Sexting Etiquette, Part 1 – Consent and Negotiation

*Some time ago, in the olden days, two new friends sit by the fire, furtively passing notes to each other on a single piece of parchment…*  

Cloris (she/her/hers): “It was lovely to make your acquaintance yesterday.” *Attempts to sketch a marigold*

Beau (he/him/his): “Likewise.” *Squints at page* *Sketches an apple tree*

Cloris: “There’s a nice tree on the edge of the property. Perhaps we could take a turn about it?”

Beau: “I’ve got two nice apples.”

Cloris: “Oh, wonderful!’ *Sketches a rose* 

Beau: *Sketches what he believes to be an anatomically correct image of his own member*

Cloris: *Crumples up the paper* *Throws paper on the fire* *Storms off to complain to Agatha* 

-To be continued-

Oof. Poor dears. They weren’t exactly ‘on the same page’ (hehe). 

Thus begins a series on sexting etiquette! Sexting is “sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images, primarily between mobile phones, of oneself to others. It may also include the use of a computer or any digital device” (thanks, Wikipedia)

Like any other form of communication, sexting is a social behavior. In social settings, we use ‘etiquette,’ a system of often unspoken rules, to guide our behavior and expectations, ideally to show consideration for others and make communication smoother. Etiquette varies from place to place and should change with people’s needs. It doesn’t cover every issue, and it’s not inherently ‘good’ on its own. 

For example, I like to open doors for people, a common part of social etiquette whose meaning changes with circumstance. To me, it says “I care.” To others, however, it might say “I don’t think you can handle this yourself” or even “I want to hold power over you.” Thus, my door-holding behavior isn’t always appropriate. I have a habit of almost always holding the door for specific friends. They know what I mean by it because…we’ve talked about it. The same caveat applies to sexting etiquette; there’s no universal language, and it will have to change over time. 

That said, we often don’t apply basic rules of consideration to sexting situations in the first place, which is partly why I think that intentionally using the lens of etiquette can help. Sometimes, we’re so embarrassed by the prospect of sexting that we don’t know how to think of it as a social situation with another human–we spend so much time seeing sex as this scandalous, unspeakable thing that when we actually get to be sexy, we don’t know how. We may not know how to initiate, how to say what we want (or what to say at all!), and how to stand up for ourselves and set boundaries if sexting feels uncomfortable. So, let’s start with some basic rules and guidelines for ‘initiating’. 

First, decide whether it’s ethical and appropriate for you to sext. If there’s a major power difference or professional boundary between you and the other person/people (Ex: you’re their employer, they’re your pastor, etc.), it’s not advisable. As a rule of thumb, if one of you might be afraid to say no to the other, don’t do it. A general note on power: All kinds of power differences affect our interactions with others–wealth, age, gender, race, and citizenship status, to name a few. As a man, Beau has social (and even legal) power that Cloris may not have as a woman, but if Cloris is much wealthier, she may leverage that wealth against him. There are few easy answers when it comes to power difference, but it’s important to recognize where they exist. 

If the playing field is relatively even, you may ask for consent to start sexting. We’re not always good at asking for consent before diving into something sexually explicit–it’s easy to forget that there’s a real person behind the screen, not a fantasy-fulfiller.

Even if think you’re ‘flirting,’ don’t introduce an explicit sexual element without checking in. Make sure that the other person wants to participate. This is especially important with new partners. In that vein, sending a picture of your anatomy without asking, like Beau did, is not a good way to obtain consent. It’s the texting equivalent of flashing someone in the street. 

I wonder how differently Beau and Cloris’ conversation might have gone if Beau had taken more time to understand what Cloris’ messages meant, gotten to know her better, and then asked what she wanted.

He might have said “I am sexually interested in you” and waited for an encouraging reply from Cloris that wasn’t just a flower. Then, he could say “I would like to write about my desire with you and hear your desire” and later, perhaps, “May I offer you a portrait of my member?” Then, Cloris could be like “I’d like to see the real thing. There’s an apple tree at the edge of the property…” (Of course, she might just be like “What’s a member?”)

