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      A TO Z OF SEXUAL HISTORY: EROTIC ASPHYXIATION

      December 20, 2009

      By Cameron King

      119 If you’ve even slightly tried this at some point (clue: you have), then I’m afraid, medically, you’re classified as having a sexual disorder. This is because, according to the American Psychiatric Association, it’s potentially lethal. Although a bit of casual rope play is in a completely different league to the over zealous sexual stranglers who make up the 1000 accidental deaths a year by erotic asphyxiation. Yes, we’re looking disappointedly at you, David Carradine (and conspiratorially at you, Stephen Milligan). Depriving oneself of oxygen has always been en vogue, not to cause death, but to locate whatever is in between. It forms part of religious, sexual, and childhood rituals throughout history. Anthropologists have found evidence of choking games in primitive Celtic culture, the South American Yahgans, Eskimos, and children of Shoshone-Bannock Indians (who call it "smoke out and red out"). A Mayan relic dated around 1000 AD depicts a naked man with a rope around his neck, and an erect penis. The Maya believed that the souls of individuals who hang themselves go directly to paradise, where they’re received by Ixtab, goddess of the hanged. The link between sex and strangulation has been general knowledge ever since the days of public hangings. One in three men who die also suddenly experience a death erection, occasionally ejaculating and/or urinating, which is why asphyxiation was prescribed to men in the 1600s for impotence. The first recorded cases of accidental death followed shortly after, described in the 18th century manual Modern Propensities; or, An Essay on the Art of Strangling. This included the story of Reverend Manacle. He was impotent due to venereal disease, but while working in Newgate Prison, learnt of the erecting effect of hanging. In a ruse to get a hard on, he offered to demonstrate to a female inmate sentenced to death the painlessness of being hanged. She helped in stringing him up in her cell and – Tada! – he got his hard-on, she cut him down, and, in a twist of porn movie predictability, they fucked. The Rev continued playing this game with women until he finally killed himself in the process. As always, there's lots of this stuff in the Marquis De Sade’s Justine, written in 1791. The perverse Roland asks his female slave Thérèse to hang him: "As his body snapped under the force of his fall, a broad smile of ecstasy bisected his face. His penis stretched to an almost incredible tautness. Then a geyser of semen erupted, shooting high above his head, almost to the ceiling." Coincidentally, in the same year, celebrated composer Franz Kotzwara died in this manner. He visited a prostitute on Vine Street in Soho and gave her two shillings to buy ham, beef, and brandy. After their dinner, he asked her to cut off his genitals. When she refused, he asked to be hung for five minutes instead. She obliged, but after cutting him down, he was dead. She was tried for murder but acquitted due to his infamy. The case of Japanese Sada Abe is a good one. She caused a sensation in 1936 after she strangled her lover to death in a mutual sex game. She was arrested several days later with his dick in her handbag, which she’d still been making out with. She served five years in prison and became a celebrity. While most cases come to light due to accidental death, evidence of its widespread practice is clear in the existence of Hanged Men’s Clubs in Victorian London, where prostitutes promised asphyxiation without fear of death – a tenuous guarantee. Theoretically it heightens orgasm by cutting off oxygen to the brain, inducing a sense of dizziness and a rush. But, obviously, most people who do it are just thrilled as shit to be doing something dark and dangerous. William Burroughs wrote about it loads. In Naked Lunch, he describes the experiences of a boy while being hung: "Green sparks explode behind his eyes and sweet toothache pain shoots through his neck down the spine to the groin, contracting the body in spasms of delight. His whole body squeezes out through his cock. A final spasm throws a great spit of semen across the red screen like a shooting star.” This cheery note was found at the scene of a fatal case of auto-erotic asphyixation in the 1980s, described by Litman and Swearingen. "It is 9:35 Sunday night and in three minutes I will be dead. I strike the match, reach down and set fire to the gossamer edge of the black nylon slip. Quickly I wrap the chain around my wrists and snap the padlock firmly. 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. The pain is intense as my clothes start burning my legs. My eyes bulge and I try and reach the keys, knowing I have finally found the courage to end a horrible nightmare life dangerously." CAMERON KING d-left

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