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Suspected Carradine sex practice not uncommon
Eugene Schoenfeld
Friday, June 19, 2009

david_cThe pursuit of sexual pleasure leads many people to practices considered by others to be odd, kinky or downright repugnant. But sexuality is not generally life-threatening unless one recklessly engages in unprotected sex or has sex with the partner of a jealous mate.

However, there is a growing awareness of a form of sex play that is dangerous and potentially lethal. All too often, coroners are called to the scene of what initially appears to be an obvious case of suicide by hanging. But while strangulation indeed might have caused the victim's demise, the death turns out to be accidental. The intent of the victim was not suicide but enhanced sexual pleasure.

The public became more aware of this practice when actor David Carradine, best known for the 1970s TV series "Kung Fu," was found dead June 4, hanging in a closet in his hotel room in Bangkok. The circumstances of his death led to speculation that the 72-year-old actor might have been engaging in this dangerous activity.

In many cases of this type, the true cause of death is made evident by the discovery of pornographic magazines or other erotic materials near the body of the deceased. An "adult" film might have been displayed on a strategically placed television set. Most such cases involve males, including teenagers. The body sometimes is dressed in clothing of the opposite sex. Besides a rope tied around the neck, the genitals sometimes also are bound.

Such circumstances make it obvious that death was caused by autoerotic asphyxiation, also called asphyxiophilia. Autoerotic asphyxiation involves masturbation while reducing the oxygen supply to the brain by cutting off the air supply or constricting the neck's carotid arteries. It can also be achieved by compressing the chest or abdomen. Practitioners report enhanced orgasms as they lose consciousness. Some of them have learned to use slip knots, enabling them to more readily free the rope about their necks. Others have sexual partners who assist in the asphyxiation, stopping when the person loses consciousness, but before death occurs, one hopes.

When friends or family members find a loved one who dies in this fashion, they are faced with a dilemma: Does it cause more grief and shame to have the death reported as a suicide or as accidental strangulation while masturbating? My impression is that most often these deaths are listed as suicides. Even so, estimates of such cases each year in the United States range from hundreds to more than 1,000, and anecdotal evidence suggests that many occur in the Bay Area.

Short of death, the practice can cause injuries to the larynx and trachea. Strokes have also been attributed to it. And if you suspect that frequent episodes of prolonged anoxia might cause brain damage, you might very well be correct.

As a Zen sex master might say to a student, "Grasshopper, some sexual practices are best left untried, or at least untied."

After medical school, Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld obtained a master's degree in public health from Yale University. He now practices psychiatry in Sausalito. During the 1960s and 1970s, he wrote the nationally syndicated column "Dr. Hip Pocrates," which appeared in The Chronicle.

This article appeared on page A - 19 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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