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Dying for it: Bizarre autoerotic deaths (Part 1)

In previous blogs I have examined many different sexual paraphilias that have ended up in death for individuals engaged in such practices. Many of these are from autoerotic asphyxiation but also from other sexual practices such as electrophilia and anaesthesiophilia. Today’s blog takes a brief look at some of the most bizarre autoerotic deaths reported in the medical forensic literature.

Case 1: Autoerotic death by car

Source: Journal of Forensic Sciences. Personal details: 40-year old white US male airline pilot. Married and father of two children.

  • Bizarre death event: A man left his home at 6am in the morning and told his wife that he was going shooting in the country. He was found naked except for a large-link 10-foot chain harness secured around his body. (The harness was tied around the man’s neck in a moderately tight loop and bolted. The chain then went down his chest and was tied into another loop around his waist. This was tied to the bumper of the car) at 7.30am in the morning in a remote area crushed against the left fender of his car (equivalent of a VW beetle). The engine was still running, ignition was on and the driver’s door was still open. The steering wheel was tied so that it would go round in anti-clockwise circles. His clothes were in the boot of the car. Reconstruction of the events leading to his death showed that he was either being dragged round by the car or following the car producing feelings of asphyxia. When he had finished his sexual turn-on he had tried to approach the car door but had forgotten to undo the chain from the bumper. The chain had got tangled up in the car’s axle and the man was found strangled to death by the chain.

Case 2: Autoerotic death by hanging (male)

Source: American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. Personal details: 57-year old white US male. Single.

  • Bizarre death event: Early one winter’s morning, two joggers found a partially clothed man hanging from a tree five inches from the ground. He was hanging from a rope tied round his neck but also had two other loops of rope harness around his thighs which also encircled his chest. His neatly folded clothes lay two feet away along with lipstick and a jar of Vaseline. He was wearing a woman’s brown wig and a stuffed white bra. He also wore a pair of men’s red underpants, a pair of tights and a pair of high-heeled women’s shoes. He was also found to have a carrot protruding from his anus. Basically his seat harness slipped and he asphyxiated himself on the ropes.

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Case 3: Autoerotic death by blankets

Source: American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. Personal details: 60-year old white US male. Single. Diagnosed schizophrenic and had various sexual compulsions. Well educated former teacher.

  • Bizarre death event: After being reported missing from work by his employer, a man was found dead rolled up in 14 different blankets which had been sewn together (the two outermost layers were found fixed with adhesive tape in various places which raised the possibility of murder). Inside the blankets he was dressed in two pairs of hotpants, a pair of long johns and a vest. The body was wet and his hands and arms were outstretched above his head. They found a plastic bag over his penis into which he had ejaculated. He was masturbating while inside the blankets but he had become too hypoxic and died. He was immobilized inside the blankets and was unable to free himself. Over the last few years he had bought an astonishing number of blankets by mail order (over 60 found in his apartment most of which seemed to have some ritual or obsessive meaning by the way were laid out. No pornography was found in the place.

Case 4: Autoerotic death by dental anaesthetic

Source: American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. Personal details: 59-year old white US male. Single. Antiques dealer

  • Bizarre death event: Found dead in his locked apartment. He was seated in front of a dental anaesthetic machine with the anaesthetic face-mask over his face. He was sucking on a rubber teat similar (but much bigger) than a baby’s feeding bottle. There were other anaesthetic machines around the apartment as well as a lot of sexual literature (magazines, photographs, paintings, manuscripts all concerned with his elaborate fetish some of which included photographs of himself in these situations). He was wearing a rubber type apron, three woollen cardigans, a woman’s blouse and two pairs of women’s trousers and a pair of women’s bloomers.

