Does Choking Now Count as "Vanilla" Sex?

I was dismayed to learn that choking has become more common in sexual hook-ups for millennials. I’m dismayed because this is usually without conversation or consent—there’s a new assumption that a woman wants to be choked as part of her sexual play. I spoke to journalist Anna Iovine about this, and the changing landscape of what is considered “vanilla” sex in American society.

What “vanilla sex” means today. And whether choking is now common during sex.

What “vanilla sex” means today. And whether choking is now common during sex.

She wrote a long and detailed article about sexual social norms, including a historical look and online survey research. I’ve included the beginning of the article here and then a link to the full read. It’s a thought-provoking piece on vanilla sex and kinky sex!


When 21-year-old Bianca Monteiro came of age, she knew she wasn’t interested in “vanilla sex.”

“My first boyfriend was really into sadomasochism and into ball busting, which was a huge dive into sexuality for me,” the college student, who identifies as non-binary and uses both she and they pronouns, told me over email. Those first sexual experiences set a precedent for the array of “non-vanilla” needs her future partners may have. “It basically became weird for things to be vanilla following that,” she explained.

Monteiro and her partners are far from alone. With the term “BDSM” prompting almost 400 million Google results and TV shows like Broad City wrapping plotlines around pegging, the lines of what’s “normal” or not in bed feel, to me, more blurred now than ever. In the past couple years, “daddy” has morphed from a term reserved for dominant/sub relationships to an internet meme. There’s a Wiki solely for the sexualization of feet. From where I’m standing (or sitting in my chair, on the internet), everyone seems kinkier than ever—and if everyone is kinky, does that mean everyone is actually just vanilla?

I myself didn’t put much thought into what is normal or “vanilla” until a couple of years ago. I had heard the term various times throughout my life, sometimes used as an insult, but never took the time to actually consider what it meant, and what the implications behind it were. It wasn’t until a couple of men choked me during first sexual encounters that I began questioning what I believed was traditional about sex; prior to those consensual, if thought-provoking experiences, I was under the impression that choking was a “hardcore” thing to do.

When I mentioned what had happened to friends, it became apparent that choking (often without asking first, which is an entirely different conversation!) was far more common than I had imagined. I also discovered that not only was I interested in choking, but my friends often were as well, though none of us had ever explicitly described ourselves as “kinky.” If someone had asked me to classify what I enjoyed, I probably would’ve said I was “pretty vanilla.”

(Read the entire article by Anna Iovine on Vanilla Sex.)

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexologist, Sex Speaker, & Sociologist