Oct 192009
 

The following essay was originally published for the Loompanics Unlimited main catalog of 1989. It represented the fruition of research into the subject that I did when I was a student at the University of Montana. I was fascinated with the Re Search series of books by V. Vale and Andrea Juno. At the time, 1985, these books represented about the coolest things I could get my hands on. I was inspired by their notion that obsessive research into the nooks and crannies of culture was outstandingly cool, as I didn’t feel particularly “cool” by any other standard at the time…

Anyway, I had heard about Autoerotic Asphyxia through a book on safety I read at the public library, probably sometime in the mid 1970’s. I decided that Autoerotic Asphyxia was the most unusual subject that I could think of, and I decided to research it as thoroughly as I could. Surprisingly, the first grip I got on the subject came about from an article in Vanity Fair magazine! Soon I utilized the Index Medicus at the University of Montana library and began to submit interlibrary loan requests. By 1986, I believe I had acquired about 90% of the world’s primary literature on the subject.

Somewhere in 1988, Mike Hoy of Loompanics learned of my fascination through a mutual friend of ours, Tim “Zamora” Cridland. Mike asked I write an article for his catalog.

Two wonderful illustrations by Ashleigh Talbot were included with the original essay.

The essay was later published in 1990 a Loompanics compilation simply entitled “Loompanics Greatest Hits (ISBN 1-55950-031-x) pages 176 to 180. It represents one of the first popular accounts of the subject in print, though by no means the very first.

If this introduction seems unnecessary, you must consider that society has changed so fast in the last 20 years that what seemed like an enormous and esoteric accomplishment at the time now seems almost quaint. As I write this Google is returning over 12,000 hits for the term “Autoerotic Asphyxia”. Even Wikipedia has an entry on the topic! And this is good. I remember conceiving of an electronic version of interlibrary loan even back in the mid 1980’s.

So please read the following essay with context in mind, this was created by a guy who grew up in Missoula Montana using only interlibrary loan as a database.

Though the 1980’s may be the twilight of the sexual
revolution, one sex practice that has yet to see the
light of day is Autoerotic Asphyxia (hereafter referred
to as AA). While homosexuality, bisexuality,
pedophilia, sadomasochism, incest and a host of other
practices have become household conversation topics, AA
has been confined to the back pages of esoteric
forensic science journals.

What is AA? Although it may have some variations, it is
basically the act of hanging oneself in order to cut
off oxygen and blood flow to the brain while
masturbating. The idea seems to be that the hypoxia
(lack of Oxygen) and ischemia (lack of blood flow) can
contribute to the intensity of sexual arousal and
orgasm.

Almost always, people learn about AA after someone has
died from it.

It is undoubtedly the most dangerous of all sex
practices. Approximately 500 to 1000 people die from it
each year. It has claimed the lives of cartoonist
Vaughn Bode and actor Albert Dekker. Years ago, medical
examiners often made the mistaken conclusion that these
deaths were suicidal hangings. Several factors
differentiate an AA hanging from suicidal hanging.

1. The feet are often touching the ground. This
enables the practitioner to vary the pressure
that the ligature is applying to the neck by
lifting his body up or down from the floor.

2. The rope or ligature is often tied in a
highly complex manner. This is done to
provide an “escape mechanism” to manipulate
the pressure on the neck with arms, legs, or
torso.

3. The victim will often have padding around the
neck to prevent tell-tale bruises and
abrasions.

4. Pornography is present.

5. The victim had no known motive to commit
suicide.

In some cases the family of the victim may modify the
scene in order to eliminate the stigma of a sex-related
death. This obviously creates considerable problems for
the investigator trying to determine exactly what
happened.

To compound this problem is the question of insurance
settlements. If the victim had a life insurance policy
covering accidental death, the family of the deceased
will argue that the death was accidental. The insurance
company will argue that the victim knowingly engaged in
a life threatening behavior and thus the death was not
wholly accidental. the courts are still debating this
question.