Note: In this situation, you might be thinking, “Well, Cloris might feel like she shouldn’t say yes because she’s a proper lady.” Very true! Her refusal is valid regardless. 

If you’re not sure what something means, ask! (For Cloris, marigolds symbolize happiness. She was schooled in the language of flowers. Beau is not.) If you think something would be really sexy to talk about, ask if you can talk about it. We can’t take our own standards for granted when interacting with new people. 

A partner might be comfortable with text but not pictures. Maybe they’re at work and don’t want to risk others seeing. Maybe they only feel comfortable talking about sex with you in a theoretical way. (This is a common issue for people who work in the sexuality field; people assume that because they talk about sex professionally, it’s okay to sext the professional without asking.)

Say what you want and ask them what they want. Does that sound awkward and vulnerable? It is, especially if you’re new at it. That’s okay! It’ll get smoother, and if you keep talking to the same person, you may gain enough familiarity after a while to sext them without negotiating each time beforehand. Ask, and (maybe) you shall receive.

In short, treat your potential sexting partner as a human being who is creating an experience with you. No need to be as formal as Beau and Cloris. 

Here are a few ways to gauge comfort levels and ask for consent in different contexts (your mileage may vary):

  • “I’m pretty sure we’re flirting. Are we? *wink face*”
  • “I love your FetLife photos! Can I send one of mine (it’s a nude)?”
  • “I’m feeling really turned on right now. Can I tell you about it?”
  • *sends devil emoji* (Their response will give me an idea of how to proceed.)
  • “OMG I just had a hot sex dream. *blush face* Want to hear about it?”
  • “How do you feel about anal?” 
  • “My hand is on your thigh. Tell me where you want it to go.”
  • “(Are you okay with using pet names when we sext?)”

As you get more familiar with your sexting partner, you may be able to use the shorthand of the dynamic you’ve fostered to gauge some things without asking. You might give blanket consent for sexting after a while, with the understanding that it can be withdrawn. For example, I am currently comfortable with my sub sending explicit messages to my phone most of the time, though there are specific times during the day when I don’t want to be messaged (namely, when I’m asleep). If I don’t want to receive sexts at any point or don’t like something, I just tell him. Those boundaries don’t work for everyone, but they work well for our dynamic right now. Pro-tip: If you have a smartphone, modify your settings so that message contents don’t show up on your lock screen. 

This epistle has focused mainly on what happens before or when you’re just starting to sext. In future installments, I’ll talk more about ongoing negotiation when the sexting gets hot and heavy, how to state boundaries and protect privacy, sexting in kink-specific contexts (like power exchange dynamics), and using sex-positive sites like FetLife

We’ll also find out whether Cloris and Beau kiss and make up. #Boris?What’s your “sexting etiquette”? Let me know in the comments! 

WickedWednesday

Kink and Pastoral Care

I’m working on a series about sexting etiquette–it’s inspiring a lot of thoughts that are hard to articulate. In the meantime, here are some older thoughts on pastoral care and kink (yep, these words do occasionally belong in the same sentence). Why? Because certain concepts prized in the kink community should inform our approaches to pastoral care.

Wikipedia defines pastoral care as “an ancient model of emotional and spiritual support that can be found in all cultures and traditions.” That’s a pretty good start. I would add that pastoral caregivers are often professionals and/or working in a faith-based context (like a parish or campus ministry). I’ll link more info on pastoral care at the bottom of the post.)

I’ve read a lot of great pastoral care theory, including books that are aware of the impact that factors like race, class, and gender can have on care needs and approaches. I’ll learn more as I take more care classes and gain experience. That said, I want to add two ideas that many pastoral care class readings don’t explicitly articulate: 

• The importance of knowing when one cannot give pastoral care

• The value of framing conversations so that people can choose whether and how to take part in the care process. 

