Chris Cornell and Auto-erotic Asphyxiation

A note from the editor: Auto-erotic asphyxiation or breath play is in our opinion a form of edge play and should be used with caution. Please seek the mentorship of someone experienced in this type of play before attempting on your own.

Kinkshaming kills, folks.

A lot of suicides via “hanging” are in fact auto-erotic asphyxiation gone awry, especially in teenage years or later in life, when mistakes are more likely to happen. Unintentional suicide is still ruled as a suicide by a coroner, just to clarify that the cause of death was neither natural nor homicide. The yearly numbers in America seem to range from 100 to 1000 per year, but it’s still too much.

Two major cases in the news yesterday:
“A child in a New Jersey school has died as a result of the ‘choking game’ where kids seek a euphoric high by briefly stopping oxygen from reaching the brain, a school superintendent says. In the letter sent earlier this week, Superintendent of Schools Nick Markarian wrote that “one of the tragic losses of student life we have experienced this year” was the result of the game, which is also known as “space monkey,” “fainting game” and “flatliner.” In the choking game, people strangle themselves to achieve euphoria through brief hypoxia, a lack of oxygen to the brain.”

Many families are too embarrassed to admit the truth and insist that the press respect their privacy. That embarrassment perpetuates the problem: it leads people to being secretive and unsafe, in the closet about their kink. Society would benefit from the warning and awareness of how commonplace these accidents have become. And of course, ridding the kinkshame altogether would allow people to discuss best practices and fail-safes.

Imagine a nightmare: You come home to find your teenage son’s dead, semi-nude body hanging by the neck in his bedroom closet, pornographic magazines and women’s underwear scattered about the floor. One mother did, and as many as 1,000 Americans each year stumble upon the bodies of their loved ones in similar situations. These people die accidentally while practicing what’s known as auto-erotic asphyxiation–strangling or suffocating themselves to heighten sexual arousal and orgasm.”

Also yesterday in the news… “The cause of death has been determined as hanging by suicide,” Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a statement after an initial examination. Chris Cornell has been pronounced dead at 52. The coroner’s report goes on to describe a band around his neck. Source.

One must wonder if it was an intentional and willful act of suicide, seeking a purposeful death as a result, or merely an auto-erotic asphyxiation gone awry. I personally don’t even wonder at this point. I may be mistaken, but it’s so obvious to me. I mean, really, who was Chris Cornell going to have choke him while he masturbates, while his wife Vicky Karayiannis was at home with the kids? It had to be himself.

Just days before his passing… he wrote: “To my @vickycornell you are an angel and a lioness. The perfect mother and the perfect wife. I love you! Happy #MothersDay2017”

This sure does feel accidental. The previous celebrity to be found dead of accidental injury during auto-erotic asphyxiation was David Carradine, but there have been many. Here’s a list of 8 celebs and none are female.

This is a gendered issue created by Patriarchy: shame differs depending on gender expression and sexual identity. The feelings are different and the effects are different, including erasure. Patriarchy hurts teenagers, women, trans folks,non-binary, and yes… even men. The more I see of this, the more I see it as byproduct of shame and toxic masculinity.

There’s all kinds of jokes and awareness regarding how common it is for (some, not all!) women to love getting choked during sex. People tend to look down on the choker in this scenario. Rather than looking down on women that enjoy being choked, people tend to look down on men for choking women, rather than seeing this as the safest way for women to express their kink.

Enjoy this hilarious gem: “I’ve consented and do feel safe with him but it’s like, come on, dude. You owe me.”

I’m including myself here. Many of my partners over the years have enjoyed getting choked and sometimes specifically request it long before I mention it. The ones that don’t like it are very quick to forbid it, especially from someone like me, known for being into kink and performing in the fetish scene. Some try it out of curiosity and quickly tap out.

I think there is a homophobic/Patriarchal element that is anti-male submission and thus anti-male erotic asphyxiation… which leads to choking themselves instead of being choked by a trusted partner (inherently safer!)

To be clear, there is a distinction worth making between choking and strangling.

Choking is the mechanical obstruction of the flow of air from the environment into the lungs. Choking prevents breathing, and can be partial or complete, with partial choking allowing some, although inadequate, flow of air into the lungs.

Strangulation: the condition in which circulation of blood to a part of the body (especially a hernia) is cut off by constriction.

In common parlance, these two words are used interchangeably, especially as it regard sexual and BDSM activity. This lexicon misuse is not terribly important to me, personally, but it may be if you’re very into the proper usage of words and terms.

Medically, they are incredibly different, especially regarding risk of death and solutions to prevent injury. The Heimlich Maneuver is quite effective regarding dislodging a blockage from a windpipe.

There’s a Russian roulette quality to it all too. I’m sure some people get off on the fear and risk of death itself… you might know it’s the way you’re going to die someday and be ok with that. Either way, it’s still tragic like getting run over by a bus, rather than tragic as in blowing your head off with a suicide note left behind. But this has sex in it and, thus, shame.

