The scene: A hotel room in Bangkok. Inside the closet, a dead man. He’s leaning back in a cat’s cradle of cords looped around his neck, his legs, his exposed genitals.
Such was the ignominious death this week of Kung Fu star David Carradine. At first mistaken for a suicide, a second look suggests a more prurient event. One end of a length of shoelace was wound around the 72-year-old’s neck and the other encircled his penis. Both of his hands were bound with a cord which was also tied around his neck. As he relaxed into position he was likely masturbating, head thrown back, his grip tightening along with the noose.
The strongest orgasms are experienced at the threshold of consciousness. Or at least that’s what asphyxiophiliacs, devotees of autoerotic asphyxiation (AEA), believe. Orgasm requires the prefrontal cortex, the seat of reason and behavioral control, to go “offline.” And the prefrontal cortext happens to be the first region of the brain affected by oxygen deprivation. The strangled masturbator feels woozy and giddy; dreamlike. Pressure on the vagus nerve in the neck accentuates the sensation. (Readers of BLONDES might recall that stimulation of the vagus nerve is one reason why sex with a partner trumps normal masturbation.) Uninhibited by the prefrontal cortex, pleasure regions of the brain preside. The result is orgasmic euphoria.
What’s supposed to happen next is the erection slackens and so do the cords. The blood rushes back to the brain. The prefrontal cortex goes back online. And the asphyxiophiliac, now compos mentis, releases himself from the bind.
But every year at least 1,000 men in the U.S. never come down from their autoerotic high. The cords get caught, the blood never again rises about the neckline (especially if the noose is attached to a fixed object above). Or too much pressure on the vagus nerve causes the heart to slow down or stop, resulting in cardiac arrest. And the oblivious onanist leaves behind a body in a most compromised state.
The problem with autoerotic asphyxiation is the auto part. Although strangulation is never safe, solitary strangulation is obviously the riskiest. Why do it without a partner present? Why don’t enthusiasts invent a lifesaving device to revive themselves when oxygen levels are too low or when the heart slows down? There are safer forms of “breath play”.
But the danger itself is obviously what gets people off.