Sexual choking is where someone applies pressure to your neck that partially or completely restricts your airflow or blood flow during sex. It can also be called breath play or erotic asphyxiation.

Why do people do it?

People generally engage in sexual choking to increase endorphins (the body’s feel-good chemicals) and to intensify orgasm. Sexual choking might also be part of edge play (a buzz you get from doing risky things and surviving them), bondage and discipline (BDSM and power play), rough sex, or sometimes just because people are curious.

Is sexual choking risky?

Sexual choking is a high-risk sexual activity. There is no risk-free way to engage in sexual choking. Every time you choke someone, or you let someone choke you, you risk serious injury, brain injury and death. There can also be legal consequences, even if the activity was done with consent. People may argue whether there was consent or not, especially if they have suffered injury. Alongside the risk of criminal charges, there is also a risk of civil legal claims, particularly if the person being choked suffers long-term impacts like a brain injury.

What about consent?

Informed consent is a person’s decision, given voluntarily, to agree to an activity after they have been provided with accurate and relevant information about the activity. All of us have experience with giving informed consent for medical procedures. We should strive for the same sort of informed consent with high-risk sexual activities.

NSW laws relating to sexual consent have changed recently to require affirmative consent. Affirmative consent means everyone participating in a sexual activity enthusiastically agrees to take part in that specific sexual activity. There are some resources below explaining what NSW law requires of you to achieve affirmative consent.

What is harm minimisation?

While there is no completely safe way to choke or be choked, some people who engage in sexual choking use harm minimisation strategies to help reduce the risk.

If we think about ways to sexually choke someone as sitting on a scale from highest risk to lowest risk, tying something around your own or someone else’s neck that can’t be instantly released; choking where you lose consciousness; choking or being choked under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and choking someone who is already recovering from a brain injury, or who has existing heart or breathing problems like asthma, might all sit up the top in the highest risk category. Ask yourself: Do you know the medical history of someone you’re intending to sexually choke?

Down at the safer end of the sexual choking risk scale are activities like holding your own breath (so you can let it go when it gets scary) and simulating choking (play acting) rather than actually restricting someone’s air or blood flow. Simulation allows you to explore this sexual fantasy without as many risks to health and safety. It still isn’t risk-free: even simulated choking can trigger someone’s memories of violence. Ask yourself: Do you know what to do if your sexual partner starts to have a panic attack?

Harm minimisation strategies can also include making a plan of action together for what to do if something goes wrong. Ask yourself: Do you know what to do if your partner stops breathing?

Who can I talk to about sexual choking?

If you would like to discuss sexual choking Women’s Health Centres across NSW have some staff who have been trained to support you to navigate risk, set boundaries, or help you engage harm minimisation strategies relating to sexual choking. Find your closest Women’s Health Centre here:

We are also in the process of making some extra resources to help. In the meantime, we have collected some things you can watch, listen to, or read.

Things to watch, listen to, or read

READ: Explainer: the reform of sexual consent laws in NSW

READ: Sexual consent: Consent laws in NSW

LISTEN: Hold your breath–why some people turn to choking during sex

READ: Everything You Need to Know About Erotic Asphyxiation

WATCH: What actually happens when someone is choked

WATCH: Sexplanations: Erotic choking

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