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Why do people enjoy being choked?

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Is it just to please a partner, for pleasure, or something else?

Woman in uniform strangles the second woman with a chain from the handcuffs.
Shutterstock 788920777 by Dm_Cherry.

I strongly recommend not to practice choking. This article is part of a series intended to show that choking is unsafe, may cause brain damage, and is potentially lethal.

Many people finds been choked pleasurable

In their survey of undergraduate and graduate students, the group of Herbenick (Herbenick et al., 2022b) found that 41.1% of the people who had been choked reported that choking was very pleasurable, 33.8% responded that it was somewhat pleasurable and 14.2% said that it was a little pleasurable. Only 3.1% said that choking was not pleasurable at all and didn’t want to repeat the experience, while 5.9% said it was not pleasurable but they would do it if their partners liked it. Please note that saying that a sexual act is done to please a partner does not make it non-consensual. It is not just that women accept being choked to please their partner; some men choke women only because they are asked to do it.

More women than men found choking pleasurable, with 50.0% of undergraduate women and 26.8% of undergraduate men saying that it was very pleasurable. The number of graduate students that found it very pleasurable was 36.1% for women and 16.3% for men.

Hence, a large majority of the students found breath play pleasurable. This can explain the growing popularity of choking, despite its reputation for being dangerous. However, this paper did not inquire into what made choking pleasurable.

Consent

Regarding consent, people who had been choked said that choking was consensual 92.1% of the time (Herbenick et al., 2022b). This number did not change much across genders or from undergraduates to graduate students. Among those who had been choked, choking was found to be consensual in all of their sexual encounters by 76.5% of women, 85.6% of men and 63.6% of non-binary people.

In a more general survey about sex amongst college students (Herbenick et al., 2021), 21% of the students who had been choked said that they had never been asked for consent before being choked. An additional 32% of them said that they were asked for consent only sometimes.

A qualitative survey (Herbenick et al., 2022a) found that the initial choking experience of many women occurred without discussing it beforehand or giving explicit consent. Often, consent was assumed or was sought while it happened. The authors remarked that consent to choking often fell in a gray area. For example, when verbal consent was given during sex or after sex. Sometimes consent was non-verbal, usually during sex. Other times, consent was assumed based on prior conversations, because they has done it before, the person’s interest in choking, or because it was assumed to be part of regular sex.

Keep in mind that this happened among college students and not in the BDSM community, which has a strong consent culture. The students also considered choking to be safer than other forms of kinky sexy, an attitude that has been encouraged by the media (Herbenick et al., 2023).

My survey in Fetlife

I did my own inquiry into this by posting an article in Fetlife titled What Do You Like About Being Choked? It said:

I heard some people say that being choked puts them in an altered state of consciousness that is different from sub space or from the effect of any drug. Is it true?
In your experience, does choking make orgasms more intense?
Or do you like choking for the psychological feeling that it brings you? Like, for example, surrender?
Or perhaps you like the feeling of losing consciousness?
Or is it a feeling of euphoria?
Or is it something else?

I think Fetlife was a good choice because I wanted to query specifically people who are into BDSM, and not those who practice choking as part of sex. However, the answers need to be interpreted in that context.

I got 12 responses, 10 from women, 2 from non-binary persons and none from men. Four responders defined themselves as submissive, one as a slave, three as a masochist, one as a little, and the other three as exploring or curious.

The following reasons were given to enjoy choking:

  • Surrender (9 responders): loss of control, feeling helpless and vulnerable, feeling the power of the dominant, giving power to the dominant.

  • Fear (5 responders), including feeling challenged and overcoming panic.

  • Trust (4 responders): feeling that they could trust their safety to the choker.

  • Euphoria (4 responders), including feeling high, lightheaded and physical pleasure.

  • Orgasm and sensations are more intense (4 responders).

  • Feeling safe, centered, calm (3 responders) despite the risk.

  • Unconsciousness (3 responders).

  • Edging to orgasm (2 responders).

The most common responses align with the feelings usually sought in other BDSM activities: surrender to the power of the dominant, and the interplay between fear and feeling safe by trusting the top.

But choking was also a source of pleasure. It produced euphoria and a high consisting of lightheadedness and physical pleasure. It also intensified physical sensations, including orgasm. Last, three people reported a paradoxical feeling of safety and calm, despite the obvious risk of the activity.

My findings are consistent with one of the papers by the group of Debbie Herbenick (Herbenick et al., 2022a), a qualitative survey about the reasons why women like to be choked. In it, no participants reported actually losing consciousness. But many mentioned being excited about surrendering, empowering their partner, enhanced sexual arousal and longer orgasms. Fear and danger made the sex more exciting and pleasurable.

Are the effects of choking similar to those of nitrous oxide?

I was surprised not to find any mention to drug-like altered states of consciousness, which I heard about in some comments to my articles in Fetlife.

When I asked if the feeling of being choked resembled the effect of any drug, one person responded that it did not feel like the effect of cannabis or psychedelics, but it could be similar to that of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas and whippets.

Whippets are obtained as canisters to make whipped cream (Srichawla, 2022). They produce a severe deficiency in vitamin B12 (Maheshwari and Athiraman, 2022) and serious neurological effects. They are consumed because they produce euphoria, analgesia and a brief high.

The mechanism of action of nitrous oxide is still unclear. It acts on many neurotransmitter receptors, blocking excitatory NMDA receptors and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and potentiating inhibitory GABA and glycine receptors. Perhaps the brain hypoxia produced by choking has similar effects. Indeed, inhaling nitrous oxide as whippets produces hypoxia.

References

  • Herbenick D, Guerra-Reyes L, Patterson C, Rosenstock Gonzalez YR, Wagner C, Zounlome N (2022a) "It Was Scary, But Then It Was Kind of Exciting": Young Women's Experiences with Choking During Sex. Arch Sex Behav 51:1103-1123.

  • Herbenick D, Patterson C, Khan S, Voorheis E, Sullivan A, Wright P, Keene S (2023) "Don't Just Randomly Grab Someone's Neck during Intercourse!" An Analysis of Internet Articles about Choking/Strangulation during Sex. J Sex Marital Ther 49:41-55.

  • Herbenick D, Patterson C, Beckmeyer J, Gonzalez YRR, Luetke M, Guerra-Reyes L, Eastman-Mueller H, Valdivia DS, Rosenberg M (2021) Diverse Sexual Behaviors in Undergraduate Students: Findings From a Campus Probability Survey. The journal of sexual medicine 18:1024-1041.

  • Herbenick D, Fu TC, Eastman-Mueller H, Thomas S, Svetina Valdivia D, Rosenberg M, Guerra-Reyes L, Wright PJ, Kawata K, Feiner JR (2022b) Frequency, Method, Intensity, and Health Sequelae of Sexual Choking Among U.S. Undergraduate and Graduate Students. Arch Sex Behav.

  • Maheshwari M, Athiraman H (2022) Whippets Causing Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Cureus 14:e23148.

  • Srichawla BS (2022) Nitrous Oxide/Whippits-Induced Thoracic Spinal Cord Myelopathy and Cognitive Decline With Normal Serum Vitamin B₁₂. Cureus 14:e24581.

Copyright 2023 Hermes Solenzol.

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