Breath Play - Safety and the Conversation
March 6, 2013 7:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I let my new partner down easy that I may not be able to do all the breath play and choking she might want?

I'm a male and new dominant in a very new hetero relationship which includes BDSM. My sub female partner has expressed a strong interest in choking. It sounds like she may have done it with some partners in the past. I've done some reading tonight on the risks and, the more reading I do, the more frightened I am. I've got very little experience as a dom, and what I've read suggests to me that even the most experienced can never do this, or most kinds of breath play, safely. I've seen this past post, and that's pretty clear on the dangers too.

I want to be respectful of this partner's interest, and she's someone I definitely want to keep in my life. Everything else about the D/s side of our relationship has been wonderful - I feel like this whole new world is opening up to me, and I've barely even dipped my toes in it. How do I have a respectful, two-way conversation with her where I make clear what I can do, what I might be able to do once I'm more experienced, and what I can never do - without disappointing her too badly and without making it sound like I'm slut shaming or worse?

Additionally, I've found a ton of resources on "the controversy" in the BDSM community surrounding breath play: much of it seems contradictory, none of it feels like stuff I can trust or the basis of a good conversation. Any recommended resources?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

without making it sound like I'm slut shaming or worse?

You avoid sounding like you're slut shaming by not slut shaming. Your concerns are all about the physical safety aspect, so if you just stick to the truth you should be fine. Like, I would put the whole slut shaming concept out of your mind and not even refer to it at all, because it doesn't have anything to do with your real feelings, and bringing it in unnecessarily will just confuse the issue.

However, if she herself has a lot of internalized shame and jumps to the idea that you feel the same way, then I would offer as contrary evidence all the other kinky things you've done with her, show her lots of love and respect, and then bring the conversation back to your real issues, i.e. fear of causing physical harm.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 8:05 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Disclaimer: I am not in the BDSM scene personally or directly. (However, I got no problem with it conceptually, it just ain't what blows my own dress up is all.) So I'm approaching this purely from the theoretical.

Many moons ago, I saw this addressed in one or another edition of The Joy Of Sex, from precisely the position you are in - a person who's uneasy about complying when the partner requests being choked. The author suggested proposing the following alternative - have sex in such a way that the person who wanted to be choked is instead lying with their head hanging upside down off the edge of the bed/table/whatever surface. That, the authors argued, would produce the same head-rushy effects as choking, but in a much, much safer fashion.

Maybe proposing that as an alternative would be the way to go?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 AM on March 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

First of all, good on you for being so open-minded and respectful of your partner and her kinks. A good dom is a dom who cares about their sub. However, this doesn't mean that you should have to push your own limits about what you find comfortable just to please her or reach a "standard" set by previous partners. Understanding your own limits is just as important as understanding those of your sub. So don't be afraid to let her know that you can't or won't do something, for whatever reason.

While I can't address your problems with breath play specifically, I have had conversations similar to the one you're describing. I think most people who participate in BDSM have. Like you, I wanted to be respectful and loving towards my partner while also letting him know that I didn't feel comfortable participating in a specific kink. I sat him down in a neutral space and let him know that I love him and that I love doing X and Y with him, but that I had been thinking about Z and decided that I would not be comfortable doing it. I tried not to couch my words in an apology (mostly because I believe a person shouldn't have to apologise for having perfectly valid limits, whatever they are, but ymmv). He hugged me and reassured me that he didn't want me doing anything I wasn't completely okay with.

You might feel bad for not being able to do this for her, but you should try to remember that she is with you for reasons which are almost entirely unrelated to your ability to choke her, and there's no doubt that with ongoing communication like this you will be able to find a way to explore each other comfortably and safely.

I also recommend that you check out, if you haven't already, the Metafilter group on Fetlife (just search for "people from Metafilter on Fetlife"). You might be able to get a good range of answers if you crosspost to there.

Memail me if you have any more questions. I'm a newbie to this too and it's always good to have a hand to hold!
posted by fight or flight at 8:33 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a Domme.

Have this conversation in a completely neutral, out-of-scene conversation. Your safety concerns are right on track and coming from that perspective, there's no need for worries about slut-shaming or disrupting your early D/s relationship. (Though good on you for thinking of both.)

I'd also ask her what she likes about breath play. Is she, like EmpressCallipygos suggests, interested in the head rush? Keeping her upside-down and dizzy temporarily is much safer - make sure you have a physical touch tap-out as well as an actual safety word in case she can't speak.