I’ll use the lens of BDSM/kink to articulate these concerns. This section will discuss potentially ‘erotic’ activities including impact play (playing with physical hits from canes, floggers, etc.) but nothing explicitly sexual. [Note: Since my main experience at the time that I wrote this was with dominance and topping, this essay is a little top-heavy.]

Throughout my pastoral care class, I was struck by the similarities and transferable skills between kink interactions and pastoral care. Kink and pastoral care are both emotionally intense by nature. In kink, direct communication, trust, and boundary-setting are vital. It is the responsibility of all parties involved in a kink scene or relationship to maintain proper boundaries and communicate their needs. In a power exchange (in which one partner takes on a “dominant” role and the other takes on a “submissive” role, either during a scene or in a relationship), the dominant has to handle the authority that has been temporarily granted to them wisely.

Pastoral caregivers are often in positions of authority, whether because of an official title or the culture of their community. I wonder about the sense of ‘power exchange’ that occurs in a pastoral care relationship. I think that new pastoral caregivers may be prone to a sense of pastoral “frenzy.” In the kink community, the term frenzy describes the urge of an (often) new kinkster to try everything immediately or jump into intense dynamics. Frenzy is sometimes experienced as a visceral ache. When pastoral caregivers discover that they have a knack for caregiving, they can also experience frenzy, a desire to help literally everyone. This is a recipe for heartbreak and burnout. I will discuss that dilemma a bit more when I describe the limitations of kink as a lens. 

In kink, good faith negotiation is key. A good dominant often asks lots of questions, trying to get to the core of what kind of experience the submissive wants and a sense of what might hold them back. Scenes begin with negotiation, check-ins, and warm-up (physical and mental); when a dominant gives a flogging, for example, it is customary for them to begin by gauging the submissive’s pain tolerance (often on a scale of one to ten) or to start with the lightest, gentlest touch, not the heavy over-hand strikes.

While a pastoral care conversation may not require the same level as what’s required for a kink scene, I believe that it is important for pastoral caregivers to remember to step back mentally from the conversation when the consider care. They need to assess what the care-seeker is looking for and ready for. You cannot open mental wounds unless you are prepared to deal with their aftermath. Conversation sometimes flows naturally, but it’s important to check in. When you as a pastoral caregiver want to take “agential power” (Doehring 45) and become more directive (perhaps wanting to escalate the conversation into deeper, more personal, or more emotionally wrought territory), you might follow these steps: 

1. Take a step back to assess your own needs. Are you prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally to escalate this conversation? Is the care–seeker? If you’re not prepared, you don’t have to escalate. You can make a judgment call about whether to proceed, express that you are unsure how to move forward, let the careseeker lead the conversation, or help them find someone who’s more equipped (to ‘refer out’). 

2. If you think that it would be helpful to go deeper, put a mental ‘pin’ in the conversation and state out loud that you want to go deeper. Give the care-seeker a way to opt in. For example, you could say “I think it might be helpful to talk about X now. I know that may be difficult. How would you feel about that?” or “I’d like to try something…” or “May I ask a question about X?” 

3. If they say yes, thank them and proceed. If they say no, thank them and let them set the course for the conversation. Never take their vulnerability for granted. Don’t attempt to pry secrets out of them, no matter how cathartic you think the sharing would be. 

The reason that I list these steps is that it is important for caregivers to be mindful of their own boundaries and limits, not to be overcome by the zeal for helping and take over the conversation. The caregiver and care-seeker always need to be able to opt in.  

Of course, the nature of human life means that the caregiver and care-seeker will sometimes hit emotional landmines (and/or try lines of questioning that are not productive). The boundary-centered framework of kink is helpful in this case too. Even when kinky play is going well, players may need to draw back or ‘dial it down’ temporarily. 

There may be times during kink scenes where one partner is unexpectedly triggered. The dominant has to be mindful (and humble) enough to stop, deescalate, or change the scene so that they can check in with the submissive. They can’t just stick to the original plan and hope for the best. Players, dominant and submissive, should not feel trapped in an activity. Pastoral caregivers also need to have this flexibility (which makes the various tools discussed in class helpful to know). 

