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S3x Play That Could Leave You Breathless… Or Worse

S3x Play That Could Leave You Breathless… Or Worse

Anyone who has their finger on the pulse of the sex-positivity community knows that a hot new sex trend is choking.

Otherwise known as asphyxiation play (or breath play), new light was shone on this subject via a recent New York Times article.  The author, Peggy Orenstein, points to a study which shows that amongst teens, the practice is becoming nearly-ubiquitous.  From the article:

Nearly two-thirds of women in [Debbie Herbenick’s] most recent campus-representative survey of 5,000 students at an anonymized “major Midwestern university” said a partner had choked them during sex (one-third in their most recent encounter). The rate of those women who said they were between the ages 12 and 17 the first time that happened had shot up to 40 percent from one in four.

Though this research and the article is mostly centered on teens, this trend isn’t limited to young people. This practice has become increasingly common for all age groups.  Many men I’ve talked to say that their partners have asked to be choked, and many women report being choked by a partner.

You might ask:  Why?

There’s a few reasons.

For one, loss of oxygen can bring about a euphoric feeling, enhancing pleasure during sex.  Secondly, it can be an exciting part of power (submission and domination) play.  But third, and probably most notably, pornography and popular culture.

In the last few years, in both pornography and in mainstream media, it has become much more common to see a man choke a woman during sex.

Choking isn’t exactly new.  People (especially those in the kink/bdsm community) have been experimenting with asphyxiation play for decades.  (Or much longer, I’m sure – I didn’t get to that scene until later in my life!)

So what strikes me as new is that this is no longer a fringe kink interest.  Rather, for many people, it has become de rigueur.

And I’ll be honest, I’ve had some mixed feelings about that.

While I’m one of the most sex-positive people you’ll find, I also had concerns about the practice.  (Being choked is not my jam.  My aversion to the practice, however, was just personal preference.  I’ve never felt judgment or concern about other people being drawn to it.)

Despite my own reservations, I trusted the professionals, who assured us that there are safe (and unsafe) ways to choke.

As I understood it, the practice had some inherent risks, but the risks were manageable if you took the time to learn how to do it properly.

Well – I used to think that.

After reading Orenstein’s article, I feel SHOOK.

As Orenstein convincingly argues, “There is no safe way to strangle someone.”

Research she cites shows that “restricting blood flow to the brain, even briefly, can cause permanent injury, including stroke and cognitive impairment.”


[W]omen who have been repeatedly choked show a reduction in cortical folding in the brain compared with a never-choked control group. They also showed widespread cortical thickening, an inflammation response that is associated with elevated risk of later-onset mental illness. In completing simple memory tasks, their brains had to work far harder than the control group, recruiting from more regions to achieve the same level of accuracy.


I think it’s worth noting who this research is coming from – one of the co-authors of it is Debby Herbenick.  She’s not just any researcher.  Rather, she’s one of the most well-known and well-respected sex researchers in America.

So though she’s a Debby, she’s not just being a Debbie Downer, trying to spoil our sexy fun.

It IS possible to safely engage in fun and sexy power play.  Domination and submission aren’t off the table; just this one practice probably needs to be reconsidered.

I know that I’ll be changing the way I talk to clients about this topic, and I wonder how the larger sex community will respond.  Will this risk be identified and addressed?  Is it possible to shift the public narrative around this subject to help people see the dangers?


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