Unlearning Purity Culture: Beyond Vanilla (Part 2)
Today, we have the second part of a two part guest post on kink, BDSM, and Christian sexual ethics. Henri, our pseudonymous blogger, is a male dominant experienced in BDSM and kink. Today, he covers the lessons all Christians (vanilla or kinky) can take away from established practice in the kink community. See Part 1 here.
In my last post, I explained what BDSM is and why I feel it does not inherently conflict with Christianity. That post was aimed primarily at people who were unaware of BDSM, or people who were condemning of BDSM.
In this post, I want to talk about how kinky Christians can honor God with their sexuality, how church communities can welcome kinky Christians, and how wisdom from the kink community can inform the conversation about a Christian sexual ethic.
How Can Kinky Christians Honor God With Their Sexuality?
I believe that if a Christian’s sexual decisions obey the love your neighbor rule, then those decisions honor God. This is true whether you’re totally vanilla or super kinky.
Of course, “love your neighbor” is not the same thing as “be in love with your neighbor.” You don’t get a free pass just because you have mushy feelings about your partner.
Instead, love your neighbor means that you are passionately committed to the well-being of your partner. Your partner’s ultimate good is your ultimate aim. You need to be passionately, emphatically committed to seeking your partner’s good.
And this is not something to take lightly. Dr. Richard Beck writes:
In the sex act humans are at their most vulnerable -- physically, emotionally and relationally. Thus, sexual/relational violations (i.e., cheating, infidelity, "using") represent, outside of murder, one of the greatest acts of harm we can commit against another human soul... When it comes to sex, maybe it is this potential for harm, and not the fact that sex is fun, which concerns God most of all.
It’s good to be loving to your barista, but your potential to harm your barista is fairly low, and so you probably don’t need to be incredibly careful about how you act when ordering coffee.
Your potential to harm your partner during sexual activities is very high, so it is essential that you be wise, careful and loving when making any kind of sexual decision -- kinky or not.
So if you want to engage in BDSM play, ask yourself the following questions. (These questions also work for any other sexual activity. Just substitute the name of that activity for “BDSM.”)
What are my motives for wanting this?
Am I seeking to honor, cherish and build up my partner?
Am I primarily seeking to deepen my relationship with my partner, or primarily seeking to use my partner for sexual or emotional gratification?
Would BDSM be a conduit of intimacy or a replacement for intimacy?
Would it be hard to enjoy other kinds of intimacy after we’ve experienced BDSM?
Is BDSM appropriate at this stage of the relationship?
Do I have the necessary trust, intimacy and commitment to this person?
Would BDSM cause things to start progressing too fast?
Is it healthy for me to do this?
Would I be able to say “Stop” or “Slow down” if I became uncomfortable?
Am I using BDSM to feed unhealthy parts of myself? For instance, do I want to spank someone as an outlet for anger, or do I want to be spanked because I have self-hatred and feel I deserve punishment?
Would I be able to give up BDSM if it became unloving?
Is it healthy for my partner to do this?
Do they truly want to do this, or do they feel pressured by me?
Are they using BDSM to feed unhealthy parts of themselves?
Can I do this safely?
Have I done my homework on the potential risks (physical and emotional) of the activity I’m pondering? For instance, if I want to spank my partner, do I know what parts of the body to avoid hitting? If I want to dominate my partner, do I understand sub drop and how to respond to it?
Do I completely trust myself to always keep my partner’s physical and emotional safety my top priority, no matter how aroused or excited I am?
Do I completely trust my partner to always keep my physical and emotional safety their top priority, no matter how aroused or excited they are?
If you think through those questions -- and perhaps talk them over with your partner or a mentor -- you will probably have a clear sense of whether or not a particular sexual decision would be loving or not.
One final note. While it’s essential to honor God with your sexuality by being loving to sexual partners, kinky Christians should also honor God by not being afraid or ashamed of their sexuality.
As Henri Nouwen said, self-rejection is the enemy of the voice that calls us the beloved. Don’t let yourself feel that you are bad or perverted or unworthy of love because you are wired to enjoy BDSM or anything else.
Your sexuality is designed to be a conduit of love between you and the person that you love. It doesn’t matter if that conduit takes the form of missionary position sex or a spanking session -- what’s important is that you use your sexuality to love, honor and cherish your partner.
How Can Church Communities Accept Kinky Christians?
When I was in the process of becoming a small group leader at my church, I told the pastors about my interest in BDSM. They responded by putting my small group leader application on hold for over a year.
A kinky friend told her church about her interest in BDSM. They responded by telling her she had to publicly tell everyone in her Bible study, so they could 'walk together' and pressure her into believing that she was being deceived by a terrible sin.
It is not safe to be an openly kinky Christian. While many churches have recognized that you can be gay without being a terrible person (even if they feel homosexuality is sinful), the same grace is not often extended to kinky parishioners.
Some Christians are open-minded when it comes to BDSM, but many Christians firmly believe that BDSM “reeks of Satanism/paganism and [is] definitively ungodly and perverted.” It’s not just that BDSM is believed to be a sin, but that is a evil, vile, perverted sin.
And if BDSM is understood to be an evil, vile, perverted sin, then it’s very easy for a kinky Christian to be viewed as an evil, vile perverted sinner. So I don’t talk about my sexuality with other Christians (with the exception of my closest friends and mentors.)
This has a variety of negative effects on me. I don’t feel as though I can be completely honest with my church community, which means I don’t ever feel like I completely belong in church. It’s hard to get advice from other Christians on how to navigate my BDSM relationships in a loving way. And, since I feel like I have to hide my sexuality from my church community, it’s a constant struggle to not feel ashamed or afraid of my sexuality.
