“It Was Scary, But Then It Was Kind of Exciting”: Young Women’s Experiences with Choking During Sex

Debby Herbenick, Lucia Guerra-Reyes, Callie Patterson, Yael R. Rosenstock Gonzalez, Caroline Wagner, Nelson Zounlome

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Choking/strangulation during sex is prevalent among young adults, with one study finding that 58% of women college students had ever been choked during sex. However, no qualitative study has examined women’s experiences with choking/strangulation during sex outside of intimate partner violence. The purpose of our qualitative interview study was to investigate women’s experiences with choking and/or being choked during partnered sex. Through in-depth interviews with 24 undergraduate and graduate women students ages 18 to 33, we sought to understand how women communicate about choking, their learning about and initiation into choking, their feelings about being choked and choking others, as well as consent and safety practices used in relation to choking. We found that women had first learned about choking through diverse sources including pornography, erotic stories, magazines, social media, friends, and partners. While all 24 women had been choked during sex, only 13 of 24 had ever choked a partner. They described having engaged in choking with men as well as women and with committed as well as more casual partner types. Participants described consensual and non-consensual choking experiences. While many women enjoyed choking, others did it largely to please their sexual partner. Women described different methods and intensities of having been choked. Although very few had ever sought out information on safety practices or risk reduction, and only some had established safe words or safe gestures with partners, participants consistently expressed a belief that the ways in which they and their partner(s) engaged in choking were safe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1103-1123
Number of pages21
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • BDSM
  • Breath play
  • Choking
  • Kink
  • Sexual asphyxia
  • Strangulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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