Case 5: Autoerotic death by electrocution

Source: Medicine, Science and the Law. Personal details: 36-year old UK male. Gay (with partner). Unemployed ex-television engineer

  • Bizarre death event: Man found dead with a wire cradle applied to his scrotum with another loop of wire (end folded over) inserted into his Vaseline-lubricated anus. The wires were connected to the two terminals that supplied the loudspeaker within the television. When switched on, these wires carried a current of 0.6 amps at 2.2 volts (a quarter of the current needed to light a small torch). The body had two significant injuries. One on the right side of his face (entrance mark of the current), and the other over the left side of his scrotum (where the loop of the wire had been). Unfortunately, one of the wires had broken off resulting in a cessation of the stimulating activity. The man looked inside the back of the open TV set and his face came into contact with an exposed metal cap which zapped 2500 volts through him. The metal cap was the only live part of the television set and it was this that killed him.

(Part 2 can be found here).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Eriksson, A., Gezelius, C., & Bring, G. (1987). Rolled up to death: An unusual autoerotic fatality. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 8(3), 263-265.

Hazelwood, R. R., Burgess, A. W., & Groth, A. N. (1981). Death during dangerous autoerotic practice. Social Science & Medicine. Part E: Medical Psychology, 15(2), 129-133.

Hiss, J., Rosenberg, S. B., & Adelson, L. (1985). ” Swinging in the park”: An investigation of an autoerotic death. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 6(3), 250-255.

Klintschar, M., Grabuschnigg, P., & Beham, A. (1998). Death from electrocution during autoerotic practice: case report and review of the literature. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 19(2), 190-193.

Leadbeatter, S. (1988). Dental anesthetic death: An unusual autoerotic episode. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 9(1), 60-63.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Minyard, F. (1985). Wrapped to death. Unusual autoerotic death. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 6(2), 151-152

Rupp, J. C. (1973). The love bug. Journal of Forensic Science, 18(3), 259-262.

Sauvageau, A., & Racette, S. (2006). Autoerotic deaths in the literature from 1954 to 2004: A review. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 51(1), 140-146.

Gas roots: A beginner’s guide to anaesthesiophilia

“I love the idea of being wheeled in my bed along the hospital corridors before bursting through the swing doors of the Anaesthetic Room. The lady anaethetist then smiles and tells me that she has decided to put me to sleep with the Gas. ‘NO! Not the Gas!’ The lady then insists by saying that it is her treat and that she has been looking forward to this moment! She smiles as she lowers the black rubbery mask and whispers, ‘Now just relax. IT’S TIME! Breathe in the Gas nice and deep. I look forward to seeing you struggle to keep your eyes open; but very soon you will succumb to the lovely Gas and you will have to close your eyes! Sleep well!’ She leans closer to me and laughs as I take deep breaths of the lovely Gas!!” (Participant at Sleep Peeps website).

In a previous blog, I examined medical fetishism that refers to an umbrella group of related sexual fetishes in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from medical and/or clinical practices and procedures (e.g., undergoing a rectal examination or urethral swab, having temperature taken), objects (e.g., stethoscope, hypodermic needle), situations (e.g., waiting to see a nurse), and environments (e.g., being in a hospital waiting room). One form of medical fetishism is anaesthesia fetishism in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from either administering and/or receiving some kind of anaesthetic such as chloroform, ether, butane, etc. As an entry in Wikipedia notes:

This may include the sexual attraction to the equipment, processes, substances, effects, environments or situations. Sexual arousal from the desire to administer anesthesia, or the sexual desire for oneself to be anaesthetized are two forms in which an individual may exist as an arbiter of the fetish. Older-style anesthesia masks of black rubber, still in occasional use today, are one of the more common elements fetishized, and have earned the nickname Black Beauty by many fetishists…The Internet has enabled people with this relatively rare paraphilia to discuss the subject and exchange anesthesia-related multimedia”.