Kink scenes traditionally end with “aftercare,” the process by which the players wind down the scene, come out of their scene roles, take care of any wounds, and sometimes debrief (generally) about how the scene went. There *probably* won’t be any wounds from a flogger, but lotion, a snack, and a glass of water might be in order for both parties. The sub may be riding a high of endorphins from the scene (and the dominant may also need to “come down”), so they will often spend some time wrapped up in a blanket and cuddling together, talking about idle things. Nobody will drive or operate machinery for a little while. While it isn’t always possible to transition peacefully out of a pastoral care interaction because of time or institutional constraints, a caregiver may want to…

• lay out the estimated time for the conversation from the beginning

• keep snacks on hand

• have a bank of organized quick referral resources at their fingertips

• encourage a care-seeker to take time after the conversation to reflect

• take a few minutes for their own ‘aftercare’ to breathe and debrief before seeing another care-seeker 

While pastoral care and kink relations have many similarities, they are, of course, very different. Pastoral care-seekers should not feel dominated. Kink can be a modality with skills that transfer well to pastoral care, but it would be ethically problematic, to say the least, to try to mix the two situations in reality. In The Practice of Pastoral Care, Carrie Doehring warns that to “engage in sexual or romantic relationships with care seekers” would be sexual misconduct (77). This is a good general rule. I want to make exceptions for professional sex workers (including surrogates) who have clearly bounded sexual contact with clients (as sex surrogate Dr. Helen Fisher does in The Sessions). Sex work is emotional labor often adjacent to and even overlapping with clinical therapy. That should be acknowledged (and decriminalized regardless). In most cases, however, the kind of intimate ‘play’ that people enjoy in kink or in romantic and/or sexual relationships should not take place between caregiver and care-seeker in a pastoral care relationship, nor, in some cases, should a person with pastoral care skills try to use these skills in their private lives. Be mindful when you use your skills. Notice when you choose to take care of someone. Even if you’re not officially a pastoral caregiver, those caregiving skills can be all too easy to fall back on! 

While a pastoral caregiver may find their listening skills helpful in resolving emotional conflicts with a friend or partner, they may fall fully into the pastoral caregiving role, implicitly assuming an emotional distance from personal conflicts that do not exist. This assumption can damage the relationship and leave both parties hurt and exhausted. In the same way that one wouldn’t just initiate a kink dynamic without prior discussion, it’s important not to charge into caregiving without considering consent and awareness. 

Pastoral Care Resources:

Carrie Doehring’s The Practice of Pastoral Care

Stephanie Crumpton’s A Womanist Pastoral Theology Against Intimate and Cultural Violence

Sonia E. Waters’ Addiction and Pastoral Care

Gregory Ellison’s Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young MenHerbert Anderson and Kenneth Mitchell’s All Our Losses, All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care


A Note From the Front – Non-Affirming Church Family

I had a couple of epistles in progress that I hoped to have posted by now, but it’s not happening. Tonight, I’m just sad. My home church met this evening to discuss a congregational survey that we took a few weeks ago to assess our strengths and growth areas for the future. Overall, that process was uplifting and helpful. Unfortunately, the last page of our results (the extra feedback about how we can make our church distinctive) contained a nasty surprise. 

Someone in our very small church wrote something like, “We shouldn’t be so political. We need to stop talking so much about LGBTQ issues as if they’re the only thing that matters. We need to love everyone, but the Bible is clear.” It hurt to read. I know not everyone in my church is affirming, but the fact that someone whom I surely love decided to sound off like that was…painful. 

The answer didn’t even make sense. The question was about our distinctiveness as a church; not talking about LGBTQ issues isn’t an unusual trait in my corner of the rural South. I spent the remainder of the discussion time wondering who wrote it–was it someone who raised me, or was it someone I grew up with? And what a pity that is, because so much good came from the discussion overall. 

