Why Are So Many Young People Choking Each Other Without Consent?

Millennials and Gen Z need to get a grip — or loosen it, for that matter

Midsection Of Topless Woman Choking Throat Against Black Background
Choking is only sexy if both parties are into it
Getty Images/EyeEm

During the last several years, sex researchers have been busy documenting a rise in choking among young people, who appear to be spending more time than any previous generation with their hands on each other’s throats. What these researchers haven’t found, however, is if most of this choking is actually consensual. Instead, they’ve noted the possibility that many Gen Zers believe sexual choking has reached mainstream status enough to preclude it from requiring consent — as though any sex act, even one that isn’t potentially lethal, is justifiable without prior approval. Oof. I feel like my head might explode, and not in a sexy way.

Just how many youths are engaging in sexual strangulation these days? A 2020 survey of Americans aged 18 to 60 found one-fifth of women have been choked during sex, while roughly the same amount of men have choked a partner. But for younger adults, the rates of choking are much higher. A 2022 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior examining the general acceptance of choking among undergraduate and graduate students in the United States noted that 58% of women respondents had been choked during sex, and that the median age of a first experience either being choked or choking another person was 19, regardless of gender. And while some men are on the receiving end of sexual choking, it’s women, transgender and non-binary participants who were “significantly more likely to have been choked than men.”

These numbers don’t necessarily spell trouble on their own. The danger is how choking is often practiced: without permission or proper technique. In 2020, the BBC surveyed people in the UK about what researchers had defined as “rough sex” practices, like spitting, slapping and choking. One-third of male respondents who said they engage in rough sex also said they wouldn’t ask before choking their partner during sex.

The Consent Checklist Every Man Should Commit to Memory
Fully understanding and practicing consent involves much more than getting a simple “yes” or “no”

In the wrong hands, and at its most extreme, sexual choking can lead to brain damage or death. Also known as breath play, choking is a form of sexual asphyxiation or strangulation that often involves cutting off a partner’s airflow and sometimes causing them to lose consciousness. Some people find choking sexy because of how it allows them to play with power, control, dominance and submission. And for some, strangulation heightens the intensity of their orgasms because the flow of blood from the brain is cut off from the body, decreasing the brain’s oxygen levels and increasing carbon dioxide.

Of those who reported having been choked in the 2022 survey, many had positive responses: 82% said they experienced pleasure or euphoria, and 44% experienced a head rush. But a significant portion reported disturbing side effects, like the 43% who said they could not breathe, the 40% who had difficulty swallowing, the 38% who were unable to speak, the 15% with neck bruising and the 3% who lost consciousness.

According to several of these surveys, a majority of young people report learning about choking from porn, TikTok, friends and partners instead of knowledgeable, trustworthy adults in a sex education setting. Consequently, many are unaware of the risks involved. 

Sexual choking is, of course, not always so extreme. Some people prefer lighter pressure on the neck or throat. Depending on the dynamic between partners, choking can be more playful than aggressive or even homicidal. And the health risks associated with choking don’t justify shaming anyone’s legitimate sexual preferences practiced in safe, consensual settings. 

But the fact remains: choking is not casual. It’s not an activity for a first date or a random hook-up unless there’s been an explicit conversation about it beforehand. Any degree of choking can be extremely dangerous — physically or emotionally — if performed without consent, care and skill. And consent doesn’t suddenly become moot the moment a sex act becomes normalized, no matter what the dancing tweens on TikTok try to tell you.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!