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Trigger warning – sexual abuse.
If you are a Tiktok or Instagram user, you might have noticed the recent rise in content about choking during sex.
Earlier I read a tweet that has gone viral on Instagram to millions of followers on an account aimed at teenage girls. It said: “Guys that choke u when they kiss u go to heaven”.
Hundreds of very young women commented on the post with heart emojis and statements of agreement. This is commonplace on social media.
There is an abundance of content that depicts images of women and girls being choked and strangled, boys talking about or acting out choking role play, and girls talking about how much they love it.
It is ‘trendy’ to choke now and you are considered ‘vanilla’ and boring if you don’t like it. Rough sex and choking are being normalised and glamourised on Instagram and Tiktok, and neither platform is doing much about it.
If you say “Men are awful” in response to a post about a woman being gang raped your comment will be instantly removed as hate speech. If you report a video of a teenage girl being strangled by an adult it is unlikely to be removed because according to Instagram and Tiktok it ‘doesn’t go against community guidelines’.
Try it yourself, go to the hashtags ‘chokemedaddy’ ‘strangleme’ ‘imjust16’ ‘choking’ on Instagram or Tiktok and report the posts that depict sexual violence and see what happens – most likely nothing at all.
13 is the minimum age to sign up on both platforms and they are widely used by teens. 60% of Tiktok’s users are 16 – 24.
The impact of this kind of content should not be underestimated. Research by the campaign group ‘We Can’t Consent To This’ estimates that 2 million women in the UK have experienced non-consensual choking during consensual sex.
A 2020 survey by the BBC showed that a quarter of men under 40 admitted to choking, gagging, slapping or spitting on women without consent. 57% of them said that porn had influenced them.
Mainstream porn shows worrying levels of violence towards women. The front pages of most free porn sites show videos of women being throttled, gagged, and hurt during sex. Many of the videos depict rape and violence.
Porn is influencing men and boys of all ages and it is impacting on the ways in which they have real sex with women. This is then spilling out into content on social media platforms and so the combination of porn and social media is changing what people are doing in bed- often at the expense of women’s pleasure and safety.
It is a gendered act. Women are generally not subjecting their partners to non-consensual sexual violence.
The vast majority of depictions of violent sex in porn and on social media show women being harmed by cis gendered men.
Misogyny is without question a factor within this, if it wasn’t and it was happening because choking is an inherently pleasurable act, then women and girls would be choking men and boys at equal rates and that is simply not happening.
Whilst all forms of non-consensual sexual violence, like hitting and spitting, are concerning, the reason why it is so important to focus on choking and strangulation is that it is potentially fatal.
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Research by ‘We Can’t Consent To This’ shows that in 1996 two women a year were being killed by choking in bed in what men claimed were ‘sex games gone wrong’. By 2016 this had risen to twenty women a year. Since 1996 seven men have been murdered in this way – all by men.
Women are dying and their killers are receiving light sentences or not being convicted at all because they use the rough sex defence to claim that the victim consented.
Nobody consents to being murdered, but the normalisation of rough sex is leading juries to believe that the women who die in this way were somehow deserving because of their sexual preferences. And even if they don’t die – non-fatal strangulation carries huge risks, including, facial or limb paralysis, urinary or faecal incontinence, seizures, coma, miscarriage, and stroke –in fact, non-fatal strangulation is the second biggest driver of strokes in UK women under 40.
When women are consenting to being choked in bed, are they truly consenting if they are not aware that it carries these risks?
An act which carries a high risk of serious injury or death has become so normalised that teenagers are doing it during their first sexual experiences. This is not only dangerous for girls but for boys too.
It is robbing them of their ability to enjoy mutually pleasurable gentle sex as they feel that they are expected to place their hands around girl’s necks, whether they enjoy it or not, in order to be seen as good in bed.
And it is not just restricted to teenagers, women of all ages are reporting that non-consensual choking is now a frequent occurrence. Women in their 40s and 50s who are newly dating after divorce are reporting being shocked to find that men are now doing it often.
Do not get this confused with BDSM – BDSM is always practiced with consent, and safe words, and many people in the BDSM community avoid choking because of the risks it carries. These boys learning that all women want to be choked from Tiktok and Insta are not masters of BDSM. These guys who meet women off Tinder and strangle them during the first night without any prior discussion or expressed consent aren't kinky fetishists exploring mutual pleasure and pain. They are inexperienced boys and men who model their sexual practices on what they have seen in mainstream porn and social media because it allows them to degrade and defile women.
It is not kink shaming to call out the dangers of choking. If you enjoy being choked because it genuinely turns you on then there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you are doing it with the risks in mind and you are doing it with a partner who prioritises your safety and who understands the anatomy of the neck and how to avoid injuring you (which is near on impossible to guarantee because even light pressure could lead to the hyoid bone snapping).
There is no shame in enjoying rough consensual sex. The rise of choking content on social media does not need to be called out because it is embarrassing to enjoy it – it needs to be called out because it is dangerous, and it is having real life consequences.
Parents need to be aware of this so that we can inform and educate our children. We need to be able to counteract the content that they are being brainwashed by.
We need to make it very clear that even though choking is widely normalised, it is not a normal standard part of sex, they should not expect it or go along with it just because they think everyone else is. We need to ensure that they know that they don’t have to do it, and that engaging in it could come with severe risks.
We also need to ensure that women are clear that unless they feel extreme pleasure from choking, they don’t need to consent to it.
It doesn’t matter if a man makes you feel like a prude, or that you won’t match up to his need for a ‘freaky’ sexual partner, we have to feel empowered to say no to things that we don’t like. We have to hold it in our minds that we are risking permanent brain damage every time we say yes, and if we are saying yes solely for someone else’s pleasure then it is clearly not worth the risk.
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We can’t stop the wave of dangerous content, but we can call it out and report it every time we see it, and we can do our best to normalise consent and safe sex. We can also fill out this Government consultation on violence against women and girls (VAWG).
It closes on Friday 19th February. If they get enough responses showing our anger about the normalisation of violence and coercion and the extreme pornographic content on social media, then it will feed into their 5 year VAWG strategy and we will hopefully begin to see action being taken. We have the power to fight back against this and we need to as a matter of urgency before more women die.
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