Dear MKE SEX,
I have a really personal question to ask you. Actually, I’m not even sure what the question should be, ha! Maybe “is this dangerous? Is it weird?” Or “why is this the case?” I don’t know.
I only orgasm through clitoral stimulation (it’s a whole other question on how to get other orgasms), and I tend to hold my breath when I orgasm. It makes it so much better. In fact, if I don’t hold my breath a little, the orgasm is often meh. Generally it’s only to the point of feeling like I need another breath, I take one and hold again. There’s a brief drop in pleasure when I take the breath that comes back once I hold it.
But lately I’ve been testing it and holding my breath longer, till I start to see stars or feel kinda woozy. This makes the orgasm explode. This is something I do more often when the stimulation is a little painful or I’m having a hard time building pleasure. It pushes right past the pain and into orgasm and that’s pretty awesome…
…except it also feels like it shouldn’t be a thing, it feels like it might be dangerous, and I DEFINITELY do not ever want people’s hands on my neck. Something or someone else restricting my breathing is not cool. I have trauma from that sort of abuse. I also just don’t understand WHY it happens. (I did a little googling, it’s made me feel horrible. It led me to “paraphillic,” which is classified by the DSM!)
Dear (not actually) Aberrant,
I’m here with some answers for you, and I hope they ease your mind a little. First things first: Breath holding during sex and orgasm isn’t all that abnormal. A lot of people do it to varying degrees without thinking about it. Short periods of breath holding can be one typical physiologic response to sexual stimulation. Intentionally holding your own breath for longer periods of time is the safest type of breathplay*.
What you’re describing here doesn’t really fit the description of paraphilia, either. Paraphilia occurs when someone’s arousal and pleasure are dependent on a particular action or object. You can become aroused and are able to orgasm without holding your breath. No need to seek therapy for your penchant to breathe a little less.
You’re absolutely right that holding your breath can make your orgasms more intense. Breath holding leads to temporary hypoxia (meaning low oxygen levels), which intensifies your experience in a couple of ways. When the body is low on oxygen, it redirects most of your blood into the abdominal and pelvic cavities, which increases engorgement of the genitals, causing them to be even more sensitive than usual. This rerouting of the blood means less for the brain, causing lightheadedness which often produces out-of-body type feelings, maybe even giving you the feeling of floating or falling.
Breath holding and actively bearing down often go hand-in-hand as well. If you find yourself making grunting noises as you’re taking those breaths, you’re almost certainly bearing down. By pushing down with your abdominal muscles, you’re also moving even more blood into your genitals, once again increasing their sensitivity.
I can understand why you’re worried that it could be dangerous. Seeing stars and feeling woozy are pretty dramatic symptoms of hypoxia. They’re definitely warning signs from your body that it’s time to take a breath. When people ignore those warning signs, the next stage of hypoxia is loss of consciousness. Yup, you could pass out. And if you pass out, you’ll resume normal breathing and your oxygen levels will come back up to normal pretty quickly (assuming you don’t have other acute or chronic health issues with your heart and lungs). If that happens, you can decide if you want to push the breath holding that far again in the future. Since your body can quickly remedy the problem if you accidentally let it go too far, holding your own breath isn’t particularly dangerous. One caveat: anytime you’re going to test the limits with your holding your breath, you should probably resting against something. That way if you do faint, you minimize the risk of hitting your head or other injury.
You seem to be pretty aware of your body and its needs. You’re testing your own limits, and making adjustments as necessary. And you’re willing to do research and ask questions. Based on what you’ve shared here, it sounds like you’re a smart, healthy, and sexually inquisitive person. I don’t think you’re weird, and I really doubt that you’re going to harm yourself.
*A note on breathplay. Breath holding is one type of breathplay, and it’s the safest type. Breathplay is reducing or restricting your own or another person’s oxygen during sex. It’s used to intensify sensations (just like you’re doing), but it can also be used (consensually) to dominate another person. Many other forms of breathplay involve you or someone else physically obstructing your breathing with a gag, rope, or hand on your mouth/nose/throat, etc. This creates the opportunity for injury and bruising and increases the risks substantially. Additionally, applying pressure to the neck can cause swelling in the lips and tongue, which can then obstruct the airway. These are really delicate body parts we’re talking about. They’re pretty easy to damage. And because bruising and swelling happen slowly over a period of time, it can take a while to see the extent of the damage. If there’s enough swelling in the neck, the soft palate or the sinuses during or after the scene, a person’s airway can become compromised up to two hours after the scene ends. This can lead to seizures, strokes, cardiac arrest and other serious problems.
Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll get back to you with an answer.