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Erotic Choking 101

There is no safe or "safer" way to erotically choke someone.

Louder for those of you with earbuds in:


This morning the New York Times did a piece on erotic choking and the studies being done around it. Peggy Ornstien, the author, delves into the trends and some of the research around erotic choking and strangulation on college campuses. She focuses on the work of Dr. Herbenick. For the NYT, this is actually a pretty decent article around sex, specifically BDSM.

Dr. Herbenick has been studying trends in college sexuality, particularly the rise of rough sex on campus for years. I am a big fan of her research. It is conducted at high standards and lacks a "pro" or "con" approach to sexuality which is hard to find even in academic work. In some of her recent work, Dr. Herbenick found that nearly 2/3 of all female college students had been choked at least once during a sexual encounter. More shocking was that face that a majority of these women had been choked without giving prior consent and by partners they had just met.

Full Disclosure Time: I have participated with enthusiastic consent to erotic choking. My long-term play partner and I started this about five years into our relationship. We followed best practices: establish enthusiastic consent every time we played; discussed any known health concerns; he had CPR training; discussed worst-case scenarios. We both really enjoy the act. However, as new research has come out about the health impacts of erotic choking, we changed our play.

Additionally, I work with the National Coalition on Sexual Freedom on their Consent Counts subgroup. We have been actively working on issues around erotic choking.

With the rise in frequency and breadth of erotic strangulation there is a concurrent opportunity to study the psychological and physical impacts of this play. It also opens up conversations about the legal aspects of this type of rough sex.

Legal Concerns

There is no state in the US where you can consent to erotic strangulation. Because of the high level of risk for permanent bodily harm with this activity, you cannot legally agree to it. Period. End of discussion.

At kink conferences where they offer play nights, producers are now banning any form of erotic strangulation or breath play. I totally understand that. Who wants to the legal ramifications of allowing illegal activity to take place on your site. The risks are just too high.

[FYI: If you are an event producer for BDSM events, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom offers consultation and training to make sure your meet the legal requirements for safety and indemnification.]

If you are playing privately and still decide to consent, please have a conversation with your partner about the worst case scenario. If the person being strangled has a medical emergency or passes out and cannot be revived, is the other partner willing to immediately call for medical help? Are you willing to inform your partner's emergency contact they are in the hospital and you put them there? Is the person doing the strangulation willing to face the legal consequences if things go awry? If this conversation feels too awkward, you are really not ready to have risky sex.

I am not being overdramatic here. Erotic strangulation, even when done with risk aware practices presents a high risk for physical injury. This is elevated is the person being strangled has any health issues. Things like asthma, being on a wide variety of medications, heart or lung issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other things all increase the risk that something will go horribly wrong. If you are a practitioner, you must keep this in mind.

Health Issues

Dr. Herbenick is working with Dr. Kawata, a neuroscientist, to explore the potential brain changes in people who are choked. In the early reports of his work, he is finding that folks who have been repeatedly choked for short bursts of time show concerning changes in the brain. These individuals often do not pass out when being choked or show other visible signs of harm. However, he is finding changes which portend future issues with mental illness, memory issues, and increased risk for stroke. It is still too early to fully predict what will occur to folks who are repeatedly choked during sex, but it doesn't look great.

"But what about a 'blood choke?'"

"Blood choking" or cutting off the blood flow to the brain by compressing the vascular structures on the side of the neck is not safe. Some people will claim that is a safer type of breath play. It is not. It is subject to the same legal ramifications as all other forms of breath play. It causes the same type of harm to the brain as other breath play.

Bottom Line

As a former practitioner of breath play and erotic strangulation, the new information makes me sad. I fully admit to enjoying this type of play. It is the ultimate form of submitting to someone. They literally have my life and well being in their hands.

However, I am also someone with a bit of self-preservation. I don't want to stroke out for a great orgasm. I have cared for too many folks who have had strokes and it is rough! I don't want memory issues as I age. The evidence emerging shows that the early brain changes with just a few sessions of erotic strangulation (five, five sessions is all it takes) predict memory problems in the future.

My play partner and I have had to find other forms of play. Yes, we miss it. Yes, we took all appropriate precautions at the time. No, neither of us is down for this type of long-term harm and possible legal implications for him.

I know that it is the trend to choke people during sex. Ten years ago it was anal sex. Then suspension. Now choking. Be ahead of the curve. Get into finding ways for you and your partner to both have a great time with play that won't land either of you in the hospital or jail.


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