It was a cold and sunny Wednesday afternoon, and my 12-year-old son was in the passenger seat as we drove home from picking up new library books from his school. We were cruising down the highway singing along to Top 40 radio and chatting between songs when out of nowhere, he asks, “Mom, do girls really like to be choked during sex?”
Miraculously, I managed to keep the car on the road and maintain a moderately neutral expression as I replied with, “That’s an interesting question, thank you for asking me.”
After having an internal what-the-actual-fuck moment and saying a few dear-lord-baby-Jesus prayers, I took a deep breath and continued…“Where did you hear that?”
“Nick told all of us in the locker room before practice last night.”
It wasn’t unusual for my son to bring up the crazy things he heard or saw at school, in the locker room, or online. We basically made this scenario into a game without trying.
We call it “fact-checking your idiot friends.”
Our kids come to us all the time to “fact check,” and we usually get a laugh out of the crazy things their friends believe and share with others.
If my son trusted even half the information his idiot friends gave him, he’d be under the impression his penis would stop growing at thirteen, that getting kicked in the balls is 10x more painful than childbirth, and countless other ridiculously fabricated boy rumors.
Who knows how many days he’s been walking around confused and thinking every girl that passes by is into erotic asphyxiation.
Even though I was a little shocked by this very specific and rather kinky question, ultimately, I’m glad the little psychopath smacked me over the head with an out-of-nowhere inquiry about choking during sex. He could have just believed his stupid friends or done a Google search. The second search result would have led him to a Men’s Health article telling him how to use choking during sex; the third was a story by Glamour about a young woman who enjoys “submission choking.”
When the alternatives include leaving your kid’s sex education up to their idiot friends or having your 12-year-old take matters into his own hands with an unsafe search online, you realize you would much prefer the in-your-face questions about specific sexual kinks while driving down the highway on a Wednesday afternoon.
I’ve always found that age-appropriate honesty has been the best policy for our kids. We’ve never used code words for penis and vagina or convinced them the stork delivered babies.
We give it to them straight.
This topic wasn’t something I knew much about, and I was honest with my son about that right away. I thanked him for asking me and told him this particular subject was one I wanted to dig into a little bit before I felt comfortable discussing it. This wasn’t an unusual response, so he agreed.
There have been plenty of times our kids have caught us off guard with a question we weren’t equipped to properly answer. We’re never going to spitball about sexuality and run the risk of seeming dismissive or judgmental. It’s far too sensitive and nuanced of a topic, and I’ve already witnessed firsthand what happens when inaccurate information is shared by idiot kids.
All kids talk, and mine are certainly not saints, so I assume whatever I share with them could also impact 10 of their closest friends.
It keeps me honest and lets my kids know I take their questions about sex and puberty and my fact-finding missions seriously. After some serious research, I had a better grasp of choking and erotic asphyxiation. I knew for certain it wasn’t something everyone with a vagina was into or begging for and that thinking so was dangerously misguided.
Confirming, once again, his friends are idiots.
Let’s talk about choking vs. erotic asphyxiation.
I’m sexually curious and a little kinky myself, so I’m not about to kink-shame anyone who likes a hand on their neck during sex. But after learning more about the subject, I could never endorse erotic asphyxiation, autoerotic asphyxiation, or any of its numerous code words.
Erotic asphyxiation (EA) is the intentional restriction of oxygen to the brain for purposes of sexual arousal. EA is also commonly referred to as breath play or airplay with a partner (APP) — which are both a hell of a lot easier to say and attempt to make it sound a lot less scary.
No matter what you call it, it’s considered dangerous and potentially deadly for a reason, and it isn’t without major risks.
Autoerotic asphyxia is the practice of cutting off the flow of oxygen to your own brain through hanging, strangulation, or suffocation to increase feelings of sexual pleasure while masturbating.
Squeezing the neck cuts off the brain’s supply of air and blood and will initially cause lightheadedness or dizziness. Fans of breath play claim to enjoy the rush of endorphins and hormones when the hold is released, alleging it intensifies their orgasm. But, if the pressure on their neck lasts too long or it goes too far, the lack of oxygen can cause brain damage, a heart attack, or even death.
There is a fine line between consensual breath play and dying.
Breath play or airplay, which some people consider a delicate art form, is not something everyone is interested in or the vast majority of people know. The fact that choking a woman is something a 12-year-old is talking about like it’s completely normal is actually quite terrifying.
Are erotic asphyxiation, breath play, and choking the same thing?
This is a question I’ve been wrestling with ever since that fateful Wednesday when my son dropped this bomb of a question into my brain.
The answer is complicated.
A hand around the neck can be used to maneuver a partner around without necessarily squeezing. Some women enjoy a hand on their neck while in certain sexual positions or situations. They enjoy the dominance and control it gives their partner as they are forced into submission. Some even enjoy the risks associated with the experience.