I had already been feeling vulnerable because I do talk about LGBTQ issues a lot in church; I believe it’s important to help my church family understand why I advocate. And then this person said I shouldn’t, I guess because it makes them uncomfortable to have their bigotry challenged. They prefer to think of my rights as ‘political’ and thus not worth discussing. I know I wasn’t the only one in the room who was hurt by the statement–while I was the only out queer person present, several of the older adults have grown LGBTQ children whom they affirm. But I felt that if I said anything negative during the discussion process, I would be seen as derailing it with my hysterical hurt feelings. I held them in for quite a while, even when one of my grandfriends pointed at the page and frowned in commiseration. 

My mom came in to check on me tonight. I promptly burst into tears. She held me and let me talk. I also talked to some friends who reminded me that I’m loved and that my work matters. Additionally, one of my cats came in and purred on my chest for a while. He seems to have a knack for knowing when someone needs comfort. 

Will I stop loving the person who wrote this ignorant statement? No. It is their loss if they can’t open their mind, and I can’t save them. I need to take care of myself. I’m fortunate to have a strong sense of self and confidence in my identity as a queer Christian. But it still hurts when people don’t want to understand, so tonight, I’m just letting myself hurt and be comforted by people I trust. 

More on my church family and my spiritual journey here
Therapeutic music: “Change Your Mind” from Steven Universe

Why I Don’t Archive ‘Christian’ Sex Shops – Yes, They’re a Thing

Several self-described ‘Christian’ sex shops exist online, from Married Dance and Honoring Intimates to Covenant Spice. These shops sell “marital aids.” I have a lengthy and growing Resources page with several recommended adult retail vendors. I list sex shops because I want to connect readers with the safe, high quality sex toys and other adult items that work for them. I don’t want readers to feel shamed or excluded by the sex toy-buying experience. Thus, I don’t archive Christian sex shops among my recommendations. Why? In short, because they offer similar products to secular shops but vilify pornography, homosexuality, and sex outside of man-woman marriage. Some such sites even recommend that customers not use their toys for solo masturbation. Others don’t carry toys like strapon dildos, the sort of thing they might associate with queerness. 

For them as retailers, Christianity is a matter of marketing to a niche audience. That’s not necessarily an entirely bad thing. The religious selling point is what makes it okay for Christians (especially more conservative ones) to buy sex toys; I’m all for happier marriages and sexual exploration. 

Another differentiating element of Christian sex shops is their general refusal to associate with pornography. While I believe in promoting ethical pornogrpahy, if someone doesn’t want to see pornographic images, I understand. I wish that more websites had customizable menus, allowing viewers to opt into the various ways that it’s possible to engage with sexual information and content. That’s why I’m working on detailed systems of post categorization for this site–I want readers to be able to consent to what they are viewing. 

That said, while they expand the borders of what’s acceptable for Christian sex, these Christian sex shops still serve a purity-based framework that says “All sex is impure unless the participants meet an arbitrary set of standards.” For those who can meet the standards, whatever they are, these sites may be tenuously validating, but they invite a shaky and false sense of moral superiority (Honoring Intimates touts “Passion without perversion”). For those who don’t meet the standards (queer/trans folks, single and polyamorous folks, people who can’t marry, people who just want to explore their own sexuality without a partner, etc.) these sites perpetuate shame. 

When these shops call themselves “Christian-friendly,” they only mean friendly to a specific subset of Christians that fit their mold. It makes me sad. So many Christians (and non-Christians!) with passion to explore, and so few considered pure enough for vibrators and sexy underwear. For now, I’ll stick with the ‘heathens’.

Have you found any more inclusive Christian sex toy shops? If so, let me know!

Nightmares of Narnia – A Suffering Epistle

Content notice: description of torture and murder of anthropomorphized animals

I tend to dream vividly, often in rich detail. Sometimes, my dreams are delightful, affirming, empowering. Most of the time, they’re strange and disjointed. And occasionally, they are truly horrific. Last night’s dream fell into the third category. For context, I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory fantasy series. Narnia was a land populated most notably by talking animals and fantasy creatures, a reflection of sorts on our world. 

