Sex and Breath

How does breath affect sex? And how does sex affect breathing?

He lives most life whoever breathes most air.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

She who breathes most when making love lives most fabulous sex life.

Annie Sprinkle

He who doesn’t breath, doesn’t have sex.

Joseph Kramer

Anyone who’s had any kind of sex life knows that breathing is an intrinsic part of the sexual experience. In general, during the human sexual response cycle normal breathing speeds up, builds to a rapid pace, the breath is held for a few moments before/during a climax, after the climax there is a long exhale, then the breath slows down and gradually returns to normal. If a person was to playfully mimic someone having sex, they would probably do so by exaggerating this standard breathing pattern. Anyone who has received (or made) an ‘obscene’ phone call knows the routine. Breathing during sex is something people are aware of, but often not very conscious of.

What exactly is breathing? According to the college textbook, Human Anatomy and Physiology, “Breathing, which is also called pulmonary ventilation, entails the movement of air from outside the body into the bronchial tree and alveoli, followed by a reversal of this air movement. These actions are termed inspiration (inhalation) and expiration (exhalation) and they are accompanied by changes in the size of the thoracic cavity… Although respiratory muscles can be controlled voluntarily, normal breathing is a rhythmic, involuntary act that continues even when a person is unconscious… The respiratory system includes the nose, nasal cavity, sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchial tree, and lungs.” (1)

Surprisingly most sex educators and sex manuals don’t mention breathing whatsoever. However the more advanced and more esoteric teachers and manuals almost always do. Some go into great lengths on the subject. Wherever lovemaking is perceived as an art, conscious breathing is an important part of the palate.

In the book ESO—Extended Sexual Orgasm, authors Donna and Alan Brauer state that “Breathing is a good way to work through resistance. Paying attention to breathing helps because it brings you back from thought to sensation, to your body. Breathing also helps because the breathing reflex is complex and many bodily systems involved in sexual arousal are hooked into it. Breathing produces relaxation by changing the state of the body’s autonomic nervous system. Relaxation reduces anxiety.” (2) The Brauers recommend what they call the “Breakthrough Breathing Technique” to help extend the length of orgasm.

Barbara Keesling, a surrogate partner and the author of Sexual Healing—A Self Help Program to Enhance your Sensuality and Overcome Common Sexual Problems teaches a simple, conscious, rhythmic breathing technique as part of her sex therapy. It’s used to gain relaxation, so self-helpers “can get the relaxation you need to do the exercises in the book”. (3)

Wilhelm Reich believed that “It is fear of expansion (growth, flow, pleasure) and fear of release (letting go, becoming empty, bursting) that inhibits our breathing.” Thus Reich taught that more conscious breathing would aid “expansion” and “release”, and add more “pleasure”. (4)

Men who wish to withhold their ejaculation during lovemaking sometimes practice breathing techniques. Mantak Chia, the popular Taoist, Chi Kung teacher, and author of The Multi-Orgasmic Man, is a proponent of this. He writes, “Strange as it may seem, learning to control your ejaculation and to become multiply orgasmic begins with strengthening and deepening your breathing. As is true in all martial arts and meditative practices, your breath is the gate through which you can gain control of your body. …Your breathing is also related to your heart rate. If you are breathing quickly and shallowly, as after running, your heart rate increases. If you are breathing slowly and deeply, your heart rate decreases. …Increased heart rate is part of orgasm and breathing quickly is one sign of orgasms approach. So the first step in controlling your arousal rate, and therefore your ejaculation, is deep and slow breathing.” Mr. Chia recommends to men what he calls “belly breathing”. “When you are in the heat of passion, this ability to control your breathing will be essential to stopping yourself from ejaculating and to expanding the feeling of orgasm throughout your whole body.” (5)

This school of thought– and body– is mirrored by spiritual teacher Da Free John who teaches that breath can be used to help when there is a “crisis of orgasm”, so a person can make love longer thus have a deeper, richer, more transcendental experience. (6)