Back in 1999, I had my first ever article published on sexually paraphilic behaviour in the magazine Bizarre. It was an article on autoerotic deaths and it featured the cases of ten people who had died in strange sexual circumstances. One of the cases I featured was originally published in a 1988 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology (by Dr. J.J. McLennan and colleagues). The case involved a single 59-year old white US male antiques dealer. The man was found dead in his locked apartment. He was seated in front of a dental anaesthetic machine with the anaesthetic face-mask over his face. He was sucking on a rubber teat similar (but much bigger) than a baby’s feeding bottle. There were other anaesthetic machines around the apartment as well as a lot of sexual literature (magazines, photographs, paintings, manuscripts all concerned with his elaborate fetish some of which included photographs of himself in these situations). He was wearing a rubber type apron, three woolen cardigans, a woman’s blouse and two pairs of women’s trousers and a pair of women’s bloomers. This appeared to be a genuine case of anaesthesiophilia. (A similar case was also reported in 1988 the same journal by Dr. S. Leadbeatter. Here, the method of induction of cerebral hypoxia was inhalation of nitrous oxide [i.e., ‘laughing gas’] from a dental anesthetic machine).

In the same article I featured the case of a single 32-year old white US male computer programmer that was published in a 1983 issue of Medicine, Science and the Law (by Dr. S.M. Cordner). Here, the man was found dead in bed with cassette recorder next to him and covered in dry semen stains. He was wearing headphones which playing “snorting” horse sounds. There was also a can of aerosol propellant. At the end of the bed was a large painting of a male strapped to the hind legs of a horse who was being anally penetrating by the horse. The horse was ridden by a leather-clad woman. He was also wearing some kind if homemade masturbatory device. His death was recorded as cardio-respiratory failure consistent with aerosol propellant abuse (death by misadventure).

Although this case wasn’t technically anaesthesiophilia, it did involve self-administration of a chemical agent to modify the sensations of masturbation. However, in a 2009 book chapter on ‘adult sexual offences’ by Dr. Deborah Rogers (in the book Clinical Forensic Medicine), she seems to suggest that the case I have just described would be classed as anaesthesiophilia as she defines such a paraphilia as it involves the person using a volatile substance (e.g., chloroform, ether, butane) as a source of sexual arousal. She also points out the commonalities between anaesthesiophilia, hypoxyphilia (sexual arousal and pleasure from oxygen deprivation), and electrophilia (sexual arousal and pleasure from electricity and electric stimuli). More specifically she notes:

“Some sexual variations involve inherently life-threatening practices. These include autoerotic asphyxia (using strangulation, hanging, gagging, plastic bag asphyxia, inverted suspension), electrophilia and anaesthesiophilia. When accidental deaths do occur in these circumstances associated paraphernalia may be present at the scene, such as evidence of transvestism, bondage, pornographic material or mirrors. Family members or friends who discover the body in these situations may, in an attempt to preserve the reputation of the deceased, remove certain articles. In doing so they may create a scene erroneously considered a suicide or homicide. When the truth is divulged sympathetic explanations are necessary for reassurance that these deaths are usually accidental”.

Many of the same points were made by Dr. Stephen Hucker writing in a 2011 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Hucker compared electrophilia and hypoxyphilia and electrophilia with anaesthesiophilia. He also stated that all these behaviours have potential “to result in a well-recognized mode of accidental death” and come “under the general rubric of sexual masochism.

Using Dr. Rogers’ wider definition of anaesthesiophilia indicates that the practice – while rare – is well known in the forensic literature where a number of autoerotic deaths have been reported as arising from the sexual use of volatile substances. One of the first such deaths reported in the literature dates back to a 1933 German report (by Dr. F. Schwarz). He recounted the case of a man who had used a complex system of valves, tubes, and balloons to get sexually aroused from nitrous oxide (stolen from his dad’s medical practice).

