If you’re curious about choking during sex, you’re not alone. A 2020 national probability survey of Americans aged 18 to 60 years found that 21% of women reported having been choked during sex with 20% of men reporting they had choked a partner during sex. With “Choke Me Daddy” memes making the rounds on social media and beyond, it’s not surprising that the survey also found that adults aged 18 to 29 engage in choking at much higher rates than older adults.
Although choking, also known as erotic asphyxiation, might heighten curiosity and arousal for some, it’s not without its risks. Here’s what you need to know to ensure your safety and have a good time.
Why would someone want to be choked during sex?
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“Choking, erotic asphyxiation, or—as it’s known in the kink community—breath play, is an activity in which a partner (or oneself, as in autoerotic asphyxiation) restricts the airflow of someone’s breathing by adding pressure around their throat and windpipe,” says Lisa Finn, Babeland’s sex educator.
Finn says choking can be really hot for a number of the same reasons that any more “risky” form of play, especially BDSM play, can be.
“There’s the adrenaline of the danger behind it, pain for pleasure, the physical sensation of pressure and lightheadedness, and the sort of primal and aggressive energy of being handled in a more assertive way,” she says. “One of the biggest appeals of choking we hear about is the exchange of power. The emotional and physical aspect of taking control over or surrendering and having a release from control with something that could really hurt (or even kill) and the trust and intimacy that goes with that.”
When it comes to the physical effects of choking, Finn says the sensation of being choked sends a spike of adrenaline through our system and “kicks the sympathetic nervous system (aka, the danger response, like fight or flight) into gear. Paired with the high-like lightheadedness and an already heightened state from arousal, this can have effects like added intensity or even a sort of euphoric sensation to orgasm.”
What are the risks of being choked during sex?
While it might be considered erotic by some, choking during sex can also be lethal with autoerotic asphyxia being estimated to cause 250-1,000 deaths per year in the United States.
“Choking is extremely dangerous, and if you don’t do it correctly, you can give someone permanent brain damage or even kill them,” says sexologist Marla Renee Stewart, sexpert for Lovers sexual wellness brand and retailer.
That is why she highly suggests taking a class on choking to ensure that your lover is safe and that you are utilizing correct techniques.
“It is considered Edge Play for a reason,” Stewart says. “You need to decide if you want to do an air choke or a blood choke. I highly suggest the former because it is easier for people who are new to kink and it’s really about the restriction of breath, rather than restriction of blood flow to the brain. With a blood choke you can squeeze the very important interior and exterior jugular veins. So this is why I think this kind of choking should only be reserved for those who are familiar with extreme play and the safety precautions necessary. You also need to have safety guards in place such as safe words, gestures, and knowledge around warning signs that you are harming someone.”
For someone who has experienced trauma and wants to introduce choking into their sex life, Stewart recommends going to a kink-aware and trauma-informed coach, therapist, or counselor first and then going to someone who is experienced at using kink to transform the trauma in people’s lives. Ideally, she says it would be great if these were two different people to work together to “ensure that you are getting the care you need. In addition, making sure that you are educated about the various aspects of choking and knowing how to do it properly. I believe going slowly and integrating various aspects of choking is best and to do this over time.”
What are some important things people need to discuss before they introduce choking?
First and foremost, Finn says, scene negotiation and safety are essential, as they are with any BDSM acts, but especially one that can be as dangerous as breath play, which has some serious physical risks like injury, brain damage, or even death.
“There are emotional and mental risks to this kind of play as well,” she says. “Being choked without warning or discussion, feeling like the experience is one-sided, or any way of having breath play go outside of your boundaries can be terrifying and traumatic.”
Finn recommends taking the time to discuss this with your partner and knowing what it is about choking that turns you on is essential here, too. Are you into the physical sensation? Do you want your choking to be aggressive or tender? Is a “struggle” part of the dynamic of the roleplay, or is that a sign that something is wrong?
“Having misaligned expectations in any intense scene can lead to a less pleasurable or even downright uncomfortable experience, physically and emotionally,” Finn explains.
Second, Finn suggests making a safeword and a safe action (or “safe gesture”).
“A safeword is a word that you can call out that communicates the need for all action to stop for any reason, and is especially important during intense play like this,” she says. “When you are choking your partner, you should not be reaching the point where they cannot speak. That’s a sign that you’ve passed a line of physical safety.”
However, if you or your partner get to that point of not speaking because of airflow obstruction or if there’s any other reason someone may be unable to clearly speak or clearly hear when a safeword is used (for example, if there’s loud music, if a partner may go non-verbal, if a partner is hard of hearing) it’s essential, she says, to have a safe action in addition to a safeword. Some examples for safe actions that Finn recommends include: squeaking a toy, dropping a set of keys, tapping your partner twice (“tapping out”), or raising an open palm in a “stop” gesture.
If your partner becomes non-responsive, it’s key to stop all play immediately and seek medical attention.