Sex, Bondage and Domination

Sex, Bondage and Domination July 19, 2012

Accusations of Endorsing Sexual Aggression

I had recently arrived for a trimester at Oxford when I took a stroll down High Street and stopped in a little square beneath Carfax Tower.  Two straw-haired street urchins were there, apparently all alone, dirty and unkempt.  One of them came to me and asked if I had any money to spare, and, being an idealistic college student, I gave her some change I had in my pocket and felt rather good about myself.

It was not long before the second girl came over and asked for money as well.  Suspecting something was amiss, I declined as politely as I could.  “Why’d you give her money, then?” she asked loudly, with a thick cockney accent.  “Are you paying her to do something sick for you?”

Mortified that I had just been accused of paying a child for sexual favors, and afraid by how loudly she had made her accusation, I gave her a coin just so she would leave me alone (which of course had been their plan from the beginning) and walked away as quickly as I could.  I was disturbed to my core, and remained so for days, not because my intentions had been anything less than honorable but because I had been accused of something I find so deeply hateful and repulsive.

Caution: sex discussion ahead

I imagine that’s a bit what Jared C. Wilson feels like right now: shocked and mortified at what he’s been accused of, largely because the crime of which he has been accused of encouraging so deeply disturbs him.  He wrote a blog post intending to cast some light on the sinfulness of rape and the kind of rape-fantasies that are lived out in BDSM scenarios, and ended up receiving a torrent of outrage and accusations that he was somehow encouraging husbands to rape their wives.  He should take responsibility for poorly communicating his point (his attempt to clarify has not much helped), but I understand the intense desire to insist that he has done nothing to condone something he so deeply hates.

I’m not interested in adding to the outrage factory.  Nuance, balance and charity are so desperately needed here and yet so sorely lacking.  It’s unfortunate that the Christian blogosphere is growing so warlike, so…well, so much like the political blogosphere.  There are here the same kinds of political undercurrents and tribal resentments that present a clear and present danger to the unity of the church.

Are Rape Fantasies a Perversion of Male Authority?

Which is not to say we cannot criticize.  Indeed, I am critical of Wilson’s view.  Wilson was trying to suggest that rape fantasies — like many sins — are perversions of a God-given order.  God created males, Wilson believes, to exercise authority within the household — but a benevolent, loving and deeply (cruciform) self-sacrificial authority.  God also creates males to be aggressors in the world, to be conquerors and planters.  In rape fantasies, and certainly in rape itself, that God-given authority and aggression are unmoored from their anchor in love for the other and become horrific and extreme and violent.  So he quoted Doug Wilson’s book, Fidelity:

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

So, Jared Wilson was drawing on Doug Wilson to make the point: “this sort of sexual pathology is a perverted version of good, God-honoring, and body-protecting authority and submission between husbands and wives.”  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Words matter.  Images matter.  Doug Wilson is referring to the anatomy and physicality of the act: the male penetrates the female (active), the female is penetrated (passive).  The male is more often the pursuer, and the female surrenders to his pursuit.  Yet I fear that the Wilsons have spent too much time in their own thought-world to know how this sounds outside of it.  The contrast Doug Wilson draws depends on a certain metaphor — a metaphor that is not a simple physical fact like gravity.  We could speak less of “colonization” and more of communion.  We could speak of sex less as “penetration” and more as the female “enveloping” the male, or as the male and female fitting together like pieces of a puzzle.  In other words, there’s nothing in the act itself that demands the metaphor of penetration or conquering.  It could be understood in more mutual, less violent and exploitative terms and images.
  2. As Rachel Held Evans made clear, part of what she finds so upsetting about this post is that it suggests the egalitarian ordering of things — departing, as the Wilsons see it, from the order God ordained — has something to do with encouraging the perversions of sexual desire in rape and rape fantasy.  The Wilsons are clearly not encouraging violence against women.  But this kind of language, these kinds of metaphors, this whole way of thinking about male authority over women in sex — the contention from the more reasonable egalitarian critics is that all of this cultivates a mindset more inclined toward sexual aggression against women.  It’s not an unreasonable charge.  The contention from the complementarians — or at least these ones — is that God created male and female as equally valuable, equally precious, but intended for different roles in the household.  Men, no longer accorded their proper role as head of the family, belittled and emasculated and condemned to live lives of quiet desperation in the cubicle forest, reassert their “authority” in a perverted, exaggerated, violent form in rape or rape fantasies.  Given a different set of presuppositions, I don’t find that to be an unreasonable charge either.
  3. As others have noted, the paragraph from Wilson seems to stand in contrast to 1 Corinthians 7, where the picture of submission in bed is far more mutual.  Paul speaks not of “conquering” or “colonization” but of bodies that each belong to the other, bodies that are offered in mutual submission.  According to my observations, women actually tend to have more power in the bedroom.  While each partner in a marriage should take seriously his and her responsibility to be a satisfying sexual partner, I don’t think the marital bed is a place for a husband to exercise “authority” unless it is the “authority” of being first-in-submission.
  4. I do not agree with those who have called for this post or for the offending paragraph to be taken down.  That’s just not how the internet works.  The paragraph has already been copied into scores of other posts.  I believe in editing out obscenities, but I don’t believe in editing out ideas.  Properly understood, this is not a morally horrific post.  It reflects a position that should be represented and addressed in the marketplace of ideas.

There’s one more thought I want to share on this — and it has more to do with something Rachel Held Evans wrote in her response, something that I find terrifically wrong.  Tune back in an hour and I’ll have it ready.

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