The Line Between Sexual Freedom and Sexual Perversion

The Line Between Sexual Freedom and Sexual Perversion July 19, 2012

I just wrote on the controversy-du-jour regarding the role of “authority” and male headship in the bedroom.  Since I explained it in detail in the preceding post, please go there if you need context.  But I want to respond as well to Rachel Held Evans’ response.

First of all, I strongly agree with this point:

When your sister in Christ tells you that your words trigger upsetting images of rape and sexual violence, you should listen to her, not dismiss her. 

It’s hard to admit you did something wrong when you’re being accused of endorsing sexual violence against women.  So I get why one would be extremely defensive against this charge.  But I do agree with Rachel here.  There are some women out there — do not be fooled, this is an evil world and there are many such women out there — whose husbands regularly raped them in the marriage bed and claimed that God calls upon the woman to submit.  I’ve read the accounts.  Sexual abuse takes place in marriage as well as without, in the church as well as without.  This does not make the Wilsons or Christianity accountable for the ways in which others have twisted and perverted it and used it for evil instead of good.  But it does mean that we should take great care in how we preach and teach, and if someone says “This way of preaching and teaching is leading people astray,” we should listen.

After I originally read Rachel’s post, I wanted to respond to this:


(Note: I get that some folks enjoy getting “conquered” to some degree in bed. That’s fine. Do what you both enjoy. But this should be a mutual decision, pleasurable to both parties, and it is certainly not required by God-ordained gender roles.)

Yet Rachel just added this helpful clarification: “Update: By this I simply mean that some couples prefer that one person be more dominant – not necessarily the man, by the way – and I don’t think that should be categorically condemned. But this is not an endorsement of BDSM.”

Much better.  So I want to explain why I agree with Rachel that we should not endorse people, even consenting adults, playing out rape fantasies.

The modern predilection seems to be: Anything consensual, at least between competent adults, is permissible or even worthy of celebration.  If two adults agree and enjoy it, then it’s nobody’s business being morally judgmental.  Christians can spiritualize this: God created marriage to be enjoyed in its proper context, so as long as you’re married, or (for some Christians) as long as you really love each other, well, party on!  After all, Song of Solomon’s pretty risque, right?

When Patheos was hosting a “Public Square” conversation on sex a couple years ago, I had to scour the web to find writers addressing sex in an evangelical way.  It was less fun than it sounds.  (Like real sex, searching for “sex” on your computer brings a lot of viruses.)  I found some writers and websites who made the case for just about everything.  I’m not going to go into lurid detail, because I don’t want anyone’s porn filter to go haywire, but let’s just say that for every fetish or perversion out there, there is some Christian somewhere who argues that it’s peachy keen.

It’s important to understand why this is wrong.  It’s not because God hates sex or we should hate sex or we should all stick with the missionary position.  There are two reasons I’m aware of: (1) Because human beings are created with dignity and we should not treat anyone, much less those we love, in demeaning or depersonalizing ways, and (2) because we do not want to encourage perverse desires.

There’s nothing honoring, for instance, in defecating on someone or distributing other bodily fluids upon them.  Those acts are not about giving to the other person, not about loving or cherishing or pleasuring, but about demeaning and reducing a person to the status of an animal or an object.  I’ve never understood that desire and I pray that I never will.  And every time we act out on perverse desires, we tend to strengthen them, and may find one day that those desires overrun the bounds of marriage.  Moderns often forget the ways in which desires are cultivated; they’re not static.  They require pruning and nurturing and careful maintenance.

To be clear, this is not about telling other people what to do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.  No one has any obligation to agree with me or to comply.  This is about offering guidance for those who genuinely seek it.

Where is the line between sexual freedom in the bounds of marriage and sexual perversion?  That’s for each person to discern.  I for one am grateful that modern mores permit women to be less passive but more active and expressive in the bedroom.  I think married couples should find lots of ways of giving them themselves to one another sexually.  But rape fantasies, in my view, should have no place.  Neither partner should treat the other in a way that treats the other as a slave or a child, an animal or an object.

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