Erotic asphyxiation, asphyxiophilia, breath control play or scarfing is the sexual practice of partial asphyxiation by strangulation or suffocation of one person by another during sexual intercourse. The decrease of blood to the brain is said to heighten sexual pleasure.
A sexual partner may or may not be involved in the act, however, if one is excluded the practice can be referred to as autoerotic asphyxiation, or AEA. Various methods are used to achieve the level of oxygen depletion needed such as a plastic bag over the head or self-strangulation, typically by the use of a ligature (scarfing). The increased pleasure results from the body producing more endorphins as it approaches the state of asphyxia. Pleasurable or not, it is an extremely dangerous practice that results in many accidental deaths each year.
Historically, the practice of autoerotic asphyxiation has been documented since the early 1600s. It was first used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction and impotency. The idea for this most likely came from subjects who were executed by hanging. Observers at public hangings noted male victims developed an erection, sometimes remaining after death, and occasionally ejaculated when being hanged. Notably, however, ejaculation occurs in hanging victims after death because of disseminated muscle relaxation; this is a different mechanism from that sought by AEA practitioners.
Deaths often occur when the loss of consciousness caused by partial asphyxia leads to loss of control over the means of strangulation, resulting in continued asphyxia and death. Victims are often found to have rigged some sort of "rescue mechanism" which has not worked in the way they anticipated as they lost consciousness.
It has also been speculated that in some cases autoerotic asphyxiation may have triggered the little-known phenomenon of carotid sinus reflex death.
The composer Frantisek Kotzwara died from erotic asphyxiation in 1791, probably the first recorded case.
It is a popular subject in tabloids and celebrity gossip magazines, particularly when a celebrity dies as a result of suicide or other mysterious circumstances. Such was reputedly the case with the deaths of Michael Hutchence (in 1997) and Japanese rock-star in 1998, though no evidence to support the claim was produced in either of those cases.
The artist Vaughn Bodé died from this cause in 1975.
The death in 1994 of Stephen Milligan, the British Conservative MP for Eastleigh, was a case of auto-erotic asphyxiation combined with self-bondage.
A more recent case is the death in 2004 National Front member Kristian Etchells.
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