There are many nuances to sexuality. It’s not always easy to identify where a kink for a hand around your neck ends, and the deadly and underrecognized disease of Sexual Masochism Disorder with Asphyxiophilia begins.
Adults in consensual, loving, and communicative relationships might be able to properly discern where one starts and the other ends. But curious adolescents? Not so much.
It’s not a harmless kink.
Kids need to be educated about the risks of choking during sex and masturbation. There need to be more parents having conversations about the dangers of erotic and autoerotic asphyxia.
It’s not harmless if up to 1,000 people die from the effects of erotic asphyxiation per year in the United States alone. Those statistics, although surprisingly high, are likely underestimating the total associated mortality rate. Many of these deaths are classified as a suicide and not attributed to autoerotic asphyxiation.
While my son was told girls are into EA, the data tells a very different story. According to a study published in 2006, up to 31% of all male adolescent hanging deaths may be caused by autoerotic activity. It is estimated that nearly 375 adolescent males took their lives through the practice of autoerotic asphyxiation in the United States in 2002 alone.
As a mom of an adolescent boy who was recently told choking may enhance the sexual experience, that statistic is shocking. The lack of data or associated warnings about this specific topic is beyond alarming. Especially when I think back to when my kids were younger and how I did everything I could to prevent them from choking on food, toys, or whatever else they might get their little paws on around the house.
We protected our children from choking because we knew how dangerous it was. Our pediatrician offered us guidance at nearly every appointment on the dangers of choking for children, and my mother-in-law was never far away with a knife to cut things up even smaller at every family meal. The average number of deaths annually in children from accidentally choking on an object is under 200.
Based on the limited data points available, it appears autoerotic asphyxiation poses a significant risk to our children. Why are we not talking about this?
How do you explain it to a curious 12-year-old?
You give it to them straight, but you can’t just come out of the gate with conversations about erotic or autoerotic asphyxia without having a strong foundation of trust and communication already established around puberty and sexuality.
As parents, we can’t stop the freight train of puberty or the sharing of mostly false information between friends, but we can be there to convey facts and have important conversations.
Do whatever you need to do to get through the awkwardness of those foundational talks about puberty and sexuality with your kids. Buy them books, make light of it by throwing your pubescent self under the bus. Do whatever it takes to make them feel a little more informed and a little less misunderstood as they transition into adulthood. They have questions, and if you’ve done the leg work, they will rely on you as their source and not their friends, Google, or dangerous experimentation.
Before my son asked the question, I knew very little about consensual breath play or disordered asphyxiophilia.
But we can always learn.
We know our kids hear about kink and fetishes much younger than ever before due to the abundance of sexual content available for free online. We can monitor and protect our own children from discovering content that promotes sexual violence against others and sexualizes self-harming activities, but that doesn’t mean their peers haven’t already consumed similar content and shared it with them.
Kids lack the knowledge and emotional maturity to understand the murky waters of their own sexuality, much less the nuance of kink and fetishism. They certainly shouldn’t be advising their peers on the matter.
They jump right into talking about violent kinks that could be life-threatening without realizing it.
A day after his initial question, my husband and I were ready to share what we had learned and some general thoughts on choking and erotic asphyxiation with our son.
Without demonizing all pornography as bad, we explained that some porn showcases rough and demanding sexual encounters that may not represent what his future partner/s will be interested in. We told him his friend had probably seen hardcore porn that led him to believe all girls wanted or enjoyed things rough.
That led us further down the path of explaining the nuances of sexual pleasure and preferences and the need for consent to be an ongoing conversation. Ultimately, we decided he was educated enough on the foundational topics and mature enough to handle a few stories about the real-life consequences of autoerotic asphyxiation.
We ended the conversation by sharing stories about partnered breath play that ended in death and a murder trial. The stories of Alex Veilleux, an 18-year-old from Maine who died from autoerotic asphyxia, and Kung Fu star David Carradine who died similarly.
Did we handle his question and this situation appropriately? I’m still not sure.
He came to me, we all learned together, and we kept the conversation open and ongoing…which is all I can hope for.
As a mom and a sex-positive writer, this topic scares me.
Seeing the sheer number of people who die annually because of erotic or autoerotic asphyxiation was quite shocking. The fact that a 12-year-old child was running around telling an entire locker room of kids that girls really enjoy being choked during sex was equally as shocking.
In addition to talking to our son, we also reached out to his coach, and the parents of the boy who shared this information were notified.
I’ve written before about the importance of teaching our children, particularly our daughters, about sexuality, pleasure, and learning to define their sexual wants and needs. The more vocal we are about what is and isn’t acceptable, the less often we will hear men and boys spout off like they know and understand the unique interests of every woman.
It’s critical to leave the door open and have similar conversations about consent, communication, and establishing personal boundaries.
These conversations are quite literally a matter of life and death.
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