Another lethal German case from 1997 was reported by Dr. M. Rothschild and Dr. V. Schneider. Again, the source of sexual arousal was nitrous oxide (this time dispensed from cream dispenser cartridges via a homemade system of anesthetic tubes, plastic bags, and an anesthetic face mask. A paper by Dr. D. Breitmeier and colleagues in a 2002 issue of the Journal of Legal Medicine reported an autoerotic death of a man due to a bizarre combination of asphyxia by suffocation and intoxication with (the drug) ketamine that was self-administered by an intravenous catheter.

Dr. R.W. Byard and his colleagues also reported an unusual autoerotic death in a 2000 issue of the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine. They reported the case of a 38-year-old man who was “found dead in bed dressed in female clothing with a mouth gag, handcuffs and bindings around the genitals and limbs”. A gas mask respirator was also covering the mouth and nose and death was attributed to a combination of chloroform toxicity and upper-airway obstruction. Another autoerotic death involving chloroform was reported by Dr. Peter Singer and Dr. Graham Jones in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology.

“He was found lying on the floor of his apartment, prone on a piece of foam and a towel. His eyes were bound with a towel, his lower face and nose were almost entirely covered with duct tape surrounding a rubber hose in his mouth. The other end of the hose was loosely sitting inside an open bottle which was in a box beside him. He was bound-up by an intricate system of ropes, handles, and rods, ending with a noose around his neck”

Clearly, much of what we know about anaesthesiophilia appears to be based on case reports where the use of an anaesthetizing agent during the sexual act has gone horribly wrong. Most of the deaths occurred because the person appears to have been on their own and was presumably a masturbatory act. Engaging in the act where more than one person is present significantly reduces the chances of anything unwanted happening for the anaesthesiophile.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Breitmeier D., Passie, T., Mansouri, F., Albrecht, K, Kleemann, W.J. (2002) Autoerotic accident associated with self-applied ketamine. Journal of Legal Medicine, 116, 113-116.

Bungardt, N. & L. Pötsch, (2003). [Report on a methemoglobinemia associated death]. Archiv fur Kriminologie, 212, 176-183.

Byard, R.W., Kostakis, C., Pigou, P.E. & Gilbert, J.D. (2000). Volatile substance use in sexual asphyxia. Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, 7, 26-28.

Cordner, S.M. (1983). An unusual case of sudden death associated with masturbation. Medicine, Science and Law, 23, 54-56.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Dying for it: Autoerotic deaths Bizarre, 24, 62-65.

Hucker, S. (2011). Hypoxyphilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1323-1326.

Leadbeatter, S., (1988). Dental anesthetic death: An unusual autoerotic episode. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 9, 60-63.

McLennan, J.J., Sekula-Perlman, A., Lippstone, M.B. & Callery, R.T. (1998). Propane-associated autoerotic fatalities. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 19, 381-386.

Musshoff, F., Padosch, S.A., Kroener, L.A, et al., (2006). Accidental autoerotic death by volatile substance abuse or nonsexually motivated accidents? American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 27, 188-192.

Rogers, D.J. (2009). Adult sexual offences. In McLay, W.D.S. (Ed.). Clinical Forensic Medicine (3rd Edition, pp. 137-154). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rothschild, M.A. & Schneider, V. (1997). Uber zwei autoerotische Unf T Lachgasnarkose und Thoraxkompression. Archiv fur Kriminologie, 200, 65-72.

Schwarz, F. (1933). T Lachgasvergiftung bei Selbstnarkose. Archiv fur Kriminologie, 93, 215-217.

Singer, P.P. & Jones, G.R. (2006). An unusual autoerotic fatality associated with chloroform inhalation. Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 30, 216-218.

Stemberga, V., Bralić, M., Bosnar, A. & Coklo M. (2007). Propane-associated autoerotic asphyxiation: accident or suicide? Collegium Antropologicum, 31, 625-627.

Thibault R, Spencer JD, Bishop JW, Hibler NS (1984) An unusual autoerotic death: asphyxia with an abdominal ligature. Journal of Forensic Science, 29, 679-684.

Wikipedia (2012). Medical fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_fetishism