Is Choking during Sex Dangerous?

Louis Catania, Patient Navigator, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

It seems weird to think of choking as a new thing in sex. In fact, it might sound normal to you! Many people, especially people that identify as women, have experienced it before. Similarly, submissive partners might just see it as a normal thing, not requiring consent. So, if its’s everywhere, is choking during sex dangerous?

It’s crazy popular

Many see choking as one way to spice things up in the bedroom. Someone puts pressure on the neck of their partner to block blood flow or airflow, usually with a hand or arm (or even leg). Next up comes a lightheaded feeling, things feel more intense, and it can be a very pleasurable experience when done in a consensual way (even if it isn’t safe—but more on that later).

The thing is, before pornography became easily accessible online, choking was more of a non-mainstream kink. Today, porn websites have thousands of hits for videos of people getting choked. So, it totally makes sense that you might see this as something that’s safe and popular.

Problem is, there’s no truly safe way to choke someone.

So, choking during sex is dangerous?

See, people generally believe choking is pretty safe, but there’s no way to do it without risks. That’s because the brain has no reserve tank of oxygen. If it loses all its blood flow and air flow, one might become lightheaded within seconds, and unconscious in less than ten seconds. It only takes a few seconds for someone to experience internal injuries, and death can even occur within a few minutes.

Yes, it’s that serious. Your brain isn’t getting oxygenated blood. Your brain cells need oxygen, and without them, things start to shut down. To put it simply, choking during sex is dangerous because it causes damage to the brain.

What about the non-physical side of things?

So, there’s two issues to talk about here: consent, and the emotional effects.

Let’s start with consent. Since choking can lead to death, things get tricky. It doesn’t matter if everyone is on board, because if the result is major injuries or something more serious, the person applying the pressure might be on the hook for criminal charges. Something serious to keep in mind!

Next are the emotional effects. See, while a lot of people enjoy choking, there are also many that do it just for their partner’s sexual pleasure. That’s where one must separate the desire to make someone happy, with the very real safety concerns.

Choking is normalized, but it can be super scary, especially if you don’t trust your partner. The sexiest thing someone can do is ask if everyone is okay with everything that’s happening—and you can (and should) say no if you aren’t okay with it.

What can you do instead?

If you still want to get that rush from choking but want to avoid the scary stuff that goes with it, here are a few things to try instead!

  • A lighter touch: Often putting your hand over your partner’s neck is enough to simulate what is happening without needing to apply any pressure. Get consent first, of course!
  • A different placement: What you want to avoid is restricting air flow/blood flow. Something you could try is to put your hand high up on your partner’s neck instead, right below the jaw. Use super light pressure upwards instead of inwards to kind of press into your partner’s tongue instead of their windpipe. It feels similar, but you’re not actually restricting airflow!
  • A shushing gesture: Why not place your hand over your partner’s mouth instead? It’ll leave their nose free to breathe as normal, but the act of quieting them has a similar effect to choking.
  • A gag will do: Same as with the hand over the mouth, use a gag to restrict your partner’s ability to talk while still leaving them free to breathe through their nose.

Use the Positive Peers app for more tips and tricks

There’s way more info out there on how to spice up the bedroom while staying safe. Try signing up for the Positive Peers app so you can stay up to date on resources like:

There’s also a whole community on the app that might be able to help clear things up even more. Register for the app and talk to people that are going through their own safe-sex journey. You’ve got this!