‘Breath Play’ aka Strangulation rising fast

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It was a shock to hear a 14-year-old schoolgirl announce to us she was “into kink”. We were in front of 20 other young people in a talk about the potential risks around internet porn. That was already three years ago. ‘Breath play’ or ‘air play’ is potentially lethal. The porn industry and its pundits have rebranded non-fatal strangulation as “play” so it sounds safe and fun. It isn’t. Police have informed us that sexual strangulation is one of the fastest growing areas of crime today. See below about new research that indicates the range of injuries that can be sustained by this activity. It is clear that pornography use is a contributory factor in making such sexual behaviour seem normal.

Part of its attraction is the belief that by restricting the airways, a person can experience a bigger sexual high. According to a Sunday Times porn survey in 2019 on how internet pornography is changing sexual attitudes, twice as many young women as young men in Gen Z rated BDSM and rough sex as their favourite genres of porn.

Sadly, in cases like Grace Millane, “breath play” can go too far. Grace was a British backpacker in New Zealand. A young guy she’d just met online fatally strangled her in a sexual assault. She is far from the exception. It’s the cool, edgy sexual sport for youth today.

New research on sexual strangulation

In an excellent article by Louise Perry in Standpoint Magazine, we learn about new research by Dr Helen Bichard. Dr Bichard is a clinician at the North Wales Brain Injury Service. She talks about “a range of injuries caused by non-fatal strangulation that can include cardiac arrest, stroke, miscarriage, incontinence, speech disorders, seizures, paralysis, and other forms of long-term brain injury.” Dr Bichard goes on to say that “the injuries caused by non-fatal strangulation may not be visible to the naked eye, or may only become evident hours or days after the attack, meaning that they are far less obvious than injuries like wounds or broken bones, and so may be missed during a police investigation.”

breath play strangulation
Main structures vulnerable in strangulation (Bichard et al., 2020)

Men strangling women

Strangulation is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women. It is increasingly common in domestic violence cases. New Zealand introduced a criminal offence of Non-Fatal Sexual Strangulation in 2018. From January to June in 2019 over 700 charges were reported in New Zealand, around 4 a day.

Harriet Harman MP along with other MPs is trying to ban the ‘rough sex’ murder defence in the Domestic Abuse Bill. Brexit and now Covid-19 have delayed the passage of the Bill through Parliament. Some are calling it the “50 Shades of Grey” defence to murder during sex. Harmann called back in April 2020 “to stop this injustice” of the sex game defence which means that a man who admits to causing injuries that kill a woman “literally gets away with murder”.

We have to be aware of how culture can distort sexual behaviour, especially among the young, by glamourising consensual violence against sexual partners without a counterbalanced view of the real risks involved. 

Here is an article from the Guardian about sex games gone wrong.

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