Does Dating Require Being Choked and Slapped Now?

Reader question:

“I have been in the dating world for a while and able to hang with all of the bullshit that comes from using apps, but there’s something that’s been coming up more lately and I’m not sure if I can deal.

I’ll meet a guy, we’ll have a good time on a date (or several) and go home to hook up. It’s fine and then- without a word of discussion- they do something violent like choking or slapping. It has happened with three separate men in the last few years. The first time it was a guy I’d just met that night and I was so surprised I didn’t know how to react. The second time was with a guy I had been seeing for a few weeks and everything had been vanilla (although he didn’t ask before he initiated intercourse which should have been a deal breaker, frankly) and he hauled off and slapped me while we were fucking. I didn’t know how to talk about that either, so I just ghosted him after that.

Last week I was with a man I’ve been seeing for a couple months who I really like and in the middle of sex he started choking me out of nowhere! Afterwards I brough it up and was like “what the fuck was that?” He apologized immediately and sounded like he felt really bad about it. He said he assumed I would want that but should have known better. What is going on? I want to think of myself as sex positive and could be game for something kinky– but not if it’s just sprung on me. Is this porn’s influence? Have men always been like this?”

Dear reader, I’m sorry that happened to you. For what it’s worth: it’s not your fault, you didn’t do anything to bring it on, this isn’t something you should expect or accept. And while I doubt it offers any succor to know this: you’re far from alone.

According to survey data published by esteemed sex researcher Debby Herbenick , rough sex- including slapping and strangulation- has become a fairly common part of hookups, especially among younger people. In a random sample of undergrads, 1 in 4 young women, 1 in 5 trans and nonbinary students and 1 in 15 young men reported having been choked during their most recent sexual event. 1 in 3 women reported that they had been choked more than 5 times during sex.

It’s worth noting that among sexually active girls age 14 to 17, 13% of them said they had been choked during sex. They found is that having experienced choking during sex was significantly associated with mental health impacts and that 1 in 4 women reported sexual situations where they felt scared for their safety.

I want to make it very clear that I’m not judging rough sex or BDSM practices. I’d go so far as to call myself a fan of pain and dominance– when it’s conducted consensually and by a competent, considerate lover. These studies are not asking whether the participants consider themselves kinky, whether they enjoy pain during sex, or if these acts were negotiated in advance.

This rough sex trend has been mentioned in a few thinkpieces over the last decade and has been given as a possible explanation for why young people are having sex less often than the generations before them. In an interview with Scientific American, Herbenick said that the decline in sex wouldn’t likely to attributable to a single cause but that the popularity of rough sex was likely a factor, saying, “For many people, it’s consensual and wanted and asked for, but it’s also scary to many people, even if they learn to enjoy it or want it.”

If it’s not being openly discussed and negotiated in advance, I can imagine a fair number of folks have become gun shy about hook ups– knowing it could result in unexpected, unwanted violence.

So why is it happening? Playful force can be very appealing in a sexual scenario. Kink and BDSM practices can be a means of deepened intimacy among partners. Dominance, novelty, displays of strength, roleplay, and roughhousing can be intensely erotic. For some women, rough sex can help them orgasm faster. There’s also research to suggest that porn has influenced young men’s perceptions of what is normal and expected.

A reddit discussion on the ubiquity of choking, hair pulling, and other aggression during sex garnered well over 3,000 comments, including many that indicated it has become deeply uncool to be considered vanilla. Despite being one of the most heavily censored platforms, TikTok is filled with kinky content and comment threads full of people who imply that if you’re not into being choked during sex– you’re basically a Puritan.

In its absolute worst incarnation, this normalization is manifesting in a “sex game gone wrong” defense. Research indicates there has been a tenfold increase in the use of this defense in UK courts. According to We Can’t Consent To This, in the last decade 30 women and girls in the UK have been murdered during what their partners called consensual sex.

I’m not going to assume anything about the men who were violent with you, but if those guys are capable of basic goodness I hope they have since learned that they need to negotiate these things beforehand and are no longer charging forward without a green light. That’s the distinction between fun, adventurous kink and simple assault.

Ultimately, the onus is on each of us to make sure that our partners are down for whatever we get into- whether it’s aggressive or not.

I don’t know if I have any words to ease the discomfort you are experiencing or to help keep you safe going forward, unfortunately. You can pre-emptively discuss this openly with your current and future partners and if you encounter this kind of unwanted violence again, I hope you can find the presence of mind to stand up for yourself, bring things to a halt and demand a course correction in the moment. Hopefully we can change the conversation from being about kinkshaming to being about consent.

    • Timaree Schmit Headshot

      Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.

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