3. The mechanics of polymorpheous sex
Sexual asphyxia is now being discussed in popular Sexual Advice Literature, and the normative attitude in scientific sex research has been replaced by a more neutral and descriptive approach to sexual states and mechanisms. None the less, it is still expelled to the realm of the pathological as a "paraphilia", and largely dealt with in medical terms oriented towards the diagnosis and the treatment of a "deviance" from norms of behavior considered to be natural and universal.

These standarts of behavior imply a high degree of sublimation. The individual's experience of his own body and sensual pleasure is displaced and transformed into the experience of the surroundings and the desire for other persons and objects, or even channeled totally into symbolic, mental activities. The opposite takes places in autoerotics, where the active and out-turned projections and emotional investments temporarily are withdrawn from the enviroment and reinvested in the body. That is why these practices are so taboo, they go against the demand to repress the affective body and express the emotions via something else in an objectified and socially mediated way, whether it is an interest in clothes, the partner, the internet, whatever is approved by the surroundings.

The autoerotic gadgets and techniques attract a lot of attention. Spectacular as they may be, from an economical viewpoint they are only means to a goal, the emotional charging and resensitizing of the body to increase arousal. In that respect, they don't differ from roller coasters and other devices in amusement parks. Many of them are instruments to break down the individual's control of himself and his surroundings in a paralysed and helpless position. Reducing voluntary control and the ability to act produces an intense feeling of being an other-directed, passive body, where the consciousness of the body and it's sensations reaches a climax. Furthermore, selfbindings and bondage causes a blocking and a withdrawal of all projections to the body, because the blocking of the motor and perceptory systems (blindfolds, etc.) implicates the disappearence of an outer world to invest with emotions and act upon as an object. Finally, the possibility to regulate sensations and levels of arousal by motor outlets, modification of the sensed objects or flight is suspended. Therefore, the arousal can escalate uncontrollable to the point of panic (like having a nightmare, being buried alive), culminating with the orgasmic release and brief blackout of the objective world, even unconsciousness.

While often being stimulated by masturbation, orgasm also occurs all by itself. There are many indications that voluntary control disappears at very high levels of arousal connected with lacking possibilities (or enactive models) to reduce the level, triggering instead arousal-reducing autonomic impulses and response-patterns of relaxation. This orgasm-like somatic reaction might be one of the desired effects in sexual hanging besides the "high" of asphyxiation. In addition, the strong arousal by fear and high sexual arousal have the arousal itself and the increased bodily experience in common: dizziness, shivering, gooseskin, palpitation, breathlessness, and so forth. It is only the subjective evaluation of the arousal as a negative state (pain and fear) or a positive state (pleasure and sex) that determines it's quality. The same ambiguity of pain and pleasure goes for the passive masochistic passion. Again, the connection is that both passion and pain are results of a strong arousal superseding the voluntary control, while their difference is determined only by the cognitive-hedonic evaluation. Fear and pain seem to be a degree better at producing the unprojected, objectless state of arousal that is being cultivated by autoerotics.

The active desires directed at objects are established much later in life than the passive pleasures, erasing the distinctions between object and perceiving subject in a boundless sensuality. This polymorpheous sensuality goes back to a time, when the individual was helpless and dependent on the care of the nursing person, that is, the mother. Therefore, it is not unlikely to see the reactivation of early, passive-incestuous fascinations between pleasure and fear in autoerotic practices, as might well be the case in transvestism also. The rituals could be understood in terms of problems with a positive evaluation of high levels of (incestuous, or otherwise prohibited) sexual arousal, being relabeled and dealt with as fear, pain, punishment. There is a high incidence of boys in puberty who practice sexual hanging in connection with transvestism in their mother's clothes and narcissistic identification with themselves as other in a mirror. In the end, though, the subjective motives and biographical causes for the "misinterpretation" of sexuality and gender identity by masochist and transvestite asphyxiophiliacs remain unknown, because it is always to late: they are dead.

In 1972, Litman and Swearingen reported a fatal case of autoerotic asphyxia encompassing bondage, cross-dressing, masochism and extreme risktaking. The clinical picture cannot be reduced to pathology, it shows burning desire and wild aestetics, bodyart, even literature in the same blinding flash. The young man was dressed in womans underwear, brassieres, panties and garter belts, wearing a blond wig, full makeup, jewelry, and a taffeta dress. There was a pair of panties in his mouth, and he had two false rubber breast pads placed wet over the nose and the mouth. A stocking was pulled down over his head, secured around the neck with a choker. Bound in chains with padlocks at the knees, the wrists, the neck, he hung himself. His body was charred, because he had set himself on fire in the act. He left a suicide note, adressed "To whom it may concern - please be tender when you cut me down". Anticipating his last minutes in a thrilling piece of terminal prose, he describes the terror and sexual excitement of the autoerotic ritual, culminating with orgasm and death:

"I know what I'm going to do next. I'm really terrified by sadistic thrill. It is 9:35 Sunday night and in three minutes I will be dead. I strike the match, reach down and set fire to the gossamer edge of the black nylon slip. Quickly I wrap the chain around my wrists and snap the padlock firmly. In a frenzy of passion, I kick the chair over and my body is spasming at the end of the chain noose. I come wildly, madly. The pain is intense as my clothes start burning my legs. My eyes bulge and I try and reach the keys, knowing I have finally found the courage to end a horrible nightmare life dangerously."

© Knud Voll Romer Joergensen.