Letting Out My Breath

Tonight, I was exposed to a perspective, and it is a valid one.  A perspective that looked at a slice of my work from the past 6 years, with a different eye.  It is one I have chosen to take to heart.

In 2004, I was asked to teach my first Breath Play class for TESFest.  It took three rounds of asking if I would teach the class before I said yes.  When I did, I put stipulations on entry- no late entry, no coming and going, maximum attendance size, a speech at the beginning about the explicit seriousness and dangers of this work.

And in the past 6+ years, I have stuck to the fact when I teach that there IS NO SUCH THING as safe strangulation or other extreme forms of breath play.  I have however been a strong believer that the subject of erotic asphyxiphilia, air flow constriction and control, blood flow manipulation and the rest of this big category called “Breath Play” needs discussed in the light of day.  It is the black sheep of the kink family for good reason- people die.  But that has not made people stop, so my belief has been that bringing awareness, with a degree of playfulness that has people actually listen to me instead of literally leave class angry or fall asleep in class (both experiences from my last time attending Jay Wiseman’s “Medical Realities of Breath Play” course), to the topic is important.  Get folks turned on, tuned in, then slip in the realities of the dangers of breath play while offering other tasty options with lower risks.

Over the years, of my approximate 1000 students who have taken the class in 23 times I have taught it, I have had at least 10 tell me they stopped doing breathplay all together because of what they learned.  One of whom started doing breath play after attending Mr. Wiseman’s course.  Two separate students explained the specific dangerous behaviors they were doing that they did not realize how lucky they were that their partner was not dead.  Dozens have thanked me for the hot lower-risk ideas I provided that gave them other options because for them, not doing it was not an option for their sexual drive.

However, the perspective I dialogued with tonight pointed out that by the fact that I demo dangerous acts.  I demo dangerous acts and survive, seemingly unharmed.  No matter what I “say”- pointing out that if I were to jerk off while bagged that I might pass out and die instead of remembering to puncture the bag, are just words.  The student off the street, who has made verbal commitments at the beginning and end of class to take serious caution, is still seeing a world-class educator do a dangerous act and come out the other side alive.

Usually when I do this class, 16 of the 23 occurrences, it was in the context of a conference, or weekend intensive of education.  However, in the last two+ years I have started doing this class as a stand-alone, without attendee pre-requirements, or the ability to follow up with students easily, take questions all weekend privately from the shy, etc.  I feel I have made an error of judgment by saying yes to these requests.

Thus, for now, I am pulling “Take My Breath Away: Air Flow and Breath Flow Play” from my offerings, just as I have already pulled my Watersports class for different personal reasons.  I may reconsider this stance in the future, and will keep doing one on one information sharing with friends, mentees, and peers- but the mass-group information format for this class is not a good one at this time.

I am incredibly grateful to Mistress Matisse for the serious dialogue we have had on this topic, and this perspective on the power of demonstrations over the spoken word in the human mind.  I strongly disagree with other points of her dialogue and essay about my class in Seattle, with points of information out of context and large swaths of the “good stuff” glossed over… but this one point hit me hard.  Yes, I could teach this class without the dangerous demonstrations, but not right now.  Right now I need to sit with this.

Thinking that my work might lead anyone to think that they can do suffocation or strangulation play 100% safely upsets me.  There is no 100% safe suffocation or strangulation play, as I say in my class.  I do believe that the umbrella term of Breath Play being vilified in our community is still a major issue, and that we need to continue talking about real risks, and that telling my lover to hold their breath is not the same risk factor as fear-induced knock-out scenes or auto-erotic bagging combined with restraint… and the fact that we only have one term still is absurd.

I am glad that I have taught this class for the past 6 years.  It has been a good run, and I am grateful for the lives I have been able to touch, the folks I have been able to connect with and educate, and the lives I have been able to save.  But today, I am stepping away from the topic.  Because my goal with my work, on this planet, has always been to leave it a better place for the success of all.  And right now, me teaching this class does not support that goal.

The points of my class have always been:

  • Breath Play comes in many forms, and levels of intensity, and these have different risk factors
  • Awareness of how our body works helps us understand how Breath Play physically works in our bodies

  • There is no secret way to make all breath play 100% safe
  • Playing solo or in combination with counter-indicators increase risk
  • People are turned on by this stuff, and just saying “don’t do it” is not an answer

I will keep kissing air back and forth with the lips of my lover on mine, moans escaping into my mouth as our energy melds into one.  I will still be rocking my body back and forth, eye to eye, as my kundalini rises and I growl my way into the world.   Breath is a powerful thing, and I am grateful that Barbara Carrellas, years ago, declared me the Breath Queen.   I still am.  When we add Intention to Attention, and fuel it with our breath and energy, Magic is born.  This is the gift of the gnosis that flows through us, out of us, into us.


Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.


  1. Thanks for this post. Even though I chose not to attend your class on this when I had the chance, I know that you work very hard to teach in the most ethical way possible. I’m glad to know you will still be talking about this with friends and those you mentor, and I hope people continue to benefit from your enormous knowledge.

  2. Then I am fortunate to have attended your class when I did, because I did come away from it with useful, practical advice that followed my risk-mitigation life style choices, a personal acceptance of “I like doing risky things, how can I best accomplish them with mitigating the risk.”

    So thank you for providing a reasoned advice on this subject.

  3. While it was good (Hell, great!) to see you again briefly, my schedule had me miss all of your Seattle classes. The climate here definitely has breath play on its mind, since we cannot do it at the Center and are now doing it in private.

    My point is not to debate the playspace’s decision to place boundaries- I respect the reasons why they’re there. It is about disallowing a risk of people dying. Still, many of us practice breath play. Only now we do it in private, in small groups or one on one rather than in an environment with trained moderators. I don’t think this is an improvement.

