As part of its rollout of super sexy things you can do in quarantine with your partner, Cosmopolitan, ever at the forefront of women’s rights and self-expression, has offered “breath play” as part of their recommended menu of sex games.
“Breath play,” otherwise known as “depriving your partner of oxygen during sex,” has led to death by asphyxiation, strangulation, and choking injuries. Brought into mainstream sexual discourse as a result of the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey and the reframing of rough sex as a normal part of human sexual expression, BDSM has been used as a defense of murder.
In February, a man in New Zealand who killed Grace Millane, with whom he was engaging in sexual activity, claimed that her death was a result of rough sex that she had initiated. Known as the 50 Shades of Grey defense, the idea that a woman is partially at fault for her own death due to the violence of her partner has been making inroads.
“Consensual” sexual violence has been the cause of at least 60 women in the UK since 1972, and according to We Can’t Consent to This, 18 of those deaths were in the past 5 years.
Much of this increase in the normalcy of sexual violence comes from the infiltration of porn into mainstream culture. It is not necessary to make a distinct judgement on the validity of porn or the elements of free speech in pornographic expression to realize that much of the sexual imagery and conversations about sex in our culture are a direct result of pornographic thinking.
The term MILF has gone mainstream, while it was once isolated to porn searches. Pornhub launched a fashion line at New York’s Fashion Week this year, complete with outfits showcasing women as edible concoctions meant for consumption. It was touted as empowering. In advertising, on television, in mainstream films, and of course on social media, porn has an outsized influence on how we think about sex and participation in sex.
Cosmopolitan and its sister magazines in false notions of female empowerment have been selling women fake ideas of femininity and independence since their launching. The Cosmo girl of the 1980’s was a woman who ruled in the bedroom and the boardroom, with no need for real relationships, family, or a grounded life outside her stiletto heels.
The updated version of that is a woman who is cool with being subjugated by male power structures simply because she’s just that chill with her own sexuality. While hook-up culture may be on a bit of an abatement, it was not unusual for a woman to find that a man she took home for a night, or even a long term boyfriend, put his hands around her neck as a matter of course.
We’re all bored during quarantine, and for those who are sheltering-in-place with a sex partner, there can be lots of room to explore turn ons, but it’s not a time to delve into the danger zone of deadly sexual activity just for laughs. Pain can be part of play if that’s your thing, but choking a partner during sex, or feeling like, as a woman, you need to consent to being joked, is not an acceptable use of all this extra spare time.
After pushback from social media, Cosmopolitan removed the phrase “breath play” from their assorted recommendations, and they should have. But it shouldn’t take a bunch of social media misfits bashing a mainstream women’s magazine for an editor to remove the suggestion that depriving your brain of oxygen during sex is playful, fun, or even remotely a good idea.