What’s Wrong with BDSM Anyway?

Quick reminder: I write about adult topics.  If your kid reads my blog, your kid is traveling in grown-up land.

Way back a year-and-some ago when I wrote a Christian primer on BDSM, a reader complained, and I paraphrase: She never explained why BDSM was wrong!  She just assumed that it was!

Today is the day I fill in that blank.  Before you begin reading, please refer to the original post for important background info on what BDSM is and how disorders of arousal fit into the moral life.

What is Sexual Intercourse About?

Sex does a couple things:

  1. It unites a married couple in the most intimate possible union.  This physical union is also a spiritual, emotional, and psychological union.
  2. It is the means by which new human beings, made in the image of God and destined for eternal life, are created.

There is an alternate standard for sex proposed by our popular culture: Sex is the thing one does with one’s genitals or other body parts, with whomever and however one pleases, in order to experience erotic arousal and subsequent satisfaction of that arousal.

This alternate standard is wrong.  This latter, wrong, standard is what justifies BDSM: If you find it arousing, and those involved find it arousing, then under the popular logic it must be just fine.  It isn’t.

The reason it is not just fine, and in fact it’s bad for you, is precisely because of the real purpose of sex.

–> This is the moment when some readers will protest that they like the popular standard just fine.   We could argue all afternoon about that, and I suppose we’d get just as far as if I tried to prove that the purpose of eating was to nourish your body, or the purpose of driving a car was transportation.

I can provide evidence for all these assertions, but if someone is determined to believe it isn’t so, we’re at an impasse (and my in-laws once used an old car as a tool shed, so there).

Therefore, what we’ll do instead is look at how BDSM is incompatible with the real purpose of sex, which is the union of man and wife and the procreation of new humans.  You can indeed drive around with tools in the back of your truck, you can eat cherry pie both for nourishment and to win the pie-eating contest, but you can’t have marital union and BDSM at the same time.

What is BDSM About?

As you know from doing the required reading, BDSM refers to erotic practices revolving around dominance, submission, and humiliation.

What is Marriage About?

Marriage is about the lifelong, faithful, fruitful, loving union of a man and a woman who cherish each other, respect each other, help each other, and take care of each other.

Marriage is the joining of two equals, both made in the image of God, both possessing inherent dignity and worth.

What does this word “submission” mean?

It means sending in your manuscript to an editor and hoping it gets accepted.

Oh, okay, there are some other definitions.

We can use the word “submission” to refer to the acceptance of a legitimate authority.  You submit to the authority of your employer when you show up for work at the agreed upon time and do the work that you and your boss agreed you would do.  You submit to the authority of your hosts at the birthday party when you wait patiently to be served your slice of cake rather than digging through the fridge and helping yourself while everyone else is distracted by the opening of presents.

We can speak of spouses “submitting to one another” in the sense of a mutual respect for one another.   Inasmuch as the Bible discusses authority structures within a marriage, the explicit message is one of mutual love.  Marital love seeks to uphold the dignity of the spouse and help each other grow in perfect holiness, which is a source of joy.

In contrast, the word “submission” in the context of BDSM is about force, degradation, and humiliation.  Same set of letters, same etymology, same sounds coming out of your mouth; radically different meaning.

BDSM vs. Marital Love: Underlying Meanings

Marital intercourse, properly ordered, has this meaning: I treasure you.  I find you exquisitely beautiful.  I want nothing more than to be close to you, and to cherish you, and to become perfectly united with you in every part of my life.  Your body is precious to me.  Your mind, and your soul, and everything about you is precious to me.  Being with you is like a completion of myself, in a mysterious way I could hardly explain, but here we are, together, and I could not be happier as a result.

BDSM, in contrast, derives sexual arousal from acting out a relationship of master to slave.  It is not a union at all, but the ultimate in “othering” the other person.  The eroticism of BDSM hinges on a lack of unity: One is in power, the other must endure.

Rather than finding fulfillment in bringing out the best and most beautiful of all your spouse brings to the world, BDSM eroticizes degradation and humiliation.

What if it’s only a game?

Without wishing to err in an over-generalization, we can say that for many people, BDSM is strictly reserved for the fantasy life.  This is the justification for allowing the practice: We aren’t really doing this, we’re just pretending for a while.

The eroticism of BDSM, for many participants, depends on the fact that it isn’t real.

We can further see that many other types of pretend are not just allowed but an essential part of the human experience.  What makes BDSM different?

I’d propose two differences.

The first, which is about fiction and not sex, is that BDSM doesn’t serve the purpose of getting to a greater truth.   Good stories and other games of pretend may take us through any number of trials, but they always end with truth, beauty, and goodness affirmed.  The storyline of BDSM isn’t the triumph of mutual respect over humiliation, or equality over domination — quite the contrary.  In acting out BDSM fantasies, one is acting out a lie about what it means to be human.

The second problem is that BDSM is a sexual practice, and sex is not for this.  Sexual intercourse is not a video game or a movie or a rainy afternoon curled up with a book.  Your sexual powers are not for your entertainment, they are for uniting yourself with your spouse.  Good stories, good fiction, lead us towards the truth; good sex is the truth.  It isn’t a game of pretend.

In the same way that playing firefighter or waitress isn’t the same as actually doing one of those jobs, playing at sex isn’t the same as having sex.  You don’t pretend at the real fire; you don’t pretend in the real restaurant; you don’t pretend with real sex — and all sex is meant to be real sex.

But what if it’s erotic?

I refer you back again to my original post on this topic. Human emotions, including strong feelings like pain, pleasure, or sexual arousal, provide useful information — but not perfect information.  It is quite possible to feel something that is not true.  It is our job as humans to use discernment.

We can look at BDSM and see that it is not in keeping with what we know to be true, good, and beautiful about human life.

We can answer questions like, “Would I feel good knowing I was conceived because my one parent had my other parent chained to the bedpost?” and thus know intuitively that is not the relationship of love into which any person would wish to be born.

Therefore, we must use our power to freely choose our actions in order to decide that, regardless of what we do or don’t feel, we will henceforth act in accordance to what we know is real.

File:Laon Cathedral Vaults 01.JPG

Photo by Uoaei1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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