Choking during sex has become much more prevalent, with 20% of cis men and 12% of cis women saying they’d experienced choking their partner in one 2020 study, and 22.3% and 25.9% of trans/non-binary participants saying they’d experienced being choked or choking their partner in their most recent sexual encounter in a 2021 study. However, it’s not a practice without controversy.
Erotic asphyxiation (which also includes acts like smothering as well as choking) can seem a more approachable introduction to kink than other kinds of play like bondage or spanking. However, it carries a lot of risk and danger. Some experienced kinksters actually consider breath play to be the most dangerous type of common BDSM play.
Why Do People Like Being Choked?
Given it’s so dangerous, why do people like being choked? Different people may give different answers to that, but there are some broad trends in answers.
Breath control can height any dominant/submissive roles that a couple or group have taken on for BDSM play. Most commonly, this looks like a dominant person choking a submissive partner, with the submissive (or “sub”) letting the dominant take ‘life threatening’ control over them. However, the roles of dominance and submission are fluid, and there’s no reason a dominant couldn’t enjoy being choked. They may see a submissive choking their dominant as an act of service, giving their dominant dopamine and serotonin.
Speaking of dopamine and serotonin, another reason that some people enjoy breath play is because of the oxygen restriction it causes in the brain. The ‘dizzy’ or ‘lightheaded’ feeling can feel pleasurable in the moment, with a second rush occurring when somebody is released and can breathe normally again.
What Are The Risks Of Being Choked?
Erotic asphyxiation can never truly be 100% safe, and can lead to brain damage, cardiac arrest, and even —in some cases— death. Putting pressure on the windpipe is especially dangerous, as the windpipe can collapse. But a ’ blood choke’ that only compresses the carotid arteries isn’t without risk either, and can lead to injury or even death.Using objects like cloth or belts for choking can exacerbate these risks, as they make it harder to manage how much pressure is being applied. And while not all BDSM has to be done with a partner, solo erotic asphyxiation is extra dangerous, as there’s nobody to get medical attention if needed.
Less Risky Forms Of Breath Play
If you want to try erotic asphyxiation, but the dangers of choking are outside of your risk profile, there are less risky ways to play with breath control. Depending on what the appeal of choking is for you and your partner/s, there may be alternative ways to get the sensation or emotion that you’re looking for.
If the appeal of choking to you is the way it heightens power play, there may be other forms of BDSM play that you’re interested in trying. Restraints can help accentuate a feeling of helplessness (tip for beginners to kink: get soft fabric or leather wrist cuffs rather than metal handcuffs, as they’ll be more comfortable). If you enjoy choking because your neck is an erogenous zone, wearing a collar can also feel very sensual!
Just covering a partner’s mouth during sex (without pushing down) can produce the same rush of being overpowered as choking, with anywhere near as much risk. Another option for breath control is a gas mask, which allows for the top to cut off their bottom’s air by covering the air hole with their hand. While restricting air like this still does have risks, the bottom can break the seal by moving their head at any time, and it doesn’t involve the additional risk of the top constricting the neck.
Of course, while these ways of playing are less risky than conventional choking, that doesn’t mean they’re risk free. In fact, no form of sex (let alone BDSM) is completely safe, only safer. The section in this article on risk mitigation is still just as important if you’ve reached this far and decided you want to try alternatives to choking.
But What If I Really Want To Be Choked?
After reading all this, you and your partner/s may decide that you are both comfortable with the risks of choking, and think that the alternatives don’t work well for you.
If that’s the case, in person learning around choking can be invaluable. You may want to find a local pro-dominant who can teach you the ropes (so to speak), or find a class on stage choking intended for actors.
As mentioned, the most dangerous way to choke somebody is placing pressure on the windpipe, at the front of the throat. The windpipe can collapse under pressure, leading to a medical emergency very quickly and with little warning. Instead, the focus should be on your partner’s carotid arteries. These blood vessels control the flow of blood to your brain, and can be found by looking for the ‘pulse point’ in your partner’s neck.
It can be difficult to know how hard to squeeze, especially as different people have different preferences. If you’re interested in being a choking bottom, it’s helpful to practice (either with a partner or by yourself) ahead of time and in a non-sexual setting, in order to get a good picture of your limits and preferences. If you’re interested in being a choking top, practice starting with a gentle grip and building up the pressure. Constant pressure can lead to injury, so try to vary pressure at 5 -10 second intervals.
Communication & Other Forms Of Risk Mitigation
Choking can’t be made totally safe, but it can be made safer. As with all forms of BDSM play, breath play is something you should discuss it in detail with partner/s before you start, ideally in a non-sexual context. This includes not just if you’re mutually interested in choking, but about the risks involved (making sure everyone is fully informed about health risks), and about how you’ll communicate during play.
In BDSM scenes, some people use ‘safe words’. These phrases quickly communicate needs during play and—especially in the case of scenes which involve a level of playing with non-consent—can make intentions clear. However, during breath play it can be difficult to vocalise. Instead, you may want to choose a ‘safe gesture’. This might look like leaving the bottom with free hands, so they can tap the top if they want to stop, or giving them an object to drop.
Don’t neglect communication afterwards as well! After sex or your BDSM session, check in with your partner/s about what the experience was like for them, both physically and emotionally. Choking can be an intense experience for both top and bottom, so take time to make sure both you and your partner/s feel safe and secure. Depending on your relationships and preferences, this might look like snuggling, kissing, or giving each other words of affirmation.