March 2, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Don’t Get Choked Up

Print More

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.


  • Abe ’14

    I agree wholeheartedly with this, and I’m happy that this mother decided to take the time to write about it.

    The Sun has the potential to be a great newspaper – not just college newspaper. Some would argue it already is, but the sex pieces on Thursday have long tarnished its credibility. You don’t see the word “fuck” in professional journalism (and it is littered throughout our pages here) nor do you see the kind of graphic, overly sexual content produced by the sex writers. There’s a reason for that. The content isn’t that valuable, the audience doesn’t really want it. And if the audience does want it, there are plenty of places to get it outside of journalistic entities.

    I would second this mom’s notion that Essie gear her articles toward a more useful purpose. Why not an advice column? The Dan Savage thing here a few years ago was totally bizarre, but it showed that students here have real questions and real insecurities. That’s a void that could be filled.

  • Person

    Thank you for writing this article. I read the “On Choking” one and didn’t think much of it. I’ve never engaged in this behavior but I realize that my overall view on its existence was neutral to positive. Reading your article helped me realize that I should have been more critical. It’s a very dangerous activity that inhibits your ability to say “no” if you want to stop. Thank you again.

  • Person

    How do you expect anyone to respect you as a feminist if you call young women sharing their personal experiences juvenile, insecure, and irrational? I am disgusted by the fact that you actually said: “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?” Is it possible to be more condescending? Furthermore, Essie exclusively talked about building herself up and nowhere mentioned tearing men down what even is your argument there? You do not get to define what “Feminism” is nor do you get to decide what narratives are appropriate and useful. Our feminist forerunners actually worked so that we could feel empowered in our bodies and not be afraid of sharing our experiences and desires. If you think that this article is going to be the only thing encouraging experimentation then you are sorely mistaken. The information is already out there and “millenials” have access to it. This one article is not such a make-or-break issue that you need to descend to attacking this woman. Yes, there are plenty of criticisms to erotic asphyxiation, but this doesn’t mean you can self-righteously call to censor stories of a positive experience.

  • Aerin

    Choking is an accepted practice in martial arts. It is not any more dangerous in a kink context provided the same standards of caution and skill are upheld by the choker.

    I am a lifestyle member of the kink community (welcome, Essie!) and a big fan of being choked myself. Choking’s bad reputation in kink is partially due to confusion between erotic asphyxiation (choking by a partner) and autoerotic asphyxiation (choking yourself). Playing with autoerotic asphyxiation is a serious risk for death. Playing with erotic asphyxiation is not.

    The other reason for choking’s bad reputation is that one man, Jay Wiseman, managed to corner the discussion on choking safety by publishing a book called “SM 101,” which naturally is one of the first bits of literature new kinksters tend to come across. He is vehemently opposed to breathplay, but does not address research on choke hold safety done for the martial arts context.

    For a look at the real risks of choking and how to choke safely, googling “erotic asphyxiation danger” won’t help you, because you’re only going to get Jay Wiseman’s perspective. Try “choke hold danger” instead, and look for actual research on the safety of choking in martial arts. And for heaven’s sake, don’t do breath play if you have a heart condition.

  • Aerin

    Oh, and another thing on the list of essential safety steps for breath play: establish a NON-VERBAL safeword before you start. One option is holding something noisy, like a set of keys, in your hand while you are choked so that they will fall if you pass out or so that you can stop the scene by dropping them. The choker’s responsibility then includes ensuring they don’t miss the safeword when it’s given.