Is This Controversial Sex Act Also The Most Misunderstood?
We need to talk about choking. Republished from Whimn.com.au.
The first time I was ever choked in bed, I was confused.
The man doing it had no idea what he was doing, nor did he ask first if he could start choking me and he lacked any respect or consideration for my safety.
He told me, “I like hurting you”.
It goes without saying that this man was a grade-A dickhead who shouldn’t be allowed to have sex if that’s his idea of a good root. But it took me some time to be able to separate the shitty man from the act of choking and neutralize it as a sexual act that can be a site of pleasure.
It’s not hard to see where he might have got his inspiration, thanks to depictions like in Fifty Shades of Grey, as well as the increase of choking in porn, more and more people are engaging in the sex act. Unfortunately though, for the most part, the discourse that dominates the mainstream media when it comes to erotic asphyxiation, or choking during sex, has similar problems as I did in separating choking as an act from ideas of it being inherently violent and abusive.
Whether it’s condescending articles telling women that “it’s okay to say no”, or ones declaring ‘Australia’s porn problem’ which is increasing the chances of violent accidents in bed – there’s not a lot of discussion asserting the fact that choking can be a perfectly safe, and indeed pleasurable, sex act, or allowing for the possibility that it might be more complex than simply being a case of good (they consent to it) or bad (they don’t).
In writing this, I spoke to 12 people who enjoyed or participated in sex that involved choking. Most women who spoke to me said that it was a key site of arousal for them during sex, with Grace, 22, explaining, “I personally love being choked, but if someone is going to go for it, I prefer to be warned if I don’t know them very well. Guys I’ve been sleeping with for a while, I’m pretty comfortable with them going for it. But with new ones I’ll either go ‘hey, I like this’ or like for them to ask first rather than an aggressive choke because I’m scared of being strangled ha.”
But in the majority of cases, there was little – if any – discussion about the act itself, with many of the women explaining that they’d only discovered choking was a kink of theirs after a partner had initiated it once during sex. For Kate, 28, she told me she still doesn’t like discussing it, or anything for that matter, during sex, and prefers to use physical cues to indicate her desire to be choked.
The difficulty most people have with talking during sex raises one of the most crucial factors about choking – if you can’t talk about it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. The BDSM community is notoriously one of the best when it comes to being able to communicate before, during and after sex. So if you’re dating someone who tells you they’re ‘a Dom’, but fails to negotiate consent, you’re not dating a Dom, you’re sadly just dating an asshole.
Discussing the rise of choking during sex and the prerequisites involved, Sydney based sex therapist and educator Tanya Koens, echoes this point of communication being the foundation of any sex act that involves dangerous play.
“The kink community have always since time immemorial spoken about and negotiated sex,” Koens tells whimn.com.au. “If you want to play with these guys then you need to know their language and you need to talk about it. You can’t bring your fear into an area where there’s dangerous play.
“I’m usually like, ‘Everybody can do what they like and no judgment,’ but if you’re going to enter into dangerous play and you don’t have a voice, that makes me very nervous, and it should make me nervous.”
Talking to Koens, sex – and predominantly sex that involves choking or other dangerous acts – emerges as an act that has three parts: before, during and after. She explains that in an ideal world, you should bring up your preference for choking before you start having sex, be checking-in about it throughout having sex, and then ensuring that proper ‘after-care’ is being performed to ensure that everyone is still okay once you’ve finished. It’s this last part that is especially neglected when it comes to sex that involves choking, but she says it’s crucial if you’re going to participate in dangerous play because of the emotional toll it can take.
She explains, “These things are emotionally engaging, especially if you’re acting out to process trauma or to keep your mind clear because a lot of people engage in kink activities because it calms their anxious brains a lot. So once their endorphins are down and their brain has that anxiety, they might be making sense of it in a very different way. So it’s good to check-in.
“Have a bit of a debrief, see how you go and actually calling them the next day is a really good thing to do, “How’d you go? You know we played a bit rough last night I’m just checking in to see how you’re going.”
According to Koens, one of the biggest misconceptions about choking relates to the people who are hesitant to participate. We often hear about women who have been pressured into it, but not as much about the men who feel uncomfortable when asked to choke their female partner. “I’ll often find if it’s a man being asked to choke a woman, if he has strong values about treating women well, that can be really difficult,” she says.
One such man is Tom, 26, who told me that when he first started getting asked by women to choke them, he wasn’t sure if he should. “The first few times I was asked to, it didn’t sit right well with me,” he explains. “Lately I’ve been more okay with doing it if people ask. I’m always sure to communicate if it’s the right amount and check-in throughout.”
This point – the male allies who feel conflicted about being asked to participate in their partner’s submissive fantasies – opens up the issue of condescending, or unnecessarily pathologizing people’s sexual desires. The goal should be to establish space to communicate free of shame, and understand that people will often come from various different places when they enjoy being choked during sex: some get a thrill out of the physical sensation that comes with having air restricted, others do it to calm their anxious mind, and some find it helpful to regain a sense of control over past traumatic experiences. Regardless of the reason, however, we shouldn’t be assuming the why, but rather, the how, and making sure it’s done safely.
It also, however, raises the question of choking as a feminist act. The sex wars of the 1980s documented the debate between feminists over this extensively, with sex-positive feminists insisting on the need to give women the autonomy to assert their sexual desires free of judgment, while anti-sex feminists decried the act for reinscribing patriarchal values wherein women are submissive to men.
Largely, people should be free to express and communicate their sexual fantasies without the threat of their partner seeing it as an opportunity to be a therapist for an hour. But there’s also space to acknowledge the fact that sex positivity and ‘kink shaming’ can be weaponized dangerously to justify fetishization of oppression and the normalization of abusive sex. It’s one thing to fetishize your own oppression, but another to fetishize someone else’s.
In an essay titled ‘Does anyone have the right to sex?’ for The London Review of Books, Amia Srinivasan wrote, “The sex-positive gaze risks covering not only for misogyny, but for racism, ableism, transphobia, and every other oppressive system that makes its way into the bedroom through the seemingly innocuous mechanism of ‘personal preference’.”
Here, she highlights sexual desire as “political, not metaphysical”, and further points out that some people are given more freedom to express abnormal sexual proclivities by virtue of their identity than others, “sexual self-objectification may mean one thing for a woman who, by virtue of her whiteness, is already taken to be a paradigm of female beauty, but quite another thing for a black or brown woman, or a trans woman.”
Navigating the contours of our sexual desire is an inherently complex endeavor, and the last thing we need are moralistic lectures about what gets us off. But these acts don’t exist in a vacuum and above all, if you’re going to play rough, you should be doing it with people you can trust, but even more than that – with people you feel okay talking to about it. Things can go from bad to worse faster than you can say ‘kink’ when it comes to dangerous play in sex, which means negotiating boundaries and safe-words is never more important than in these scenarios.
As Koens says, “If you don’t want to talk about it, maybe it’s not for you.”
Featured image via unsplash.com
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