    In that environment, I think we need educators willing to take risks and talk about the risks clearly, to establish a balance between cold data and risk and the hotness that many of us keep taking the risk for.

    I wasn’t there, so weigh my words with that in mind- but I think you did right by Seattle. I have respect for you and Matisse, and look forward to what further thoughts on breath play will bring to the community.

  4. ((cross-posted from Breath Fetish List, responding to Phillip the Foole))

    Dearest Philip,

    I do not in fact sit with Jay’s camp as it were.

    I believe that Breath Play comes in many forms, and levels of intensity, and these have different risk factors.

    And I believe there is no secret way to make *all* forms of breath play 100% safe

    Breath play comes in hundreds of shapes and sizes: hand over mouth, glove over mouth, tickle torture, bagging, garrote usage, strangulation, noose hangings, intubation, scuba play, kissing air back and forth, ordering folks on how to breath, holding our own breath before orgasm, smothering, queening, tantric breathing techniques, rebreathing, gasmask work, chemicals, non-oxygen work, underwater tubes, dunking, waterboarding, gagging, facial mummification, burying alive, chest punching, corseting, posture collar work, extreme pain work, rubber-bubble play… and more, as well as all of the sub-categories for the above.

    I am not stopping teaching this stuff one on one.

    What I am stopping doing is publicly accessible (ie any tom-dick-mary off the street can come in and leave by just paying their entry) classes on the topic. I have received feedback that students have left my class, in short, not having listened to my words, but having listened to my actions- IE that I bagged myself and was just dandy, that I did strangulation demos in class and the bottom was just dandy.

    My spiritual beliefs have me want to leave the world a better place than I found it. Or maybe that’s because I was a camp fire kid. Who knows. But it is one of my core values. Thus, if folks are leaving thinking all breath play is safe, and they know how to do it safe, after a single 1.5-2hr lecture/demo on the topic, then there are major flaws in the world and what I am doing. Because that is absurd to think.

    I am NOT stopping because of liability reasons (Jay and I have argued that one out), for belief that this information is somehow inheritly a bad thing (Jay and I have argued that one out too), or because I think this information needs to not be heard.

    I think my format is imperfect, and the way I have been delivering my classes may be causing harm.

    Thus, until I can find a way to make sure that idiots (lovingly said) don’t leave my classes thinking that they know it all in 1.5-2hrs, then I’m not doing them. That is all.

    There is NOTHING on this planet that is 100% safe. Nothing. And the notion that anyone believes, after coming to my class, that Breath Play (in its huge variety listed above) is 100% safe, then I believe I as an educator must be doing something wrong. Because that notion is a fallacy, and thus, the idea that folks think it from having listened to me, upsets me.

  5. Here is my note from the Breathplay group on FetLife that Lee is responding to above.

    BTW Lee — SMOOCH!!

    Your Humble Jester,

    Philip the Foole

    Sometimes … all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.

    – Ancient Kung Foole Breath Control Proverb (“The Air That I Breathe” by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood.) K.D. Lang’s smoking hot version, from her “Drag” album comes strangely to mind.


    @Lee — I respect your decision not to teach a class that you are not comfortable teaching, for any reason, whether or not I happen to agree.

    As anyone who has read my endless arguments with Jay over the past 15 years is aware, I (obviously) do not share his (and apparently your) view that breath play is inherently something that endangers the lives of folks who attend my classes on the topic.

    As @Voron correctly observes, judo players use precisely the type of “carotid triangle” choke which Jay believes is most dangerous, and which, in his view, no amount of training can make any less risky. They have done so for over 128 years, with ZERO choke-related deaths in tournament or practice in one of the most popular sports in the world. If you visit your local YMCA, you are very likely to find a judo club where these “incredibly deadly” chokes are taught to children every day. When the kids turn 16, they can use them in tournament.

    For those who may be interested in an alternative viewpoint on this topic, I have responded to Jay’s invitation (cited below) to what it would take for him to change his position on breath play.

    I have presented a very thorough refutation of both the original “urban legend” source and the incredibly faulty logic of Jay’s star “expert witness,” forensic pathologist Dr. Bernard Knight, in my Jay Wiseman, Expert Witness for the Defense: Joran van der Sloot and the “Playful Tweak of Death.. Since Jay and I appear to be the only two people in the BDSM world who have actually read Knight, and it is highly likely that I am the only person in the BDSM world, including Jay, who has traced and read Knight’s sources, my humble article may provide some useful insight into sections of Dr. Knight and his sources which Jay never seems to cite.

    Like all arguments with Jay, my refutation of Knight washed off his back like water off a Teflon duck.

    Your Humble Jester,

    Philip the Foole

    Debating Jay is a complete exercise in futility because Jay Wiseman’s kink is Being Jay Wiseman.

    – Ancient Kung Foole Proverb by shibarigirl


    If someone could persuade me that Knight’s writings shouldn’t be given much weight (and I would listen to such an attempt at persuasion in good faith), then there’s a pretty good chance that I would feel that the evidence justified my changing my position on breath play.

    – Ancient Kung Foole Proverb by Jay Wiseman


    (sticking fingers in his ears)

    La la la la!

    I can’t HEAR you!!

    – Ancient Kung Foole Proverb by Jay Wiseman, in response to my refutation of both the original “urban legend” source and the faulty logic of Dr. Bernard Knight, his primary expert witness on the forensic pathology of judo chokes.

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  7. Then I am fortunate to have attended your class when I did, because I did come away from it with useful, practical advice that followed my risk-mitigation life style choices, a personal acceptance of “I like doing risky things, how can I best accomplish them with mitigating the risk.” So thank you for providing a reasoned advice on this subject.

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