We now have some extra details, but bear in mind there is valid reason to manipulate reporting as long as there is still kinkshaming. I remain skeptical.

“A toxicology report will be able to determine the amount of Ativan Cornell had in his system at the time of his death. Suicidal thoughts are a known side effect of Ativan”-Source

We never really know when a “hanging” was mastubatory or suicidal or a little of both unless the media confirms that it was mastubatory… otherwise, I still assume it was. You are welcome to make your own assumptions or refrain from doing so.

My point was the very first line: Kinkshaming can kill.

Stop shaming people for what gets them off. That in itself changes culture so that we can communicate openly and easily. There are other dangerous behaviors and risk-aware kink that people practice. It’s much safer to talk about it than to hide it and shame.

My name is Wry. I am a relationship, sex, and BDSM educator specifically focused on Non-Monogamy and Polyamory. In addition, I’ve been the event coordinator for numerous events throughout Los Angeles, the co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Kinky Salon, a leader and event host with Sex Positive LA, Poly Talks and a frequent performer in the BDSM lifestyle community. My full bio can be found here.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the info on breath play but in all honesty and with all due respect, why mention Chris if there was no evidence of breath play involvement in his passing?

  2. i know the chris cornell thing is a theory but it breaks my heart to think that the general public believe that death by masturbation is so humiliating as to make people believe he just decided to end his own life on purpose.

  3. I do not see this as a gendered issue but rather a scientific one. It calls for examination rather than shaming and I believe we’ve all seen recently that medicine and politics combine to make a bad prescription.

    I engaged in breath play for many years until recently. My partner loves it and I enjoy doing it. And now I’ve put a stop to it. All BDSM has some potential for physical or psychological harm. Those of us who engage in it responsibly adopt various harm-reduction strategies to minimize the risk – safewords, detailed negotiation involving past physical and mental trauma, proper instruction in the use of equipment, etc.

    However, some practices are inherently unsafe and no harm-reduction strategy can be adopted to bring those practices within the realm of acceptable risk. It took a lot of convincing to get me to see that breath play is one of those. No matter how careful you are, how experienced you may be, what precautions you may take, the possibility of a tragic accident with lethal consequences to one party and a ruined life for the surviving party. I know people, including Nina, love it and I don’t expect that they will stop loving it or stop doing it. And it’s certainly not a matter for shaming. However, taking a stand in opposition to a certain technique based on sound, medical research does not shame the participants. This is a medical issue rather than a moral issue and while there are many forms of edge play that are somewhat high risk, there is no excuse for showing disrespect to those who engage in them. I have absolutely no ethical objection to consensual breath play in itself. It is neither more nor less problematic philosophically that anything else we do.

    That said, breathplay does not fall into the category of the merely problematic. It’s physiological aspects are simply outside the realm of justifiable risk. How did I come to this conclusion?

    Partially through personal experience. Two friends of mine died doing it. Next month I will be testifying as an expert witness in murder trial resulting from yet another fatal asphyxiation scene. As a practice, my great friend Bob Flanagan once remarked, it goes in and out of fashion depending on how many people have died recently.

    Unlike other high-risk forms of recreation, there is no precaution that can truly be deemed effective and I’m not going to ask you to take my word for it. Instead I’m going to direct your attention to Dr. Wiseman’s work, the result of the only in-depth clinical research done on the subject thus far, and urge you to draw your own conclusions. The empirical evidence is pretty damning and no amount of rationalization can make it go away. We are all ultimately responsible for our choices when it comes to BDSM play and I, for one, can no longer carry the responsibility for the prospect of accidentally killing someone I love based on the assumption that years of practice and strict adherence to technique will prevent this from happening. I do not ask anyone to take my word for this or to make the same choice I made, but I do commend to everyone’s attention what Wiseman has to say:
    http://www.telecomassociation.com/pubs/chokinggamereport/files/aea3.htm

    I realize that, like anything else, breath play can be contextualized as an object of prejudice, but by no means is all objection to it based on that prejudice. In fact, things done in secret out of shame are inevitably more dangerous as a result. Thus I agree wholeheartedly with the headline of this piece. This is a matter to be discussed openly and objectively rather than condemned to silence because of the stigma attached to it.

    But to destigmatize an act is not necessarily to approve of it, nor is the reverse true. There are good reasons for our community to raise legitimate objections to an act with a high probability of a lethal outcome that inevitably contributes to the stigmatization of everything else we do.

    • I’ve been at presentations by Jay where he commented on 2 different things being not as dangerous as they are usually portrayed. Not risk free, just not as risky as people often say they are. When he says something is dangerous I’m going to listen and listen closely.

  4. Do follow Ernest Greene’s link to Dr Wiseman’s report. It is a must-read, and extremely sobering.

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