If AA practitioners create elaborate escape mechanisms
for themselves, then why do they die? The reason lies
in the physiology of the heart and the nerves that
regulate it. The body has feedback mechanisms for
controlling blood pressure. At several points in the
vascular system there exist structures called
baroreceptor. Baroreceptor sense changes in
blood pressure and produce nervous impulses which
respond to those changes. When pressures on the
baroreceptor are too low, impulses are fired to the
heart and brain that lead to an increase in heart rate
and force of contraction. This occurs, for example,
when one stands up suddenly from a horizontal position.
Gravity draws blood down from the brain and pressure
drops. The baroreceptor sense the lowered pressure and
fire, raising blood pressure, increasing force of
contraction, and returning blood to the brain. One of
the areas of the body with the highest concentration of
baroreceptor is the neck. Thus, when pressure is
applied to the baroreceptor (as in hanging) the
opposite of the above-mentioned process occurs.
Powerful impulses are sent to the brain and slow the
heart, decrease force of contraction, and lower blood
pressure. This phenomenon is called carotid sinus
reflex. As little as seven pounds of pressure can cause
this to occur.

If a person is engaged in AA and is already cutting off
oxygen and blood flow to the brain, the additional
slowing of the heart can cause rapid unconsciousness.
So rapid, in fact, that the victim may not have a
chance to release himself from the ligature. Death soon
follows.

Who practices AA? Generally young, white males of
average or above-average intellegence. Often they are
socially withdrawn and may dabble in sado-masochism or bondage.

AA in females is so rare that entire articles
in forensic journals are devoted to single case
histories.

A typical case history is that of Clarey Faye reported
in the March, 1985 edition of Vanity Fair. As Clarey
moved into adolescence, he became introverted. “He was
still going to therapists off and on, but no one could
alleviate his black moods. He was playing less Bach on
his cello and more hard rock on his guitar”. He kept a
journal, composed of a secret language consisting of
Arabic, Sanskrit, and Greek characters. Repeatedly
written on a page was the single word “phosphene”. This
very possibly refers to the reports of AA
practitioners, describing “seeing stars”. Clarey was 16
years old when he was found dead by his mother, hanging
nude by his belt from a bar in his bathroom. A mirror
was positioned so that he could view himself (an
unusually common theme in AA deaths).

Not all AA practitioners use a neck ligature to produce
hypoxia and ischemia. There are primarily two other
means. These are suffocating environment and chest
compression. Tow cases from forensic literature
illustrate the former method. In the first case, a man
used semi-drowning (“aqua-eroticum”) in a lake to
provide a masturbation opportunity. In the second case,
a Yale graduate constructed an airtight vinyl bag that
he zippered himself into. He also bound his hands
behind his back with a short length of chain. His penis
was wrapped with a Saran-Wrap-rubber-band condom. Both
men died.

In chest compression, the movement of the ribcage is
restricted or the diaphragm movement is cut off. Cases
of death resulting from asphyxia in a garbage can, and
suspension by a rope around the abdomen have been
reported. In the first case, the victim intended to use
a roll of chicken wire (?) as an escape mechanism. The
mechanism failed and the man died. In the second case,
a man winched himself up off the ground by a rope
wrapped around his abdomen. He was unable to release
the winch which led to his death. A high blood alcohol
content probably contributed to his inability to
release the winch. It was not known whether fecal
matter found at the scene was part of an erotic fantasy
or due to extreme intestinal pressure.

Various other asphyxial scenarios come to mind (my
mind) that have yet to appear in forensic literature
Consider that perennial child-killer: the abandoned
refrigerator. It is dark, airtight, and private.
Perfect for furtive AA. Do you have sexual fantasies
about Mama Cass Elliot? How about ham sandwich asphyxia
while masturbating? Do you get off on the music of John
Bonham or Jimi Hendrix? How about AA with inspired
vomitus? Off-the-deep-end conspiracy types will no
doubt suggest that these deaths were truly autoerotic
asphyxial in nature and were simply “covered up”.

Perhaps the most bizarre case of a (quasi) AA death in
the literature is that of J.C. Rupp’s classic “Love
Bug”. An airline pilot drove his Volkswagen Bug to a
secluded, roughly circular, flat clearing. He stripped
naked and attached around his torso a chain harness
which was attached to the Bug’s rear bumper by a ten-
foot length of chain. He tied his belt to the steering
wheel and strapped it down so that the wheel was
completely counter-clockwise. He started the engine and
let the Bug pull him in overlapping circles. At some
point, he tired of this and approached the car
presumably to turn off the engine. At this point a
serious “pilot error” occurred. The chain began to wind
around the left rear axle and he was pulled into the
left wheel area and asphyxiated by extreme compression
against the car.

