Orgone Research

Monday, September 18, 2006

Deadly Sex Thrills

This 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. At the time, 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 did not feel "cool" by any other standard at the time…

Anyway, I had heard about Autoerotic Asphyxia through some 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 in an article in Vanity Fair of all places! Soon I utilized the Index Medicus at the University 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. At the time, this was the greatest ego thrill of my life. Little did I know I would experience much greater ego "thrills" later on…

Two wonderful illustrations by Ashleigh Talbot were included with the original essay. Unfortunately they are not yet included here. Perhaps I’ll be able to include them in the future.
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 certainly fantasized about 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. Hell, I think I was still a virgin when I did the original research!

Deadly Sex Thrills

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 baroreceptors. Baroreceptors sense changes in blood pressure and produce nervous impulses which respond to those changes. When pressures on the baroreceptors 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 baroreceptors 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 baroreceptors is the neck. Thus, when pressure is applied to the baroreceptors (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 intelligence. 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. Two 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 "LoveBug". 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 turned 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 a 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 pigeonhole 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 pantygirdles 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 do 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 wireframe 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 wireframe 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 ForensicSciences, vol. 18, 1973. pp. 259-262.

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


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