Or is it the feeling of absolute physical surrender - even unto the point of (potential) death? If that's the case, there are many other forms of surrender play. Knots can be dangerous, but also learned and then very safe with proper measures (emergency scissors, training, practice) in place. Maybe she'd like to be completely bound.

Since she's asking to be choked, perhaps it's the sensation of being forced into something.

You are, of course, completely within your rights to say 'no not ever' at any time. But if she's very keen on breath play, one last thing to consider is her position. Rather than choking or a gag, position her with her head against a pillow (you'll be taking her from behind, to clarify). She can lean into the pillow so that breathing is difficult, but not impossible. This is the safest form of breath play I've found. A few safety steps with that:

*Have it be a very flat pillow, not a fluffy or deep one.
*Make sure you can reach it at all times to remove it, just in case.
*Keep her hands free so that she can reach it to remove it at all times, just in case.
*DO NOT restrain her head or neck movement in any way. She should grab a breath of fresh air at any minute. DO NOT order or expect her to remain completely still.
*Make sure you both know the physical tap-out safeword in case she can't speak.
*Keep an eye on her breathing patterns.
*Keep a charged phone and simple clothes nearby, in case the worst possible happens.
*It's be a good idea for you to have CPR training, just in general.

This is an all-eventualities checklist, but the margin of error becomes very small indeed and should give you both a feeling of safety.
posted by blue_and_bronze at 8:41 AM on March 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

You avoid sounding like you're slut shaming by not slut shaming.

Maybe that's not as clear of a statement as I thought it was when I wrote it :) Basically, I'm talking about your internal motivations: if deep inside your thoughts and feelings are 'geez, this is so nasty, I can't believe she even wants this' then you're slut shaming, and no matter what you say it's going to have that derogatory undertone. But if instead your feelings are more like 'I love this person and I don't want to cause her any harm' then that's what's going to come across instead. It sounds like the latter is where your head is really at, so I would just let that feeling guide your speech and actions.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 8:45 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Limits get emphasized a lot for the bottom type people, but they're just as valid for the tops too. Bringing it up as one of your limits (hard or soft, whatever feels most appropriate) might put it in a familiar context for her, and one that is less likely to be read judgementally.
posted by rpbtm at 8:53 AM on March 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

It's just as all right for you not to want to do something for whatever reasons you have as it is for her to not want to do something do whatever reasons she has. Agree with rpbtm that framing it as a boundary for you is respectful and part of the scene discourse.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:17 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's also okay to say "I'm new to this and while I love exploring with you, I need to be confident when moving ahead. Breath play is too steep a learning and responsibility curve for me right now." You are totally allowed to have your own limits, too.

I would however encourage you not to get all your information off the internet. You can take classes, and there are also some long-standing, very reputable books you may want to add to your shelf: SM 101 (Wiseman), The Ultimate Guide to Kink (Taormino), Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns (Miller). All are readily available on Amazon.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:44 AM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

When you're having a nice, cozy dinner: "Hey, I thought about the choking thing and I'm not willing to do it. I wish I were, since you're so fucking hot/awesome/beautiful/sexy/great and I love to make you [dirty reference]."
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:00 AM on March 6, 2013

Unless she's made a clear statement about exactly what she's wanting here, feel her out. Find out what she likes about it. Keep in mind that some people think it's hot to talk about certain acts that are not necessarily crucial to their enjoyment.

Otherwise,letting her know that you've done some research and thinking and are concerned about carrying this out for safety reasons should be perfectly acceptable. It can't hurt to accompany it by letting her know that you respect her desires and are excited to have her as a partner, and that there's a whole world of kink you'd love to explore with her.
posted by bunderful at 1:36 PM on March 6, 2013

I have been there. My partner of 18 years loved aspects of asphyxia that I could not do with her because they were (in my opinion) likely to kill her, and I couldn't have lived with that.

We were always poly. She had a dominant with whom she could play in the way she wished, and she survived.

My decision was that something I viewed as carrying unacceptable odds was a hard limit. I did not want her - nor did she want me to - make such decisions on her behalf and so she did as she wished. It worked out.

I hope your situation allows such a solution.
posted by jet_silver at 7:52 PM on March 6, 2013

Could you possibly... in context, order her to hold her breath? That's got a built in safety valve, if you see what I mean.
posted by tomboko at 5:24 PM on April 24, 2013

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