Asphyxial games for the sake of alteration of
consciousness without the addition of sexuality are not
at all uncommon. Researcher Harvey Resnick refers to
anthropological studies of various native American and
South American tribes who play such games, variously
entitled “smoke out”, “red out”, and “hang up”. Indeed,
after I started studying AA, I began asking people I
knew if they could recall playing asphyxial games as
children. Many did, and were surprised that they could
remember doing such things. Perhaps this is an example
of “repression” whereby “antisocial” behaviors of
children are forgotten only to return with prompting
very often, people not only recall asphyxial games, but
remember the exact sequence and number of actions they
performed. These include hugging by another, blowing on
a finger in the mouth to prevent exhalation, rising
quickly from squatting position, pressing on the neck,
and many others.

There is an unusual subset of AA fatalities that prove
very difficult for the researcher to classify. These
are cases of erotic suicide. In these the victim was
known to have practiced AA, but also evidenced a
suicidal intent.

In the early 1970’s two researchers, Litman and
Swearingen, studied the sex practices of a group of 9
S&M-AA practitioners. Though none died while the study
was in effect, all exhibited strong “death wish”
orientation, and often strong depression. All had
complex esoteric fantasies, as in #7’s case. He wanted
to be the “leader of an imperiled group” who
“eroticized fear, nooses, hanging” and needed danger
for orgasm. The deaths of any of these individuals
would be very difficult to classify in either pigeon
hole of “suicide” or “accident” because all seemed to
intentionally live on that border.

The most extreme case presented by the authors was case
“A”, a 50 year old actor who died of extremely
eroticized AA. There was a ball in his mouth, scarf
over his eyes, hand cuffs on both wrists, and the words
“suck” and “fuck” written on the body. A bizarre
suicide note was left of which this is only a part:
“Please tender me when you cut me down. My panty
girdles are fastened to my brassieres with safety pins.
There are no hooks on the garter belts so you will have
to pull them off”. And finally: “In a frenzy of passion
I kick the chair over and my body is spasming at the
end of the chain noose. I come wildly, madly. My eyes
bulge and I try and reach the keys, knowing I have
finally found the courage to end a horrible nightmare
life dangerously”. End of note.

Beside the obvious reason that it feels good, why to
people engage in AA? Various long winded psycho-
analytic explanations have proposed, all of which rely
on explanations which are as controversial as the whole
body of psycho-analysis itself. A very clever
hypothesis has been proposed by Resnick; it asserts
that while breast-feeding, a baby may experience a
partial asphyxia. Further, certain gastric and urethral
reflexes may, in males produce erections. Thus a very
early association between the pleasure involved with
feeding, erection, and asphyxia is formed. Later, when
breast-feeding stops, the association between asphyxia
and erections may persist. Resnick refers to the
breastfeeding mother as the “smother mother”.

When individuals practice AA, to they always have to
die? Is there “safe sex” AA? Wearing condoms and
soaking the ligature in bleach just won’t do. An
article from the gay men’s magazine Drummer suggests
that there is safe AA. Author Robert Bahr interviewed
“Ed”, who rigged up a gaff in his apartment designed
specifically to prevent accidental death. Around a wire
frame is wrapped a plastic bag. On the floor beneath
the contraption is a mattress. One stands on the
mattress and puts his face into the frame. While
masturbating, all inhaled and exhaled air collects in
the bag and is quickly depleted of oxygen. The wire
frame prevents the bag from being inhaled when
breathing becomes rapid, near orgasm. After orgasm, or
if the participant passes out, the mattress is
underneath to cushion a fall. One cannot die in such an
arrangement, because one cannot get caught in the bag,
and unconsciousness only removes one from the gaff.
This practice does not produce ischemia, however, which
may limit its euphoric potential for the true thrill
seeking AA connoisseur.

As exhortations for abstinence have never prevented
venereal disease, it is not likely that AA deaths will
go away just by saying “Don’t do it”. Only when
practitioners understand why it is so dangerous and are
offered safer alternatives will autoerotic asphyxia
deaths decrease.

For Further Reading:

Autoerotic Fatalities, R.R. Hazelwood, et al.,
Lexington Books, 1983, Lexington, MA, (Excellent
references).

“The Love Bug”, J.C. Rupp, Journal of Forensic
Sciences, vol. 18, 1973. pp. 259-262.

“Deadly Kicks”, Robert Bahr. Drummer, vol. 6, #56, pp.
8-11.

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 AA

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