So I’d like to offer a small request. If someone in your church comes out to you as being kinky, don’t freak out. Don’t reject them, or judge them, or insist they need therapy.
Instead, thank them for their honesty and courage. Ask them questions and learn why BDSM is important to them. If they want your advice on how to navigate BDSM relationships, feel free to offer it. And if you see them making harmful choices for themselves or their neighbor, consider sharing your concerns. But make sure you are confronting sinful desires or unwise decisions, not the idea of BDSM itself.
And if you’re in church leadership, make it explicit that kinky people are welcome at your church. You don’t need to preach a sermon on BDSM, but you might consider having a little section on your website that says something like “While we believe the Bible teaches X about sexuality, we don’t reject anyone because of their sexuality or their sexual lifestyle. If you are heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, kinky, a sex worker, or still figuring things out -- come and be a part of our community.”
At minimum, you should briefly familiarize yourself with BDSM and other fetishes so if someone in your community comes out to you you can respond with grace and understanding. Even if you personally believe BDSM is a sin, understanding why many people enjoy it should help you respond with love and not stigmatization or shaming.
Kink Culture And A Christian Sexual Ethic
For my kinky readers, I hope these posts have reinforced the fact that God has an incredible love for you, and you are not messed up or bad. Your sexuality is a gift from God and if you use it right it will be a gift to your partner.
For my vanilla readers, I hope my posts have encouraged you to be more open, accepting and loving towards your kinky neighbors. I also want to share some wisdom from kink culture that might help everyone -- vanilla and kinky -- as they seek to build a Christian sexual ethic outside of purity culture.
Don’t be afraid to communicate your desires.
BDSM culture has a very important activity called “negotiation.” Negotiation is where both partners sit down and discuss what they want to experience and what they feel comfortable with. For instance, I might say “Tonight, I’d like to try X, Y and Z” and my partner might say “I’m all right with X and Y, but I don’t feel ready to try Z. By the way, last week we did Q and I really liked it -- can we try that again?”
Negotiation makes it safe to say what you want and what you don’t want. It’s hard to effectively love your partner if you don’t make it safe for them to be honest with you.
So if you are a vanilla Christian, consider adding negotiation to your sexual relationships. The X, Y and Z you want to try might be different from a kinky person, but the principle of negotiation -- that it’s okay to ask and it’s okay to say no -- leads to more loving relationships regardless if you are kinky or vanilla.
And as part of a Christian sexual ethic, might I suggest the principle that, “Because Christians don’t want shame or dishonesty to be a part of their sexual relationships, Christians should be open about their desires with their partners, and should make it safe for their partners to be open about their desires with them.”
Make it really easy to say no.
In BDSM, a “safeword” is a word (“red” is the most common) that a submissive can use to immediately stop the BDSM play. Submissives use safewords when they feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or if they’re just not enjoying themselves. The important thing about safewords is that they are 100% respected every time. The submissive uses a safeword, play stops, end of story.
With vanilla relationships, things are not so simple. It’s common for boundaries to get pushed because people feel bad saying no after they’ve said yes, or because they say yes without really meaning it.
Vanilla Christians should consider adding a safeword to their relationships. If one partner ever feels uncomfortable during intimacy, a safeword provides a really easy way for them to communicate that. Then, the intimate activity can stop, the partners can talk about things, and there’s no chance of boundaries being pushed. This can also be useful for non-sexual things -- I’ve had a submissive use a safeword on me when I was joking about her in an offensive way.
As part of a Christian sexual ethic, this might mean, “Consent is an absolute requirement for Christians. Christians should never do anything that violates consent, and Christians should always make it very easy for their partner to say no.”
Check in afterwards
After a BDSM scene, most couples engage in what’s called “after care.” During aftercare, the couple snuggles and talks with each other about the scene. They share what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they’d like to change for next time.
After care is very valuable because it provides consistent feedback and creates a safe space for problems to be shared. If you are in a vanilla relationship, consider setting aside a designated time for you and your partner to share your feelings about the relationship and your sexual activities.
This might be incorporated into a Christian sexual ethic by saying, “Christians should pursue their partners’ good at all times. Christians should be deliberate to check in regularly to make sure their partner feels happy, respected, and cared for.”
I’ve covered a lot of ground in these posts, and you might be feeling a little overwhelmed.
But everything I said pretty much boils down to two things.
First, I believe God made sexuality as way for people to share love, intimacy and trust with their partners. Sexuality -- when used well -- brings people together and builds people up. If you are using your sexuality to seek your partner’s greatest good, and if your partner is using their sexuality to seek your greatest good, you are honoring God with your sexuality, even if your sexuality is outside the norm.
Second, don’t judge people based on their sexuality, even if it’s different from yours. Instead, ask what they are doing with their sexuality. Are they using their sexuality to harm others or reduce people to a means of self-gratification? Then you have something to condemn. (But even then, condemn their sinful actions, not their sexuality.)
But if all you have is a feeling of disgust, then you have no grounds for condemnation or rejection. Shame is a tremendously powerful destructive force. Don’t invite shame into someone else’s heart just because you dislike their sexuality.
Or in the words of the Apostle John: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!”
When you make sexual decisions, treat other people as the beloved children of God that they are. And when you make statements about other people’s sexuality, don’t ever say anything that would cause someone else to doubt their identity as a beloved child of God.
Ok, that’s all I have to say. Now it’s up to you to carry on the conversation.
Post your thoughts in the comments. If you have questions, I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments. You can also email private questions to Dianna and she’ll pass them on to me. What are your thoughts on everything I’ve written?