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Being suffocated just a few times during sex could lead to permanent brain damage, an alarming study suggests


It’s an increasingly popular sex act that has raised concerns among doctors across the country.

A staggering 58 percent of female college students have experienced suffocation, medically known as sexual strangulation, during intimate moments, according to a recent study.

But now the bizarre «switching on», popularized by Gen Z TV shows such as HBO’s Euphoria and the box office hit Fifty Shades of Grey, has been shown to cause worrying brain damage – which can be permanent.

Research has shown that women who choked four times in the past 30 days had changes in their brain structures that affected their ability to perform working memory tasks.

The research was carried out by Dr Debbie Herbinick, a sexual and reproductive health researcher who is one of the lead scientists investigating the harm caused by suffocation.

Dr Debbie Herbinick, a researcher in the field of sexual and reproductive health, is one of the scientists leading the investigation into the harm caused by suffocation.

Other studies she has conducted have shown that choking and other forms of rough sex are not only common among young people, but expected of them.

Limited blood flow to the brain can cause it to immediately stop functioning at its normal capacity and can suffer tissue necrosis or death after just five minutes due to lack of oxygen and glucose.

The risks of the sexual act are damage to the brain by depriving it of oxygen.

Even if it’s only for a short time, like 10 seconds, it can make someone pass out. Minutes without oxygen can lead to permanent brain damage.

Neurons, or brain cells, begin to shrink and die. To survive, they use emergency fuel stores that build up lactic acid in the bloodstream, which eventually leads to tissue damage in the heart, kidneys, and liver after about 20 minutes.

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Proponents say the allure is the pleasure felt from the sudden rush of oxygen that kicks in when a partner lets go.

Dr Herbernick said: «There’s a lot of concern that teenagers and young people who don’t really have full knowledge and information about these behaviors yet, who maybe have very limited practice or experience or experience of communicating about sexuality, are doing it.

“Even historically, in the Kink and BDSM communities, strangulation, which is what choking really is, was off limits to most people and was considered a really rare or niche kind of behavior that a small subset of people were interested in and needed . very careful consent, communication, education.’

Areas lit in red and orange represent the choking group, which had thicker brain regions in many areas, including parts of the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes, in both hemispheres involved in a long list of processes including face recognition, decision-making, self-awareness and motor movements

Areas lit in red and orange represent the choking group, which had thicker brain regions in many areas, including parts of the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes, in both hemispheres involved in a long list of processes including face recognition, decision-making, self-awareness and motor movements

The suffocated group showed significant changes in fractal dimensionality (a measure of the complexity of brain structures that shows how complex and detailed the surface of the cortex is) in various brain regions compared to the non-suffocated group, with increases in some areas and decreases in others

The suffocated group showed significant changes in fractal dimensionality (a measure of the complexity of brain structures that shows how complex and detailed the surface of the cortex is) in various brain regions compared to the non-suffocated group, with increases in some areas and decreases in others

The blue regions represent the choking group, which showed significantly less brain folding (gyrification) compared to the choking naïve group in several brain regions involved in decision-making, planning, emotional regulation, reward processing, language and speech processing.

The blue regions represent the choking group, which showed significantly less brain folding (gyrification) compared to the choking naïve group in several brain regions involved in decision-making, planning, emotional regulation, reward processing, language and speech processing.

A study in the journal Brain Behavior looked at two groups of 41 women, one that had been strangled in the past 30 days and one that hadn’t, to see how the practice affected their brain structure.

The suffocated group showed significantly increased cortical thickness in multiple brain regions involved in face recognition, visual processing and memory compared to a group of suffocating naïves, suggesting that the structure of their brains had changed, perhaps permanently.

These structural changes may be associated with differences in cognitive function or sensory processing.

Measures of the complexity of brain structures were mixed: the suffocation group increased volume in areas involved in processing touch, emotional processing, recognizing other faces and bodies, but decreased the size of areas involved in working memory, higher executive function, self-awareness. and visual processing.

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However, the study authors cautioned: ‘It is possible that individuals who have been prone to mental illnesses such as depression may already have altered cortical morphology and may therefore become more prone to risk-taking behaviour.’

The practice of choking during sex is a relatively new phenomenon. Having progressed beyond hiding in the corners of the internet on porn sites – which flourished – intimate suffocation is now a part of pop culture.

Beyond just Euphoria, musicians like Jack Harlow and comedians like Ali Wong have shared their preferences for the practice.

The first episode of the Max show Euphoria shows the character Cassie having intercourse with a partner who is suffocating her thinking she would like it. He didn’t ask her first.

Meanwhile, Jack Harlow sings in his song Lovin On Me, ‘I’m vanilla baby I’ll suffocate you but I ain’t no killer baby.’

And comedian Ali Wong said, “I’m a bossy person, so you’re going to be the boss, okay? Just suffocate me so much I can’t speak. Because if I can talk, I’ll tell you what to do.’

A 2022 study reported that women who choked at least once experienced loss of consciousness, indicating at least mild acquired brain injury, seizures, motor and speech impairments, and paralysis.

Sam Pybus, 32, from the UK, killed his lover Sophie Moss, 33, (pictured) by pressing on her neck during sex.

Sam Pybus, 32, from the UK, killed his lover Sophie Moss, 33, (pictured) by pressing on her neck during sex.

Sam Pybus, 32, with his now ex-wife Louise Howitt, were jailed for four years and eight months after admitting the manslaughter of vulnerable mother-of-two Sophie Moss, who he strangled to death in bed.

Sam Pybus, 32, with his now ex-wife Louise Howitt, were jailed for four years and eight months after admitting the manslaughter of vulnerable mother-of-two Sophie Moss, who he strangled to death in bed.

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Psychological outcomes included PTSD, depression, suicidality, and dissociation. Cognitive and behavioral symptoms were reported less frequently, but included memory loss, increased aggression, compliance, and lack of help-seeking.

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Dr Herbernick said: “I think most parents are very shocked to hear about these changes in sexual behavior among teenagers and young adults, university students and so on. Because it wasn’t common behavior when people who are currently in their 40s, 50s, and 60s were that age. And so it’s really hard for people to believe, even to accept that this could be the case.»

On February 7, Sam Pybus from the UK put pressure on his girlfriend Sophie Moss’s neck while they were having sex at her home. She had asked him to do it before, so it was technically consensual. Mr Pybus said he was drunk when he fatally strangled the mother-of-two.

The case was highlighted as the latest in a series of examples of men accused of killing women using the «rough sex defence».

He argues that the strangled person «asked» the partner to perform the act that led to the murder, adding that the murder was the result of sexual practices to which the victim consented and possibly requested.

Mr Pybus was sentenced to just four years and eight months after pleading guilty to manslaughter rather than murder because there was no indication he intended to kill her or cause her serious harm.



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