Beyond a choke

(Content warning: sexual violence)

Sometimes magazines provide advice that’s genuinely dangerous. Here’s an example from Glamour UK:

The screenshot comes courtesy of the group We Can’t Consent To This, which campaigns against the normalisation of sexual violence against women. Glamour is one of many fashion and health magazines (including men’s magazines) that have talked about choking as if it’s just another normal thing most people do in bed. It isn’t. It’s really dangerous and it kills women.

To talk about choking as if it were the same as the use of fuzzy handcuffs is incredibly irresponsible. There is simply no way you can be sure that choking is safe. In addition to the obvious risk of suffocation there’s the risk of cardiac arrest, and there’s also the risk of very serious injury from a partner who doesn’t know what they’re doing, doesn’t know their own strength and/or who has been drinking or taking drugs.

And that’s assuming that the act is consensual in the first place. All too often it isn’t.

Many women have experienced one-night stands where suddenly they felt a hand around their neck without warning, let alone consent.

Maybe I’m a prude, but I don’t think attempted murder is something we should be trying to normalise here.

And it can be attempted murder. Women die from this.

That’s why We Can’t Consent To This exists. It tells the stories of far too many women: women who were murdered, sometimes incredibly brutally, by men who later claimed that the deaths were simple accidents during “rough sex gone wrong”. If you can read their stories without crying you’ve got a harder heart than me.

Here’s Anna Moore and Coco Khan writing in The Guardian.

Strangulation – fatal and non-fatal – “squeezing”, “neck compression” or, as some call, it “breath-play” – is highly gendered. On average, one woman in the UK is strangled to death by her partner every two weeks, according to Women’s Aid. It is a frequent feature of non-fatal domestic assault, as well as rape and robbery where women are the victims. It is striking how seldom it is seen in crimes against men.

Numerous studies have shown that non-fatal strangulation is one of the highest markers for future homicide

The mainstreaming of a previously very niche practice is largely because of online pornography. Like other industries whose business models have been transformed by the internet, its producers have found they have to produce more extreme content in order to survive, let alone thrive. And that means the mainstreaming of dangerous and degrading practices such as choking.

The Guardian again:

[Porn director Erika Lust] points out that if sex education is inadequate, “young people will go to the internet for answers. Many people’s first exposure to sex is hardcore porn”. This, she says, teaches kids “that men should be rough and demanding, and that degradation is standard.”

And both men’s and women’s magazines amplify it and tell them, hey! This is how everyone does it now!

The inevitable and horrific consequence of that is that women die. Sometimes they die by accident, but more often they die because our culture tells them that they shouldn’t fear a man just because he tries to strangle them from time to time.

Since 2009, the number of women killed in “rough sex games gone wrong” has increased by ninety percent. Two-thirds of those deaths involved strangulation.

I don’t doubt there are some women who find choking intensely erotic. But there’s a reason such “play” has been a niche pursuit for as long as humans have been getting each other off: it’s incredibly dangerous, it’s often the sign that your partner is going to hurt you in other ways and no magazine should be attempting to persuade their readers that it’s akin to messing around with fluffy pink handcuffs.

The handcuffs won’t kill you. A man who wants to choke you might.