Montak Chia also teaches an ancient Taoist technique called the Big Draw. At a prime moment, some deep breaths are taken, the breath is held, and all the muscles in the body are clenched, the breath and muscles are then let go completely into full relaxation. This can create an “ejection of consciousness”, and propel a person into an ecstatic/erotic trance or even an extended orgasmic state. The Big Draw is used during sex to increase energy and endorphin levels. (7)

Donna Farhi, a yoga instructor and author of The Breathing Book, writes, “Love-making reduced to its basic components is the undulating breath. It is the ebb and flow of a primal wave movement. The source of this rhythm lies in the swelling and receding motions of the pelvis and the abdomen as they open to the incoming breath and draw inward on the outgoing breath.” (8) She teaches “belly to belly breathing”, and “the wave of breath” for lovers to use mainly to make sex more spiritual. She points out that breath is often tied to spirit. “In Greek, psyche pneuma meant breath/soul/air/spirit. In Latin, anima spiritus, breath/soul. In Japanese, ki, air/spirit; and in Sanskrit, prana connoted a resonant life force that is at no time more apparent to us than when that force is extinguished at the moment of death.” (9)

Sexuality educator, Jwala, facilitates a class called How to Have Breath Orgasms at Good Vibrations in San Francisco. Groups of women and men (and everything in between) lay on the floor–keeping their clothes on– and follow her instructions. With her deep breathing technique participants can experience “energy orgasms”, which can be “extremely healing and fulfilling”. Once learned, the technique can be incorporated into partner sex. She says, “Deep, conscious, rhythmic breathing creates pathways for ecstasy energy to travel throughout the whole body, for a more full bodied sexual experience, so the orgasm is not just experienced in the genitals. Breath can be used to help women extend the length of their orgasms.” Variations of this technique are taught internationally by a number of people. Harley Swiftdeer teaches a version called the ‘Fire Breath Orgasm’, which he says was taught for centuries by his Metis Cherokee tradition as an integral part of basic sex education. (11)

For some people breathing less is more erotic and exciting than breathing more, like for autoasphyxiators. Researcher Matt Crowley explained the practice this way: “Although it may have some variations, autoasphyxiation is basically the act of hanging oneself in order to cut off oxygen and blood flow to the brain while masturbating. The idea seems to be that the bypoxia (lack of oxygen) and ischemica (lack of blood flow) can contribute to the intensity of sexual arousal.” Researcher Harvey Resnick speculates how this love map, found almost exclusively in males, might be imprinted. When a baby was breast-feeding it may have experienced the excitement of partial asphyxiation by the mother’s breasts and the excitement of an erection at the same time. He calls the mother the “smother mother”. (12)

Psychologist Stanislov Grof notes that “Many psychiatric patients who have tried to commit suicide by hanging themselves and were rescued in the last moment, have related retrospectively that a high degree of suffocation resulted in excessive sexual excitation.” (13)

Other more subtle variations on the suffocating theme are used by some lovers; extremely hard hugging, deep kissing where a partner can’t breathe, strangulation play, wrestling combined with smothering, and smothering using the genitals or breasts. Some women/men are aroused by large females/males pressing on top of them during foreplay or intercourse, where they can barely breathe, or by giving fellatio while their nostrils are being squeezed shut. Advanced S/M practitioners often are aware of the use breath to increase pleasure. Expert floggers and whippers strike when their flogee exhales. Raelyn Gallina, a professional pierce, invites her clients to breathe deeply, then pierces them on an exhale for a better, more pleasurable experience. (14)

Besides breathing effecting sex, sex can also effect breathing. I am reminded of the time I was in Pompeii with my lover Willem. He got a life threatening asthma attack from the dust of the ruins and refused to go to the hospital. Back at the hotel I tried everything I could think of to help him to breathe, from hot compresses to a deep body massage. Nothing worked. As a last resort, even thought neither of us was in the mood, I applied oral sex. Within minutes he started to breathe more comfortably. He claims that the blow job saved his life.

