in Pride events, but I didn’t feel any desperate pull towards them. I could experience the joy of being part of the LGBTQ+ community online, in the comfort of my own home, and that felt like enough for me. The first time I went to Pride, it was for an unconventional reason: I was deeply, deeply depressed, and it was a reason to leave the house.

My hometown’s Pride event was, and still is, mercifully grassroots in nature, held in a spacious park and never too crowded. But this didn’t stop me from feeling overwhelmed, especially when I found that there was nowhere for me to sit down and rest my disabled little legs, and nothing was signposted, leading to me getting turned around and confused at least twice an hour. I loved spotting other people’s flags, starting conversations with people about their dogs or their outfits, and talking to the people who ran stalls relevant to my interests, but I left the event exhausted and overstimulated and had to spend at least a couple of days in bed or otherwise in my pajamas, recharging my limited energy.

Bigger Pride events, as you can imagine, intimidate me. I went to one in my university city and found it so challenging that I slipped away on more than one occasion to the outskirts of the event, taking deep breaths and chewing on free sweets obtained from various stalls and booths. I know lots of other people find Pride inaccessible, and this year, I stuck to my hometown’s event – but still needed to be babysat by my girlfriends and metamour, reminded to eat, and encouraged to leave earlier than most people might because I was ready to lie down on the grass and give up.

This is why I feel conflicted about Pride. I already felt like it might not be for me, since I didn’t experience the internalised shame that so many LGBTQ+ people talked about, and after having found so many Pride events to be lacking in the accessibility department, I felt that even more strongly. Couple that with a police presence which makes my autistic nerves run higher than the volume on the main stage’s speakers and the ongoing online discussions about who “belongs” at Pride, I’ve often wondered what Pride does have to offer me.

The thing is, Pride as a concept is great. I enjoy rainbow paraphernalia and I even enjoy watching corporations desperately try to cater to me (only to drop the facade on the 1st of July) and then watching other LGBTQ+ people mock them for it. Pride month is fun, it reminds me of the importance of community and visibility, and it gives me an excuse to respond melodramatically to every minor inconvenience (“It’s raining? During this, Pride Month?”). But I’m starting to acknowledge that I pressure myself into attending events that I don’t really need to be at. I already know my community exists, I have created safe spaces of my own to be queer in, and I don’t feel gross or ashamed or anything other than pleased about my queer identity.

I know Pride does a lot for a lot of people. I love seeing people at Pride events blossoming with confidence they might not feel anywhere else, and I appreciate that there exists a space where everyone can just… be their authentic selves, without fear of repercussion. But with gatekeeping, corporate involvement, inaccessibility and the rest of it, it’s a movement and a series of events that I feel somewhat disconnected from.

I will continue to defend my LGBTQ+ siblings’ right to attend Pride events, obviously. I want to speak up in defense of asexual and aromantic people’s place at Pride and about the ways that a police presence can make POC and neurodivergent people feel deeply uncomfortable, but I might not need to push myself into events to achieve that. I suppose it’s a result of internalised ableism, something I do experience a lot of, that I feel like I need to do what my abled friends are doing whether I actually want to or not. And I suppose it’s important for me as an activist to confront my internalised ableism, and that might mean staying home from crowded, noisy, police-infested Pride events when I need to.

I’m still going to buy shit with rainbows on it, though. I’m always going to buy shit with rainbows on.

Safe, Sane and Consensual (SSC) vs. Risk Aware Consensual Kink (RACK)

Stock photo of a white tin case with red text which reads "First Aid case"

If you’re new to the world of BDSM, you may have heard the terms “SSC” and “RACK”, and you may be confused as to what exactly they mean, whether they differ from each other and which is better to use. So let me start at the beginning: they’re names for schools of thought within BDSM regarding, essentially, safety and best practice.

SSC = Safe, Sane and Consensual.

RACK = Risk-Aware, Consensual Kink.

There are other versions of these (such as PRICK, which stands for “Personal Responsibility, Informed Consensual Kink”, and CRASH, which stands for “Consensual, Risk-Aware, Shit Happens”), but they’re not as commonly used as SSC or RACK. You’re more than welcome to generate your own code of ethics and best practice within BDSM, and it doesn’t even need a cool acronym, but the benefit of terms like SSC and RACK is that lots of other kinksters are aware of their meanings, which makes communication with those kinksters that little bit more streamlined.

I have to confess, I am firmly a RACK person. I understand the appeal of SSC, especially to newcomers. We all want to believe that the things we do, in kink and in life, are safe and sane. The first problem, though, lies in the subjectivity of both of those words. Imagine you’re talking to someone from, say, 1600. You explain to them that we have huge metal carriages, called “cars”, that can travel at up to 270 miles an hour, and that even in everyday use they can exceed 70. You acknowledge that sometimes, the drivers of these “cars” can lack skill or focus, and sometimes they lose control of their vehicles. Then you reassure your new friend that we have crossings in place, where cars are legally mandated to stop, so that pedestrians can move from one side of the road to the other. They’re only slightly relieved by this, and they are aghast when you follow it up with, “But some people just nip across the road where there isn’t a crossing at all.”

To someone from 1600, that seems both unsafe and fucking insane, but to us, it’s Tuesday. Our understanding of safety changes from decade to decade and person to person. Some people won’t eat raw cookie dough because they deem it unsafe. Some people will do several recreational substances in a field with their friends, with no phone signal nor sober people onsite. (Not me, of course; I would never). People do things that they think are safe but that others do not, and some people do things that they know to be unsafe, because we’re all blessed with bodily autonomy, no matter how recklessly we use it.

There’s also the issue that some kink acts just cannot be made safe. YouTuber Evie Lupine did a wonderful video on this topic, citing breath play and the use of restraints as being among the things that beginners dip their toes into without a full awareness of the risks involved. SSC suggests that kinksters should only engage in play that is safe, but that takes a lot of activities off the table, or else minimises the risks those activities pose. Implying that things like choking are safe, rather than fraught with risks that can be mitigated, is dangerous, especially for beginners. It’s for this reason I prefer the “Risk-Aware” label.

Then there’s the “sane” issue. First, as outlined above, our understanding of what is and isn’t sane to do varies wildly. I don’t think that skiing is a sane thing to do (just chuck yourself down a snowy mountain! With some sticks! It’s fine!), but other people either disagree, or do it anyway. The implication that some types of play can be insane is troublesome, because the distinction between sane and not-sane is different for everybody and because if there are not-sane ways to play, what does that mean for the people who practice them?

The thing is, I know I am not a sane person by most definitions. I experience mild hallucinations, some delusions, huge emotional responses and more, and the idea that sanity is a requirement for kink is… troubling. By focusing instead on risk awareness, I can participate in kink so long as I comprehend the risks and can give informed and unimpeded consent (unimpeded meaning not affected by, nor primarily motivated by weird brain things). I’m sure people who prefer SSC don’t have any ableist intentions, but in suggesting that kink has to be sane, SSC runs the risk of alienating people who aren’t, strictly speaking, sane themselves.

I don’t judge people who use SSC rather than RACK – I’m sure they have their reasons for doing so, and everyone is entitled to set their own rules regarding how they approach BDSM. But I’m always going to err on the side of risk-awareness over insisting on safety and I’m always going to shy away from insistence upon sanity, and I hope y’all can understand why.