Why Are So Many Men Choking Women In Bed Without Asking?

One in four young women say they were choked the last time they had sex.

Originally Published: 
Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle; Stocksy

The moment Lynn* realized she couldn’t breathe, she wasn’t scared. She was pissed. The man she was hooking up with had casually put his hand around her throat and squeezed hard, without any prior discussion of the move. This wasn’t her first time being nonconsensually choked during sex, so she didn’t bother confronting the guy. “I was annoyed and outraged that men keep doing this,” the editor, 30, says. “It’s literally an assault. Like, what the f*ck?”

Choking — or, to use more accurate terms, erotic asphyxiation or strangulation — is highly controversial, even in the kink community. People of all genders and sexualities can enjoy the physical aspects of being choked: the head rush caused by lack of oxygen and obstructed blood flow, the pain of being handled with force. Many also enjoy the psychological elements: the thrill of danger, the exploration of dominance and submission. But the downsides can be monumental. A bad choking experience can be traumatic, even triggering, especially for survivors of assault or abuse. It can cause permanent damage to the heart, brain, and larynx. In the most serious cases, people can die.

As with most instances of gendered power dynamics, men are more likely to (literally) have the upper hand here. In a 2021 survey of U.S. undergrads, about a quarter of cis women reported being choked the last time they had sex (the stats were similar for trans and nonbinary folks). Meanwhile, only 6% of cis men were on the receiving end of that move during their last sexual encounter. Permission isn’t a given: A 2020 survey, also of U.S. college students, found that half of people who had been choked reported they had never, or only sometimes, been asked for consent first. Given the rising popularity of erotic asphyxiation, this puts a lot of women in risky or uncomfortable situations.

Of course, many women enjoy being choked in bed (*raises hand*). Some have even told me they only discovered they were into it because someone did it to them without their consent. “It never would’ve occurred to me to ask for it,” Maisie*, a 29-year-old journalist, says. “It opened my eyes to a kinkier side of sex I didn’t even know I would be interested in. … I also thought it was kind of hot that he took control.”

But in a situation where consent may be the only differentiator between a sex act and literal assault, does the “choke first, ask questions later” approach actually work? It’s a huge gamble, and yet it seems many men are all too willing to play the odds.

Who Told Men This Was A Good Idea?

You can’t talk about men’s sexual behavior in the year of our lord 2023 without talking about porn. An oft-cited 2010 study revealed 88% of the bestselling porn videos (at that time) contained violence, overwhelmingly with men as the aggressors and women as the targets, most of whom responded either positively or neutrally in response to the behavior. The take-home message: Women want rough sex, even if they don’t ask for it.

Choking has also entered the mainstream pop culture zeitgeist in recent years, as evidenced by moments like the “choke me daddy” memes and that scene in the premiere of HBO’s The Idol. We love to see sex and kink discussed more openly, but here’s where it gets tricky: It’s now widely understood that enthusiastic consent is mandatory. Once that’s obtained, most people agree that you don’t have to get permission for every kiss, caress, and thrust that comes next. As this type of rough sex becomes more mainstream, it seems more people are adding “choke” to this list as well.

“Is it possible I’ve choked people who weren’t into it? Absolutely.”

“There are certain women who [think] it’s very hot to say, ‘Is this OK? Is this OK? Is this OK?’ [before initiating a new sex act],” Frank*, a 34-year-old tech founder, says. “But then I’ve also had women say, ‘Why the f*ck are you asking me? Just do it.’”

By Frank’s account, he’s dabbled in choking with more than 100 sexual partners, so he’s confident in his ability to intuit women’s preferences and interpret nonverbal consent. Over time, he’s learned to test the waters instead of diving right in. If he senses a partner is into submission (he cites nonverbal cues like “certain types of eye contact, the way they move their head” or looking like “they want to feel small”), he might try to hold their arms down or lightly grab their hair, and see how they respond. If they’re into it, he might place a hand on their neck. If they’re into that, he might apply some pressure. If his partner tenses up, or if he feels the vibes are off, he stops. “If [your partner is] not into something, it’s instantly not hot,” he says. “Like, how can I be turned on if you’re not turned on?”

