March 2, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Don’t Get Choked Up

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To the Editor:

My son, a Cornell student, sent me and his friends the article “On Choking” by Essie M., appearing in The Sun on Feb. 25. Not much bothers him, and he doesn’t contact me often since he’s in college. However, this article appalled him, as it does me. Pornographic personal narratives should have no place in a college newspaper, to say nothing of a Cornell publication. My son decided to go to Cornell because of its reputation, not to be ashamed. Moreover, the article makes feminists look bad, and most importantly, is alarmingly misleading. The writer glorifies a dangerous practice without giving a balanced discussion of its serious negatives.

As a former Women’s Studies undergrad, I have to note that her juvenile, insecure voice doesn’t impress or inspire me as a woman at all; in fact, I find it anti-feminist and degrading. Yes, Essie, listen to your own questions, the whispering intuition you mentioned (“demeaning . . . violent?”) because your rational mind can’t operate when it’s being deprived of oxygen! Someday you will learn that Feminism means a striving for equality between the sexes, and you get that by building women up, not by tearing men down. Your feminist forerunners have worked so hard, to bring us to this?     

I understand that the writer has the right to free speech, and that my son could simply choose not to read the column. As an English professor, I would defend her right to freedom of expression, but not when it involves a public safety issue. Her article is recklessly promoting domestic violence against women and men, but especially women, who tend to be physically not as strong as men — in this case, in being able to ward off choking that is going too far. Although you say that your sexual decisions are strictly personal, they lack judgment, have consequences and could have an impact on those around you.   

I did research on erotic asphyxiation after reading your article, because I considered that maybe I’m just too “old school.” I looked at what both medical people and feminists had to say. “Erotic asphyxiation is, at the very least, damaging, and at the worst, absolutely lethal,” says Andrew Jenkins, Professor of Health Education at Central Washington University. Jenkins puts it in no uncertain terms: “This practice is not an acceptable variation of sexual behavior.” In another article, Dr. Gail Dines, sociology and Women’s Studies professor at Wheelock College in Boston and feminist award-winning author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, says that people frequently tell her stories about negative experiences with erotic asphyxiation. I read of many other women who had similar experiences and tried with difficulty to get the word “No!” out during choking, even with consent.

This practice is frowned upon even by the Kink community. In an article called “The Dangerous Appeal of Choking,” in The Daily Beast, Gideon, a member of the NYC Kink community, who has experimented with erotic asphyxiation himself, explains that despite any safety precautions taken, it can still go wrong. He describes the scary physiology and warns against any sort of dabbling: “Engaging in asphyxiation games should always be viewed as a prohibitively risky endeavor … one small slip, or a miscalculation could result in a sudden strangulation, a crushed windpipe, or even a snapped neck.” And even if there is no obvious physical accident done at the hands of the partner, the mere process can bring on death by changing blood chemistry, leading to cardiac arrest. Readers, is the brief erotic pleasure really worth your life?

What was so concerning to me about the future is that as individuals like Essie M. glamorize and promote sexual choking, it is insidiously becoming more mainstream for millennials in our society due to peer pressure. Cavalier attitudes lead to acceptance of this practice, which leads to lack of request for consent. But sex is between individuals, not between society. Taking permission for granted because of a perception that the rest of the world does is never okay! Essie, why did you merely “appreciate” his request for consent?  Shouldn’t you have expected, even demanded it? As Dr. Downs wisely summarizes, “There are as many sexual turn-ons as there are things in the world, and no one can keep you from feeling the way you do. If asphyxiation is your thing, however, it’s best left to fantasy.”

Essie, why not write on sexuality, appealing to a broader audience, in a more appropriate, useful way?  With free speech comes responsibility. These readers are your fellow students. God forbid, a few of them may experiment as a result of your article, and even one harmed is too many.