Sunday, September 19, 2010

Squick City

By Lisabet Sarai

When it comes to perverse sex, I'm pretty broad minded. There isn't much that I wouldn't consider, at least in a literary or fantasy context. (The real world is something else. It has been a while since I've had the chance to test my actual physical or psychological limits.)

I've written enemas and golden showers (my editor made me excise the latter) and yes, it turned me on. I find incest, especially among siblings, embarrassingly hot. Necrophilia? Well, let's just say I can see the appeal, at least in a fantasy role play like Kathleen's story “Chill”. Bestiality? How can anyone who's ever been licked by a cat or admired a stallion not consider the erotic possibilities? I've never written a BDSM story about knife play, but I've read a few that made me shiver with arousal. (Tess Danesi's “Lessons Slow and Painful” in Fast Girls is the most recent example that comes to mind.)

Eating come? Sure, why not? Rimming? Thrilling, in the right circumstances. Diapers? I've written that into at least one story (“Poker Night”, in my Rough Caress collection). There's a scene in Ruby's Rules where a character gets fucked with a champagne bottle and another featuring clothespins on the labia.

There is one kink, though, that I can't imagine writing, because it scares me silly, despite the fact that I gather it's fairly popular. I'm referring to “breath play”, otherwise known as erotic asphyxiation. In case this isn't familiar to some readers, breath play is basically getting off by being strangled, smothered, or otherwise deprived of oxygen.

I found in my research that there are physiological reasons why hypoxia (the shortage of oxygen) is pleasurable. Supposedly, being deprived of oxygen produces a giddy, hyper-lucid or hallucinogenic state that greatly intensifies the experience of orgasm. According to some sources, the resulting state of bliss is as addictive as cocaine.

Sorry, but I'll choose other methods for my hallucinations.

In the context of a BDSM relationship, breath control obviously carries an emotional charge as well as possibly involving physical pleasure. The sub is literally offering her life to the dominant. I can understand the excitement of that level of trust, intellectually, but I still can't imagine ever be willing to participate in a breath control scene—even though it would pain me to refuse anything to my Master. It's so far outside my comfort zone that I don't think I could even write about it, at least not convincingly.

Yet some authors do. Rachel Kramer Bussel's story “Your Hand on My Neck”, in her acclaimed anthology Please, Sir, is about erotic asphyxiation. Rachel's an accomplished writer with a definitely kinky bent, and I usually resonate with her tales, but this one left me cold. I found it disturbing as opposed to arousing.

And yet...part of me hates to accept that there's anything I couldn't eroticize, if I tried. When I saw Charlotte's topic for the week, I was tempted to push myself and try to write a short piece focused on this, my most serious squick. (Actually, it goes beyond “squick”, which seems to have the connotation of disgust. My reactions to the suggestion are closer to terror.)

Then I thought about all the other stories on my mental list, waiting to be written. Better I should devote my scarce writing time to something more appealing – like gang bangs or face sitting, suspension or branding.

Everybody's got limits, right?


  1. Yup, everyone has limits.

    On the specific subject of breath play, a lot of publishers won't touch it so I haven't ever gone there in fiction. My aim it to write stories I can sell, so writing something that will be difficult to sell seems counter-productive.

    In 'real life' the main problem is that starving the brain of oxygen makes the heart beat harder and faster, causes a rise in blood pressure, and may create clinical shock as the body tries to get oxygen through to it. This can cause intensely erotic sensations (and incidentally there's a medical/academic literature about men dying with huge erections when executed by hanging!). It can also, obviously, cause death - more likely from heart attack than loss of oxygen to the brain. In the UK over the last 20 years or so the deaths of several well-known people from members of Parliament to television presenters bears out both how common erotic asphyxia is, and its dangers.

    As to limits, they can be of quite unexpected types. I used to have a relationship with someone who was hardcore in terms of bdsm - none of the things normally thought of as hard limits bothered her. However, her hard limit was pink: wearing pink clothing, being tied with pink rope, beaten with a pink flogger, etc etc was completely off-limits. I suspect many people have mental 'buttons' relating to apparently quite random or mundane things, and you'd never know they exist until you stumble into them by accident.

