50 Shades of Arousal Disorders: BDSM and the Moral Life

If you browse among the purveyors of sex toys, which you most emphatically should not do, among the offerings you’ll find all the regalia of oppression and humiliation.  BDSM as a variant on traditional women’s porn as sold at the grocery store didn’t come out of nowhere.   Long before the intelligentsia were conflicted in their literary analysis by the clash between “cutting edge” and “terrible writing”, the neighbors were busy acting out sexual fantasies straight from the annals of Amnesty International.

What’s the scoop on BDSM?

BDSM is the going term for sexual behavior in which those involved act out themes of domination and submission; it’s a term used by those who legitimize this behavior.  The justification is that if it’s only a game, and the players are willing, it’s a fine game.  You can find other eras in history when this type of erotica was socially acceptable, at least in certain circles — same as you can find other eras in history when all kinds of things one shouldn’t do were, at the time, socially acceptable.

Being willing to do something is not the measure of right and wrong.

Disordered Arousal and the Formation of your Conscience

One of the difficulties with certain sexual sins — as with some other categories of sin — is that the internal feedback mechanism has been co-opted.  If a particular thought or behavior brings about feelings of intense pleasure, it is natural to assume: I guess this is legitimate, yes?  We rely, in these circumstances, on outside information as a corrective to our erring feelings.

The modern legitimization of BDSM followed in the wake of the legitimization of all kinds of other serious evils.  Compared to say, killing your own child, letting someone handcuff you to the bedframe is small potatoes.  So Christian moralists don’t spend a lot of time chatting about this.

The difficulty is that if you are a person who experiences sexual arousal in some untoward context (whether BDSM or anything else), if the wider society is telling you that your feelings are entirely consistent with your highest good, and therefore you ought to feel free to act upon them, you are suddenly bereft of any moral safety-net to bring you back to reality.

What Part for Shame and Pride?

If your brain works correctly, sexual arousal will take place within the context of a mutually-cherishing, tender, compassionate marital relationship.  If your brain doesn’t work correctly, through no fault of your own, it’s about as shameful a situation as needing glasses or a hearing aid: Deal with the problem as well as you can, and for goodness sake don’t march in a parade encouraging other people to live a lifestyle of nearsightedness just because some substantial but difficult-to-pin percentage of Americans couldn’t pass the driving test without corrective lenses.

There’s not really anything to be proud about if your brain and other parts work perfectly, though of course you know people who go about terrified of needing glasses and sure, just sure, that they are morally-superior specimens because of their excellent eye chart results.  These people are ludicrous.  If you get sexually-aroused at the one thing you are supposed to find sexually arousing, good for you.  But it’s not a contest.  We live in a fallen world.

Our obligation, though, is to correct our thoughts as well as we can, and order our behavior towards what is good, no matter how much our feelings may conflict.

What’s a Christian to do about BDSM?

It’s pretty straightforward: Don’t engage in BDSM role-playing, don’t read BDSM literature, avoid all porn regardless of the theme, and work on building healthy relationships.  Ultimately we won’t find fulfillment in disordered sexual action or fantasy of any kind, whether it’s sleeping with your girlfriend or doing that weird thing alone in your room with all those pancakes.  Don’t go there.  It’s an empty, dead-end route.

Build healthy, mutually-respectful, chaste friendships with the people around you.  If you have a vocation to the married life, every aspect of that relationship should be one of mutual care and kindness.

File:Francesco Hayez 008.jpg

Artwork: Francesco Hayez, The Kiss, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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