In a frank exchange early in our courtship, I told my girlfriend that I have no kinks. As a faithful reader of Savage Love, I'm obviously not opposed to kinks—but I've never had any inclinations in that direction and am probably a typical hetero vanilla. As a result, I'm damn near clueless in that area. Last night, my girlfriend placed my hands around her neck and asked me to choke her. My instant reaction was to say no, not out of any objection in principle but because I thought it might be dangerous in my inexperienced hands. Later I did comply, but I was definitely holding back. I dearly love my main squeeze—clever pun there, huh?—and I want to be GGG, but... well, you see my misgivings. I know about safe words, but can we count on them when the recipient's larynx is being compromised and she may be close to passing out? For the record, I had no difficulty in acceding to her request to be bitten, as I know where and how hard I can do that without causing damage, but choking is an area of darkness for me. And let me note that my girlfriend has no grounding in medicine, physiology, or anything that would lead me to be comfortable trusting her judgment about choking.
—Choke Holds Obligate Kink Education
I have friends who are professional Dominants—women who will stick needles through the head of their client's cock and post the bloody pics to Twitter—who refuse to do breath play and/or choking scenes.
"It's impossible to control for all the variables," said Mistress Matisse, a professional dominatrix with more than 20 years of experience. "People think choking isn't kinky, but it is. People think it's a low-risk activity, but it's not. Choking isn't just about the lungs. It can affect the brain and the heart—it can affect the whole body—and if the bottom has underlying health issues, things can go disastrously wrong. I feel strongly about this."
Wrapping something around someone's neck—your hands, a belt, a rope—is the most dangerous form of breath control/play, Matisse emphasized, and simply cannot be done safely. Fragile bones (like the hyoid bone), nerves, arteries, veins—the neck is a crowded place, it's vulnerable, and putting sustained pressure on someone's neck is extremely risky.
Matisse also noted: "The person doing the choking needs to be aware that they're on the hook legally—for at least manslaughter charges—if the person who asked to be choked should die."
Jay Wiseman, author of SM 101, not only takes a similarly dim view of choking, CHOKE, he's served as an expert witness at the trials of people who choked someone to death during sex.
"It's always inherently life-threatening, and it's always inherently unpredictable," said Wiseman. "It's more dangerous than suffocation, as you can get into deeper trouble more quickly. People have died from a few seconds of being choked. There simply are no landmarks—meaning, you can't say to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that if you 'only' choke someone for 30 seconds, they'll be okay."
I'm tempted to leave it there, CHOKE, because I worry that anything else I might say—anything remotely equivocal—could result in one idiot choking another to death. But the fact of the matter is that choking, despite the risks, is a relatively common kink, and almost all deaths related to breath play occur during solo scenes, not partnered scenes. So I'm going to give you a little advice about meeting your girlfriend's particular needs safely, i.e., without wrapping your hands around her neck.
"What most people who are into choking want is to feel controlled," said Matisse. "So put your hand over her mouth. Grab her hair, wrap an arm around her shoulder—not her neck—and put your other hand over her mouth. That should satisfy the urge."
Another option, CHOKE, is a gas mask. If it's not too disturbing a look—if it's not a boner-killer—you can put a gas mask on someone, cover the breathing hole with the flat of your hand, and cut off your partner's air. All they have to do when they need a breath is shake their head, which will break the seal created by your palm.