  2. A "pink" limit, Fulani? That's an amazing story -- it has to be true because no one could imagine it!

    Reminds me of one of our cats, who is totally spooked by the blue cat dancer (even though she loves the red one). Who ever said that cats were color blind?

    As far as breath play is concerned, I think that for some people the danger is part of what makes it exciting. That's not me, though! I may not be "sane", and I'm even willing to bend the "consensual", but "safe" - at least in a physical sense - is not negotiable.

    Thanks for your comments!


  3. Great post, Lisabet! I was in two minds whether to pick this topic, because I see this blog as maybe a place of expression rather than repression, in terms of sex writing and sexuality, but then I thought...well. It's only by dealing with our limits and thinking about them and expressing them that we fully understand our own sexuality and what we want to write about. And I think you expressed that understanding beautifully!

  4. "It's only by dealing with our limits and thinking about them and expressing them that we fully understand our own sexuality and what we want to write about."

    Very well done, Mighty Viper.

    Lisabet, you are also correct, in that EVERYONE (even me, and I consider myself quite wide open in terms of things that I will consider doing) has their limits. but then, I've also written and participated in a few activities that even 'edge players' might consider extreme. I will say that I've actually had interactions with a few submissive lovers who seriously got off on this sort of play, especially during sex. They are all still alive, last I checked. That, however, doesn't mean that you should run out and experience/attempt to force this on yourself. It is indeed, not for the faint of heart. However, as you noted in your post, the prevalence of this particular predilection probably pervades prominently in the private lives of the 'perverse'.

  5. Lisabet - One thing that you might consider, at least with a character, is to have them hold their own breath. There is some slight issues with this, because it is hard to consciously hold onto the air in your lungs while having a really intense moment, but the body has many safe-guards to protect itself.

    Ever seen a kid have a fit and threatened to hold their breath until you give in? They either end up taking a gulping breath, or they start to pass out. And then the safe-guards kick in, and they automatically start breathing again. So long as nothing is keeping them from breathing - there isn't a great deal of danger.

    Many women, in fact, instinctively hold their breath during that "moment". I'm one of those breath holders - but I would NEVER allow someone to keep breath from me. It's one of the ways I am terrified of dying.

    Some pant though, which can also cause a similar feeling, given they are almost on the end of hyperventilating.

    So it's not hardcore EA, but you can find a comfortable beginning edge to it. Like I said though, it's one of mine too - cause I am terrified of dying that way. I wanted to be an austronaut for a few months in high school, but the idea of being in space and running out of air and slowly dying that way. *shudders* Cured me of it.

  6. Clothespins on the labia? Really...that turns someone on? The thought of it sent me directly to how you described breath play, and I wasn't at all turned on. In my western romances, it's called the "vapors" and in this case, gasping. *lol*

    Honestly, Lisabet, when I read your blogs I'm amazed, but also reminded what a big ol' prude I am. If anyone came near me in bed with a clothespin, I believe that would be grounds for murder. And all this time I thought cucumbers and bananas were the limit for pleasuring a woman or oneself. *lol* Whodda thunk a champagne bottle? I could never be an erotica author because I have no imagination when it comes to sexual pleasure.

  7. Really good post, Lisabet. Breath play is a hard limit for me, as well. Regardless of what my sub asks for, I won't do that. There have been far too many deaths from breath play, as Fulani mentioned. In fact, as far as BDSM goes, that really is one of the only things you ever hear people dying from. Anything else always seems to be some sort of bizarre accident.

    You mentioned face-sitting and that sometimes really bothers me too, due to the possibility of cutting off someone's oxygen. I constantly check to make sure my boy can breathe, which probably isn't sexy, but I really am disturbed by it.

    I have other squicks, to, and sometimes I think I'm really pretty pedestrian in my play but, I suppose everything is relative.

  8. Aw, clothes pins strung together is called a zipper, when pulled slowly or rapidly during orgasm can enhance it. They work on the nipples too, but it isn't for the faint of heart.

    Golden showers, feces eating, and other body fluids isn't my cup of tea, but give me a solid thump on the ass, a clamp here or there and...well lets just say different strokes for different folks.


  9. Hello, all,

    Thanks for the wonderful comments!

