There is no common manual informing autoerotic axphyxiants what strange, kinky adornments to use during their ritualistic dances with death.
Yet somehow the fantasies of these unrelated men coalesce, as if all involved were possessed by the same external spirit that captures the psyche and compels the act. It is nearly always done in secret, but discovered in an awful, morbid way: a roommate or family member walks in to find a loved one dead, accidentally strangled while jacking off.
Autoerotic asphyxiation is based on the understanding that oxygen deprivation in the brain enhances the orgasm.
For that reason many BDSM players enjoy being choked during sex, but that is hardly similar to the way men commonly asphyxiate themselves alone.
The central feature is a belt or string constricting blood flow through the neck, but other common features seem unrelated. Their cases are known by the way their bodies are found when they accidentally kill themselves in the act: naked or nearly so, bound by the neck with a rope, and often bound at the genitals or hands. Surrounded by pornographic images or texts. Sometimes wearing a piece of womens' clothing; stockings, or a bra. Often surrounded by mirrors, so that the practitioner can watch himself in his dangerous ecstasy.
The issue that has stumped sociologists and psychologists alike is that it is not a learned activity; somehow a guy figures on his own to combine all these seemingly unrelated sexual behaviors, through solitary experimentation or whim.
Autoerotic asphyxiation is so strange and taboo that few talk about it openly -- practitioners are usually studied by the way they die -- yet its most common among healthy, successful and well-adjusted young men, and the cause of, on average, one death in the United States per day.
That list of accidental deaths may now include the actor David Carradine, who played the mysterious "Bill" in
The incident was first broadcast as suicide, but later explained, by a Bangkok police press agent, to be that "we cannot be sure that he committed suicide but he may have died from masturbation." Carradine was 72.
If David Carradine were his character in the Quentin Tarantino film, the quirky death, most common among teenagers and 20-something men, would have been almost fitting for the peculiar character in
Carradine isn't the only high profile death from sexual self-strangulation. Stephen Milligan, a 45-year-old Conservative Party member of parliament from the United Kingdom, was found dead in 1994, bound and choked, wearing womens' clothing and with an orange slice in his mouth.
Michael Hutchence, lead singer of the Australian band INXS, is thought to have died in the act as well.
The Freudian-style psychoanalitic underpinnings of the activity are sometimes said to be related to death erections, when men who are executed by hanging experience a postmortem erection. Autoerotic asphyxiation is made more difficult to diagnose because men often expel semen or other ejaculatory fluids when they die due to muscle relaxation.
It probably isn't safe to attempt autoerotic asphyxiation alone, even if you think you're clever enough to rig a device to release or give slack if you pass out. Almost everyone found dead had tried to rig an escape feature -- that failed -- and its one of the diagnostic criteria to distinguish autoerotic asphyxiation accidents from suicides. That said, there may be something about the ritual that makes having a referee present less fun to participants -- perhaps part of the allure is an actual risk of dying. That would exclude the fun from all but those with the deepest drive, a deathwish, or both.