Friday, January 30, 2009

Christian BDSM: Christian? Yes. Vanilla? Not necessarily.

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #357, January 30, 2009)

I’ve just been on a trip through an alternate universe. It was interesting and educational.

It all started innocently enough. An article in the current Utne Reader (Jan.-Feb. ‘09) dealt with “Sexing Up the Religious Right.” According to the article, religious conservatives have realized that sexual prudery is not a concept that’s going to attract the masses in today’s world. So they now are busily weaving together the concepts of God, traditional marriage and fantastic sex into what they hope will be a winning package. The article makes the point, however, that some devious, deceitful and repressive things are going on underneath the surface, and warns us not to be fooled.

“Well,” your humble columnist thought to himself, “I wonder if anyone is equating BDSM with Christianity?” No, of course not, I said to myself—look at all the Christian groups that for years have been trying to shut down BDSM events.

Nevertheless, I tried an experiment: I typed “Christian BDSM” into my favorite search engine. I hit the jackpot—the search engine returned over 65,000 results.

The very first hit was a blog (<scottishboomerang.wordpress.com/2007/08/18/christian-sado-masochism-a-biblical-view-of-marriage-or-the-sign-of-a-subculture-gone-mad/>) that talked about evangelical Christianity in America as a parallel “Christian Republic” existing next to, but divorced from, the secular American society created by the separation of church and state.

And, apparently, that Christian Republic has some folks into BDSM and other kinds of alternate sexual expression, because further down the list was <christiansandbdsm.com>. After a page proclaiming that the creators of the site believe in Biblical inerrancy, subsequent pages discuss “The Christian Marriage” and “The Christian Husband” before discussing “Christian D/s,” Christian perspectives on Master/slave and Master/sub relationships, and “Christian BDSM,” on which page the authors of the site offer the following conclusion:

“We have not found within Scriptures any condemnation of sexual behaviors or acts of B&D or S&M when practiced by a man and woman within marriage for the purposes of sexual arousal or gratification. Nor do we find these behaviors defined in Scripture as unnatural, abnormal or perverse.”

Next on the hit list is <sexinchrist.com> and a page on “Bondage in Christ—BDSM in a Christian Marriage.” The first paragraph ends with this: “A BDSM relationship between a dominant husband and submissive wife is actually the ideal of marriage set out in Ephesians 5:22-26 taken to its logical conclusion!” Ephesians 5:22 is the familiar verse, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.”

The remainder of the page explains, Bible verse by Bible verse, how BDSM can be part of a Christian marriage. The page’s authors even make the point that it can be Biblical for the husband to submit to the wife in the bedroom—as long as there is “an explicit understanding on the parts of both the husband and wife that they will adopt ‘natural’ roles in the rest of their daily lives. We would counsel against couples living the wife dominant/husband submissive roles ‘24/7’, as this could lead to spiritual confusion.”

Other articles at sexinchrist.com include “Anal sex and God’s Will,” “Oral sex and God’s Will” (in which an eloquent case is made for swallowing), “Fisting and God’s Will,” “Masturbation—God’s Great Gift To Us,” “Threesomes Within a Christian Marriage,” and several more. In some instances, the Bible doesn’t mention the activity (and therefore doesn’t prohibit it); in other instances, the Bible actually mentions an activity in a desirable way (mostly in poetic form in the Song of Solomon). The revisionist theology in all the articles gets high marks for creativity. (I just wish the site was a little less homophobic.)

According to these sites, you see, it isn’t the activities themselves that are scandalous. What’s scandalous is when they’re done outside the bonds of holy matrimony. Even here, the “Threesome” article mentioned above twists itself into pretzels trying to make a three-way sexual encounter not be un-Biblical. If it’s a man, his wife, and another man, that could be a problem, because any time you have two guys together in a sexual situation there might be homoerotic overtones. A man, his wife, and another woman, on the other hand, might be okay. This is because what the Bible says about lesbianism could be interpreted as prohibitions against women being too butch. As long as the lesbianism is the lipstick variety, it is presumed to be permissible.

A few things to note: First, unlike the examples in the Utne Reader article, I don’t think the creators of these sites are trying to use sex to win converts to Christianity. Second, while some of the theology on these sites may be challenging, their understanding of BDSM values seems commendably orthodox. Finally, these ideas are not that new—parts of <christiansandbdsm.com> date from 1998.

If we as a community are trying to decriminalize BDSM and get BDSM activities removed from the list of mental illnesses in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), here is a whole new group of people to work with. They are obviously ready to argue with conviction that, according to the Bible, there is nothing wrong with many of the things in which they, and we, take such pleasure.

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