Choking is pretty normalised now in porn and media, but don’t hold your breath (pun intended) for getting any helpful info on it from these sources!
While it’s normal to be curious about new sexual stuff, the risks associated with choking are very real. So here’s the lowdown, with some actual helpful info…
Choking during sex involves someone restricting someone else’s main airway or blood vessels going to their brain by putting pressure on their neck for a brief (seconds) period of time (usually with hands but it can be with other objects).
It’s also called breath play, being choked out, blood choking, air play, and erotic asphyxiation. Police and health professionals call it non-fatal strangulation.
Side Note: Oral sex that’s too rough/intense can lead to similar risks as choking with hands.
Why do people try choking?
Lots of reasons – including getting excited by the risk, expectations or pressure from partners or friends, hearing it’s fun, wanting to be ‘sexually adventurous’, possible pleasure and/or release of endorphins, power (dominance and submission) dynamics, or just general curiosity. Wanting to try new things is normal, as everyone wants sex to be fun and interesting – but some acts (like choking) can be super high-risk, so it’s great you’re getting the lowdown!
Choking in any form is never zero-risk. There’s no way to choke someone 100% safely – and there’s always unpredictable (and sometimes big) short term and long-term risks to both people.
Choking during sex restricts the airways and deprives the brain of oxygen, which can cause a range of unpredictable short and long-term consequences (for both partners) including…
- Immediate and short-term side effects … headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, disorientation, memory gaps and bruising. Choking can be associated with greater experiences of depression, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness. Even with consent, some people describe choking as scary or frightening, especially if it was done with two hands or was too rough.
- Longer term – Repeated choking can cause recurrent headaches, memory loss, anxiety, and PTSD. There is also a risk of long-term mild brain injury (similar to sports peeps with repeated sports-related concussion).
- Death – The biggest risk from choking is death. When pressure is applied around the neck, no oxygen can get to the brain, so within 5-10 seconds people may lose consciousness (“pass out”), and if the pressure continues, within just a few minutes heart attack and death can occur.
Side note from the Cops: If harm occurs the person doing the choking is at risk of criminal charges – even if the choking was consensual.
It’s a bit like joy riding in a car – even if the passenger consents, if the car crashes, the driver can still get charged.
… or do it super carefully?
No matter how carefully or briefly someone chokes another person – there’s always risk because you usually can’t tellwhen someone is about to pass out (especially when hormones are firing) until they pass out – and by then,
harm may have already occurred. Basically, things can go wrong super quickly without realising.
If we both consent to choking, is that okay?
Consent is tricky with choking for a few reasons…
- You can’t consent to any act that ‘risks injury’ or ‘death’…
This means if there’s consent and the person accidentally is hurt or dies – the person doing the choking can still be criminally charged.
- Withdrawing consent is hard…
During choking using a
safe word or gesture to show you’re not into it can be difficult (when you can’t speak or breath!).
Side note: consent also needs to be for all parts of sex, so if someone wants to stop halfway through but the other person carries on – that’s illegal.
- True consent is ‘informed’ consent…
Giving ‘informed’ consent to choking when we still don’t know enough about the long-term harms (such as brain injury) is tricky.
- The law is complex on consent…
If someone is harmed during choking (even if they gave initial consent) and they go to the police, the initial consent may/may not be taken into account, and the person doing the choking can still be charged for causing harm or injury.
So what does this all mean? In a nutshell, even with mutual consent there’s always a medical risk to the person being choked, and a legal risk to the person doing the choking.
Different kinksters have different views about choking, but they all recognise it as risky.
Many won’t engage in choking at all but might cautiously do other types of breath play that don’t involve choking or pressing on the neck. Some won’t engage in anything that limits breath at all.
Ethical kinksters are all aware and agree that choking is super high-risk (known as ‘edge play’); it’s not for young people; and the few that do practice it do so with education, information, good communication, high levels of consent and often training by people who know what they’re doing.
…and it’s 100% okay to not like it and to tell a partner you’re not into it. If choking has ever felt frightening, uncomfortable, or traumatic, it’s super important to reach out and get help. There are some great non-judgemental pros out there that help with this stuff: Check out Safe to Talk