Stoyan Neno / Reuters

There are a lot of emotions commonly associated with sex: love, happiness, excitement, maybe even relaxation. But for many women, one sexual feeling that comes to mind is a darker one: fear.

In a recent study, Debby Herbenick, a professor and sex researcher at the Indiana University School of Public Health, found that nearly a quarter of adult women in the United States have felt scared during sex. Among 347 respondents, 23 described feeling scared because their partner had tried to choke them unexpectedly. For example, a 44-year-old woman wrote in that her partner had “put his hands on my throat to where I almost couldn’t breathe.”

Sex can involve consensual choking, but that’s not what’s going on here, as Herbenick explained to an audience during a panel at Aspen Ideas: Health, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. Instead, “this was clearly choking that no one had talked about it and it got sprung on somebody,” she said. Many sexual-assault cases among students at her university now center around nonconsensual choking. According to her research, 13 percent of sexually active girls ages 14 to 17 have already been choked.

The reason such young kids know about such a violent sexual act is likely porn, said Dan Savage, a sex columnist and the host of Savage Lovecast, who was also on the panel. And that’s not the only disturbing change that might be attributable to porn, added Kate Julian, a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author of a recent magazine cover story on sexual behavior among young people. For her story, she talked with many women who said their male partners seemed to be taking a cue from what they had seen in porn, pounding away or penetrating then anally when they weren’t ready.

Julian heard about a university health center that was seeing women with vulvar fissures, something that’s typically a sign of sexual assault. Except these women hadn’t been raped. “They just had been having sex that they didn’t desire,” Julian said. “They didn’t know it was supposed to feel different.”

Savage believes the reason porn is creeping into—and worsening—young peoples’ sex lives is that schools are failing to provide kids with sex education that’s porn-aware. Instead of learning that what they see in porn might not resemble real life, young people watch porn and come to believe that it’s what their partners want. Savage summarized the mind-set as, “I don’t want to do that, but that’s what I have to do because that’s what she expects from me.”

Obviously, one solution is for parents to simply try to keep kids from watching porn that promotes sexual violence. But otherwise, how can we encourage young people—and older people—to talk with their partners about whether they’d actually like to experience some porn-inspired moves? Savage, who is gay, said this is something “gay people can give straight people.” Because same-sex partners have the same genitals, when they are ready to go to bed together, Savage said they often have to discuss what, precisely, they’re going to be doing. “I call it the four magic words,” Savage said. “The question that’s asked when two guys are gonna be in bed together for the first time: What are you into? Because it can’t be assumed. Straight people default to vaginal intercourse.”

Too often, Savage said, “when straight people get to consent, they stop talking about what’s next, about what they want to do. When gay people get to consent, that’s the beginning of the conversation.” That conversation could be when the couple discuss what is—and isn’t—okay.

Perhaps it’s yet another thing that straight couples can learn from gay couples.

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