Be sure always to call it please “breath play”

And there’s choking. We’re told it’s “kink”; we’re told not to “shame” people for enjoying it; we’re told it’s “rough sex”; we’re told we must be vanilla. And women die.

A recently married woman turns up dead.

According to Roberts, Vicky’s death had been a terrible accident, a “sex game gone wrong”. In court, he pleaded not guilty to her murder, claiming they had been having sex on the sofa with a bathrobe cord around Vicky’s neck and she had instructed him, three times, to “pull tighter”. When she slumped to the floor, he thought she was joking and waited for her to sit up and say, “Boo!” When he realised his wife was dead, he sat in the corner and cried.

He was lying though.

Fortunately, there was ample evidence to speak for Vicky. The pathology report showed her injuries could not have been inflicted by a dressing gown cord and the force used was excessive. Roberts had snapped a hyoid bone in the front of her neck. He hadn’t called an ambulance. He hid Vicky’s body in the garage and told her family she had left him for another man.

And there’s more, but there isn’t always that level of evidence.

Just one month after the trial, another woman – Michelle Stonall – was found strangled with her dog’s lead in Sheldon Country Park, Birmingham. Her killer used the same “sex game” defence. Less than two months after that, Anna Banks, a 25-year-old classroom assistant, was strangled by her boyfriend of four months. Daniel Lancaster claimed that Banks “enjoyed being throttled during intercourse”. He was not found guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter and given a four-year sentence.

Since December last year, a group of women have attempted to gather “sex games gone wrong” defence killings under one place – the website We Can’t Consent to This. In the decade since Vicky’s murder, such killings have risen by 90%. Two thirds involve strangulation.


Because it’s a “kink.” Because it’s being normalized as “kink” and what did anyone think would happen?

Strangulation – fatal and non-fatal – “squeezing”, “neck compression” or, as some call, it “breath-play” – is highly gendered. On average, one woman in the UK is strangled to death by her partner every two weeks, according to Women’s Aid. It is a frequent feature of non-fatal domestic assault, as well as rape and robbery where women are the victims. It is striking how seldom it is seen in crimes against men.

Striking but not surprising, given the fact that men are stronger than women.

And now, a new defence has been added to the mix – consent. Fiona Mackenzie, an actuary, set up We Can’t Consent to This following the outcry over the so-called “rough sex killing” of Natalie Connolly, 26, by her millionaire partner John Broadhurst, 40. Despite the victim having 40 separate injuries, including serious internal trauma, a fractured eye socket and bleach on her face, Broadhurst received a sentence of three years, eight months for manslaughter.

“People were talking about this defence as if it was one isolated incident and I knew it wasn’t,” says Mackenzie. Although English law does not recognise consent to choking – or any physical harm – in the context of consensual sex, the Labour MP Harriet Harman has just announced her intention to have this underlined again in the forthcoming domestic violence bill. “It needs more emphasis because defence teams are increasingly offering it up, maybe because rough sex has crept into the mainstream,” says Mackenzie. “I’ve had so many women get in touch to say they have been horrified on Tinder dates by partners who have choked them during sex. If you’re dating, it’s expected of you and if you don’t go along with it, you’re boring.”

Here’s an interesting fact: that business of its being expected and being boring if you say no is a major part of the plot of the novel Big Little Lies, but it was completely excised from the tv serial based on the novel, the tv serial that was directed by a man and written by a man. Liane Moriarty, who wrote the novel, is a woman. Funny how that works.

How did strangulation become so widespread? Autoerotic asphyxia – when someone restricts oxygen to their own brain for the purposes of arousal – isn’t new: there have been documented cases since the early 17th century. But, historically, it has been “niche” and an overwhelmingly male pastime. And the serious risks it has always carried can be seen in the two high-profile examples of the deaths of the MP Stephen Milligan and the actor David Carradine.

Now, though, it is women being choked – Mackenzie hasn’t found a single case of a man killed by a woman in an alleged “sex game gone wrong”. And sex surveys, advice forums, social media feeds and women’s magazines show the way the practice has become mainstream. “If blindfolds and role play have veered into vanilla territory, there are still plenty of sex moves … like choking,” suggests Women’s Health. “Breath play, the risque new sex practice gripping millennials,” offers Flare. On, one sex educator was quoted as saying anyone stuck in a sex rut could read up on “how to choke your partner safely”.

There is no safely. It’s unbelievable and enraging that people are actually advising choking for less vanilla sex. How about just eating a jalapeño or two instead?

Gail Dines, the feminist thinker and CEO of Culture Reframed, believes strangulation has been normalised via two main routes. “For the men, it’s pornography and for the women, it’s in women’s magazines,” she says. “And both of these media genres legitimise it as a form of ‘play’.” She describes choking as a “number one standard act” on porn sites and says women look to porn to “see what men want and they see choking”.

Women’s magazines are telling women to get choked. What is this world.

H/t latsot

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