But Frank recognizes he can’t read every situation with 100% accuracy. “Is it possible I’ve choked people who weren’t into it? Absolutely,” he says. “I’m not like acting like … this [is a] perfect system.” Many women have learned to endure sex they’re not into, whether it’s because their partner is enjoying it or they’re afraid to say no. So even if a man believes he’s pleasing a woman, she might be counting down the seconds until the sex is over. (Reminder: Fake orgasms are a thing.)

Good Intentions, Bad Results?

As a survivor of sexual assault, Charlotte*, 35, was initially relieved to meet a guy who seemed gentle and attentive in bed — that is, until his hand crept up to her neck. His pressure went from light to anxiety-inducing to straight-up terrifying.

“I was starting to see stars … I started to panic that I was going to pass out or he was going to kill me,” she says. The man eventually let go and Charlotte gasped for air, after which, he kissed her like nothing was wrong. “I stayed and continued to have sex with him until he was finished,” she says. “It seemed safer than trying to leave.” Once it was over and Charlotte had made it to her car, she blocked his number and cried the entire way home. Her bruises took three weeks to fade, and therapy is helping with the psychological scars.

It’s unclear whether this man got off on harming Charlotte or if he genuinely thought it was a mutually enjoyable sexual encounter. But when a man literally holds a woman’s life in his hands without her consent, his desire doesn’t really matter.

Jack is confident that out of all his sexual partners, not one of them has had a negative experience with his choking.

Even among men with the purest intentions (or filthiest, depending on how you look at it), safety isn’t always a priority. There are plenty of free resources available online that give advice for this practice — unsurprisingly, “get consent” is one of the most common recommendations. But not everyone seeks these out. Nathan*, a 31-year-old music producer, says he’s “never really thought” about researching choking safety because he never uses more pressure than a light squeeze. “I’d never want to hurt her or freak her out,” he says. “But I never really considered there would be any real danger [with the kind of choking I’ve done].”

He’s not alone. “The question of ‘Oh, I’m choking them and they might die’ has never crossed my mind,” Jack*, who’s in his mid-30s, says. “I’m very firm, but I’m very gentle at the same time. ... I know my limitations.” Jack is confident that out of all his sexual partners, not one of them has had a negative experience with his choking.

Do Men Just Secretly Wish You’d Choke Them?

I have to posit one theory that could explain the phenomenon of nonconsensual sexual choking: Do guys just want to be choked?

Every man I spoke to for this piece said they’d been on the receiving end before, and while some did it more frequently than others, they’ve all had positive experiences. A few women I interviewed also said they’ve tried choking male partners, sometimes as a way to experiment with power dynamics, sometimes as retaliation after they were choked without consent — either way, the men seemed to like it. (“Instead of asking him to stop [choking me], I just went to choke him instead,” Samantha*, a 32-year-old who works in finance, says. “He called me a beautiful, wild woman after that.”)

Our patriarchal, heteronormative society assigns gender roles in the bedroom: men are supposed to be dominant, women are intended to be submissive. Obviously, these norms are regressive, reductive, and harmful — could they also be keeping men from admitting a desire to be choked? In a world where men are ridiculed as “beta males,” “cucks,” and “p*ssies” (ugh), perhaps some are too afraid to admit they want to relinquish their power… so they just choke their partners in hopes, perhaps even subconsciously, they’ll return the favor.

At its core, sex should be about desire, pleasure, and connection, not ill-fitting stereotypes or fear. Asking for what you really want in bed — whether that’s to choke someone or be choked by them — is extremely hot and incredibly freeing. What could be more powerful than that?

*Names have been changed.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit

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