    Charlotte - I think that this is an excellent topic, and I'm looking forward to reading the offerings from the rest of the week. It's healthy (and freeing) for us wild and crazy types to feel comfortable talking about what we won't consider doing.

    Don - Thanks for dropping by. I'm quite sure that there are individuals who find EA thrilling, especially since it's not just a psychological high but has physical correlates. I'm not judging anyone. But it certainly squicks me!

    Michelle - Holding your own breath? Seems like this would be pretty difficult to do while climbing to orgasm. At least for me! I'm always breathing hard.

    Ginger - you have me giggling as usual! I've actually tried a clothespin or two myself (though not a "zipper", as Isabella describes). You'd be surprised but it actually feels ... interesting. I wouldn't dismiss yourself as a author of erotica, either. The core requirement is the ability to identify with your characters and communicate their arousal to the reader. The "props" have little to do with it.

    Diane - Hi! Yes, there have been quite a few fatal accidents involving EA or AEA (auto-erotic asphyxiation). Maybe I'm overly cautious but I don't want to risk that (although that gives me an idea for a very dark story...)

    Isabella - Greetings and welcome to the Grip. Clothespins are the poor man's clamps. The wooden ones, especially (though they're getting harder to find) since wood is somewhat softer than plastic and less likely to break the skin. My fictional doms tend to be frugal!


  10. Hm, I've even seen pants hangers used as nipple clips, so even the frugal can be inventive. Perhaps it was a traveler in need. :)

    Nice Blog and I just couldn't resist once I read the article.

  11. Lisabet,

    I can't add to what's already been said. A great post that has better helped me understand the word 'squick.' ;-)


  12. Hi Lisabet!

    Coming to this late. When I first heard of this "breath play" and of people going over the edge, it made me think how unique and weird human beings are, how we will do literally anything to get off. It would take a tremendous amount of trust to let someone do that, and of doing by yourself would be really crazy. That was how David Carradine probably died.

    But as you say, not disgust but terror. A person is really putting their life in someone's hands.


  13. Just to return to the pink thing - it was true, and to this day I have no real idea what particular button the colour pink pushed for this person. I can only speculate it was associated with a particular kind of femininity when she was growing up and she a bad reaction to it.

    On the breath play stuff: while it clearly carries dangers as we've all said, there's the broader question that life in general carries all sorts of unexpected dangers. Technically speaking there is no such thing as 'safe' breath play - even threatening to put your hand over someone's mouth can potentially cause them to choke. But there's also no such thing as 'safely' eating peanuts - and there are enough people around with severe allergies that they probably shouldn't ever be left in a dish in any public place, due to the dangers of anaphylactic shock.

    Maybe an appropriate 'moral' line is to accept that everything in life is a risk, not knowingly to put someone's life in a situation that could reasonably be considered life-threatening (though one can obviously go a long way to stage-manage the appearance or feeling of danger without doing anything likely to be dangerous), and act within the limits imposed by the question 'if something went wrong how would I feel explaining what happened to doctors/police/coroners etc.?'

    As to fiction, though... a lot of fiction is about exploting the limits of the psyche. If it can be imagined it can be written about and it tells us something about the human condition. I'd certainly hesitate to say there are any moral boundaries at all in terms of what is or isn't a suitable topic for fiction. And I'm very aware that, for example, a lot of the Greek myths are absolutely full of all kinds of nonconsensual, immoral and squick-making practices albeit that many of them were carried out by gods.

    Whether such things make for good erotica is perhaps a different question, but in terms of fiction generally should have self-imposed moral limits, I'd have to say no.

  14. Hello,

    Fulani - I never meant to suggest that not writing about breath play was a moral thing. If someone wants to play that way, and it's consensual, it's completely their choice. And yes, maybe everything is dangerous (crossing the street where I live is literally taking your life in your hands), but normally one doesn't deliberately take the risks, the way one does when one offers one's throat to a master.


  15. "Michelle - Holding your own breath? Seems like this would be pretty difficult to do while climbing to orgasm. At least for me! I'm always breathing hard."

    Yeppers. : ) I haven't passed out yet, but I have come close. Then again, it was a really good feeling. I can biologically understand where the rush comes from, but yeah, not gonna happen. EA is just so not for me.


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