I have a fantasy. In it, I'm sitting in front of a bank of computer screens. Each one has a different live video feed of a lone person in bondage. My eyes flick quickly from one to the next. My gaze sharpens on one of the screens, and I zoom in for a closer look, then snatch up a phone. "Number 28's in trouble! Dispatch assistance immediately!"

That's what I'd like to do for people who practice self-bondage as part of masturbation: be the eye in the sky, keeping watch and sending help if something goes wrong. Like most fantasies, it's not workable in reality. But I wish I could have done it for David Carradine.

The final word hasn't been written on Carradine's death, but my opinion is that he didn't commit suicide, and no one was with him when he died. I've had hundreds of people tell me about their self-bondage/masturbation sessions, many of which were elaborately engineered and included breath restriction. The infamous "death photo" and the description of how Carradine was found are very similar to a lot of those stories.

Carradine would not be rare in practicing self-bondage and auto-erotic asphyxiation. Remember Gary Aldridge, the Alabama Baptist minister who was found dead in 2007? He was wearing rubber clothing, he had a dildo up his ass, and he was hog-tied with a cord around his neck. Shocked parishioners whispered of murder, but the official verdict was that he tied himself up and restricted his own breathing—and it went terribly wrong.

Hundreds of people die every year doing this, and that's not even counting those whose families insist it was suicide. (Apparently they prefer to think of their loved one experiencing deep despair than a solitary orgasm.) People act astonished that Carradine, a 72-year-old movie star, would masturbate. Get real: Everyone masturbates. And most of us have a favored form of stimulation that we return to over and over. If this was how Carradine got off, then to him it would seem as normal as a porn site and some hand lotion.

However, normal doesn't equal safe. Self-bondage can be risky in itself, but anytime someone's oxygen is restricted, death becomes a possibility. The risk might be slight or it might be great, but you can't eliminate it entirely. SM 101 author Jay Wiseman has researched breath play widely. He states: "I know of no way whatsoever that suffocation or strangulation can be done that does not intrinsically put the recipient at risk of cardiac arrest... I know of no reliable way to determine when such a cardiac arrest becomes imminent. If the recipient does arrest, the probability of resuscitating them, even with optimal CPR, is small." Even if I'd been in the room with Carradine, I might not have been able to save him.

Woody Allen once said, "Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone you love." I'm supportive of people self-loving in ways that get them off. But there's a French phrase for orgasm: le petite mort—the little death. If you do self-bondage and asphyxiation when you masturbate, you run a real chance of turning your "little death" into the big one. recommended