Breathing & Sex (The science)


As a scientist, not an expert in pleasure and intimacy, this article will detail the physiology behind some of the various techniques that I will be discussing at the upcoming Hedone festival in Leipzig, “to liberate and share pleasure

Using my experience and my own personal journey heading towards this festival, I will be arriving with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect. Along with a bucket load of curiosity and no doubt, some fear as I walk towards the temple night to meet a whole bunch of like minded individuals. So my first point of call is preparing myself and enabling myself with some tools to manage my own emotions as I walk towards the unknown. 


The breath mostly happens automatically, there is a part in our brainstem that sends out a signal for us to take a breath roughly every 6 seconds. It can be a fast breath, a deep breath or a slow breath and this message is modulated by various factors, both internal and external. Think emotions, carbon dioxide levels, stress, environment, previous trauma and illness. If you are feeling anxious due to visiting a pleasure festival for the first time, this is both an internal (anxiety towards something new) and external factor (Pleasure festival) that can change your breathing. You might start to take shallow fast breaths in response, that may make you sweat, will increase your heart rate and will shift your body into the sympathetic mode, fight or flight. This is not ideal to liberate and share pleasure.


The beauty of the breath, is it is also under our control, this modulation of the breath, and what happens to your body as a result, also works in reverse. If you can take control of your breath, change how you are breathing, you can start to influence your mind, heart and nervous system. 


Tool 1 – Preparation


So my first tool relates to slowing of the breath, in particular a slowing of the exhale. It’s well known in research that during inspiration our heart rate increases, and when exhaling our heart rate slows down. So by slowing and extending the exhale, and bringing some attention to it, we will start to control the heart rate and nervous system simply using the breath. My method also gives you a real-time measure of its success, whether it’s working for you, how cool is that! 


Slow breathing practices have been around for a long time, with yogic pranayama techniques and buteyko methods being at the forefront. The research defines slow breathing as a breathing rate of 6 breaths per minute. That’s one breath every 10 seconds, test it now, can you do that comfortably?


The method I teach is called Sleep Breathing, it’s easy to demonstrate but is very difficult to explain in an article which is why I encourage you to come along to the workshop on Friday. But a simpler method is to start a stopwatch on your phone, and take a breath for 4 seconds in, breathing into the tummy and slowly exhaling for 6 seconds, it can be as simple as that to reduce your heart rate, blood pressure and calm your nervous system to be prepared for whatever is in front of you. 


Tool 2 – Conscious Breathing 


Bring some attention to your breath now as you’re reading this article, close your eyes and just stop for 20 seconds……


Generally when people bring attention to their breath, they start to breathe a little deeper and with purpose. Do that now also, breathe into the belly for a count of 4, through the nose if you can with a little force so your belly is expanding and you make a sound with the breath in when you inhale. Now, exhale for a count of 4, repeat this for 5 breaths.


The research tells us that this is a type of hyperventilation, meaning you are breathing more than normal. Even just one big breath is a type of hyperventilation and in the short term it can be used to bring awareness to a climax or start your journey of pleasure. In this instance we are defining the hyperventilation as above, breathing in with a little more force than normal for 4 seconds and exhaling for 4 seconds. 


There are many types of hyperventilation breathing methods from conscious connected, re-birthing, trauma release, Wim Hof etc and I am not talking about that. I am talking about consciously bringing some attention to your breath, in the act of pleasure that can bring on a journey to climax or increase the pleasure experience for you and here is why. 


When we increase our breathing a little we are not increasing the amount of OXYGEN in the body, this is a common myth. What we are doing though, is reducing the amount of CARBON DIOXIDE in the body by “blowing it off” (for more detail on this click here). This reduction in CARBON DIOXIDE increases the pH of the blood, making it more alkaline and has some short-term physiological consequences. Here’s what happens physiologically speaking. 


Cell threshold lowers


If you have ever experienced a hyperventilation breathing workshop, you may have had cramps in the muscles of the hands and face in response to these breathing techniques. What’s happening? When we increase the pH of the blood, by breathing a lot, the awakening state of our cells is lowered. It is easier for them to react and send messages to and from the brain, so your hands are cramping because the muscle cells in your hands have such a low potential to contract they are reacting to normal messages from the brain to lay still. 


So if hyperventilation lowers the cells threshold, by bringing some attention to your breath as I have mentioned, you may benefit from using this technique by increasing the pleasure response from the cells all over your body. Light touch on the skin may feel more exhilarating, warmth and caressing may overwhelm you, and intimacy may just be turned up to send you on your own journey. Which is why I have used this to start my conscious journey to increase my pleasure or climax. 


Experimenting with different conscious breathing techniques during intimacy may feel amazing for you. I would start with bringing attention to your inhalation, making it more forceful and deep for 4 seconds in and 4 seconds out, and see how that feels. I would encourage you not to go too bananas with this and keep your focus on the intimate moments. By breathing too fast and aggressive you may flick the switch to sympathetic drive which is the fight or flight response and this may affect the ability to hold blood in the sex organs during intimacy, so it may be a bad thing for you. 


Reduced brain activity


When we breathe a little more, we re-direct blood away from the brain which research shows reduces our critical thinking. For someone like myself who probably thinks too much during sex, this is the main benefit I get from this technique. 


The research actually comes from techniques used in hospitals in patients on ventilators who may have suffered a brain injury. Doctors want to reduce the pressure in the brain, so they turn up the ventilators a little to lower the blood pressure in the brain and hopefully limit damage. 


So by bringing conscious awareness to your breath, using the technique I described, you could potentially be more in the moment, feeling more, connecting more and not thinking about your to-do list but embracing with yourself or your lover. 


Tool 3 – Climax 


Holding your breath whilst receiving pleasure, also called Erotic asphyxiation, is mostly a good thing, but sometimes can be a bad thing. There are many ways people achieve this by actively holding their breath, partners hands, ligatures, plastic bags etc Not being an expert in this, again, I am going to head to the science to help understand this a little more. But it can be dangerous, so beware.

As we begin to hold our breath, CARBON DIOXIDE starts to rise in the blood, which is the most potent stimulus for the brain and body to react to ask for a breath. The brain starts to send out signals similar to pain and the body reacts, contracting the breathing muscles, tightness in the chest, signals the body needs a breath. But, if you are holding your breath, you are consciously ignoring this central command from the brain. You are making decisions and as a freedive instructor we use a variety of techniques to assist us to do this. We train our bodies to react less to the signal, we learn to cope with the signal by relaxing and we use various mindfulness and meditation techniques to overcome the need to take a breath. I can hold my breath for 5 minutes and dive 40m below the ocean on a single breath. You would think it’s hard, but with training, it’s a great feeling of mastery and control over your brain. 


One of the things freedivers experience is this feeling of being in the moment, it’s quiet, and you are in control. This silence while holding your breath near climax, may allow you to focus and increase the feeling of pleasure during climax. Being more in the moment and experiencing all the rush of hormones and sensations from the body. On another point, holding your breath brings some control inwards, and this can offer people a sense of safety in their journey to climax. 


What is obvious to me, is that training to hold your breath longer can allow you to feel both of these pleasures even more. A greater sense of calmness and control and also pleasure if you have done some breath hold training before. The flow on effects into your life are direct, by developing the skill to hold your breath longer, it will allow you to gain a sense of calmness and bring some control back into your life if you’re feeling otherwise. It’s also handy in the bedroom.


I can teach you this skill and will guide the participants at the Hedone festival on the weekend through this so they walk away with their own program to train. If you are interested in learning some breathing skills, reach out to me, I absolutely love talking about it.