It doesn’t take a sex manual for many lovers to discover the bliss to be had from spooning when combined with synchronized breathing, or alternate breathing. Breathing together can intensify feelings of peace, aliveness, and love. Some lovers enjoy the intimate act of breathing in and out of each other’s mouths. Just breathing with a lover could be considered a form of intercourse— ‘penetration’ of the lungs with the breath, in and out. Lovers can speed up their breath to increase excitement or slow it down to increase enjoyment.

Margo Anand, author of The Art of Sexual Ecstasy teaches that “Conscious breathing helps you to connect with your physical sensations and to amplify them… The deeper we breathe, the more we come into contact with our sexual energy. Breath expands capacity to be sensual and increases sensitivity.” (15)

Many sex experts are agreed–attention to the breath can enhance sex in many ways. One clever entrepreneur realized the importance of the breath while performing cunnilingus. He manufactured a unique novelty item—The Pussy Snorkel. One size fits all, just $12.95.




  1. Hole Jr., John W., (editor) Human Anatomy and Physiology. P. 501.
  2. Brauer, Alan P. and Brauer, Donna. ESO—Extended Sexual Orgasm. Pp. 92-93 and p. 151.
  3. Keesling, Ph.D., Barbara. Sexual Healing. Pp. 62-63
  4. Daemion, Jonathan. The Principle of Re-Birthing. Journal of Bioenergetic Research, Vol. 6, No.2. p. 14
  5. Chia, Mantak and Abrams, Douglas Arava. The Multi-Orgasmic Man Pp. 32-33
  6. John, Da Free. Sexual Communion. From the book Enlightened Sexuality—Essays on Body-Positive Spirituality. Pp. 104-110
  7. Chia, Mantak and Abrams, Douglas Arava. The Multi-Orgasmic Man, Pp. 32-33
  8. Farhi, Donna. The Breathing Book. p. 170.
  9. Farhi, Donna Ibid. p. 5
  10. Jwala. Personal interview.
  11. This information was gathered by the author at a workshop by Harley Swiftdeer. For more details see the author’s own article Medicine Man, an article which originally appeared in Penthouse Forum.
  12. Crowley, Matt. Deadly Sex Thrills
  13. Grof, Stanislov. Beyond the Brain. P. 205.
  14. Raelyn Gallina did piercing clinics this author’s New York apartment many times and she always used breath as part of the experience.
  15. Anand, Margo. The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Los Angeles, Ca. 1989


  • Anand, Margo. The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Los Angeles, Ca. 1989
  • Brauer, Alan P. and Brauer, Donna. ESO—Extended Sexual Orgasm. Warner Books, New York, N.Y. 1983.
  • Chia, Mantak and Abrams, Douglas Arava. The Multi-Orgasmic Man, Harper Collins, London. 1996
  • Daemion, Jonathan. The Principle of Re-Birthing. Journal of Bioenergetic Research, Vol. 6, No.2. Abbotsbury Publications. England, 1975.
  • Farhi, Donna. The Breathing Book. Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY. 1996.
  • Grof, Stanislav. Beyond the Brain—Birth, Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy. State University of New York Press, N.Y. 1985.
  • Henderson, Julie. The Lover Within. Station Hill Press, Barrytown, N.Y. 1987.
  • Hole Jr., John W., (editor) Human Anatomy and Physiology, Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers. 1978.
  • John, Da Free. Sexual Communion. From the book Enlightened Sexuality—Essays on Body-Positive Spirituality. Crossing Press, Freedom, California. 1989.
  • Keesling, Ph.D., Barbara. Sexual Healing. Hunter House, Clarmont, Ca. 1990.


  • Crowley, Matt. Deadly Sex Thrills
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