Lewis’ Christ figure, a lion named Aslan, was crucial in shaping my concept of God. Through Aslan, I learned that God was strong but gentle, nurturing, and self-sacrificial (for example, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan allows himself to be killed by the evil White Witch to save a human child who had betrayed him). 

In some ways, it was easier for me to connect with Aslan than with Jesus or ‘God,’ who seemed so abstract. As a child, I used to dream that I could visit with Aslan in a corridor between the world of Narnia and my own world. I tried to hold onto my time there with the bittersweet understanding that I would someday become too old to visit him there–in the books, the main human characters eventually ‘age out’ of being able to visit Narnia, instead charged with taking what they have learned into their own world. Oftentimes, I feel like one of those children who have aged out. I don’t connect so easily with the wonder of Narnia anymore, but I try to carry its lessons with me. 

Last night, I dreamed of Narnia for the first time in years. I dreamed that I was watching Aslan die again. As in the book, I watched the White Witch have him bound, tortured, and shamed, his mane shorn off. This time, however, he also had to watch, powerless, while the Witch had several smaller animals executed. A weasel was beheaded. A badger was drowned. Their corpses were thrown away. And Aslan wasn’t stoically silent this time; he wailed and cried, protesting the murder of these innocent creatures even as dogs tore at his own flesh. I woke up, heart pounding, right after the Witch had finally done her part and stabbed him to death. 

In the book, Aslan rises from the dead the morning after his death, vindicated by his sacrifice and prepared to defeat the Witch and her armies. I didn’t get to see that in my dream last night. Instead, I saw the depth of his despair, his powerlessness, the raw terror that I probably wouldn’t have been able to handle seeing as a young child. 

I wonder why my mind shuffled through my experiences and brought back Narnia last night. Perhaps it’s secondhand horror from the deaths of so many innocent people at the hands of a white supremacist gunman in El Paso last week (how interesting that Aslan’s killer, who orchestrates so many deaths, is called the White Witch). Perhaps I needed my heart to catch up with my intellectual belief that God understands our suffering. Knowing that Aslan could do nothing but cry in that moment as he watched his loved ones die made the torture so much more severe. I was frozen too. Perhaps I fear that loss of power. Perhaps I’m not sure whether “God is in control” is anything more than a platitude. Perhaps I’m being called to intervene somehow, or even just to let myself feel. I don’t know. I hope I’ll dream of resurrection tonight. For now, I’m just sharing my dream with you. 

Dear Non-Affirming Christian…

Dear Non-Affirming Christian, 

Welcome to my blog. I’m glad you’re here. You are a beloved child of God.

Feel free to ask questions about my journey and use the Resources page to learn more.

Please don’t invite me to a Bible study. 

Love,

A Queerstian

Further reading: “I Can’t Be Your Gay Friend” by Caitlin Stout

Fetish Foibles, Part 2 – Cleaning Communication

Welcome to Fetish Foibles, the series where I talk about my kinky mistakes! Read Part 1 here

One thing I’ve discovered in my time as a Dominant is that I enjoy receiving practical, concrete acts of service. My sub enjoys serving. I present this scenario for your edified entertainment: my apartment needed cleaning. My sub and I decided to try a scenario during which he cleaned my apartment in the nude, that classic staple of D/s fantasy. I made him a list of things to do. He stripped naked and got to cleaning. 

I, meanwhile, caught up on homework. When he finished tidying and scrubbing, I ‘inspected’ his work, feeling like Mary Poppins in her white gloves. My sub confessed a few minutes later that he felt bad about my assessment. I realized that I had been overly harsh for the situation; I had fallen back on corny erotica tropes about cold, critical Mistresses who demanded perfection instead of treating the cleaning like the loving service that it was. While we cuddled, I apologized and thanked him for letting me know how he felt. Through that process, we discovered a few issues that made the task less satisfying for both of us than it could have been.

First, we came at the service from different standpoints. I wanted practical, time-saving service that would free me up to do other things. My sub wanted to clean as an extension of our erotic play, imagining me watching him, teasing him at various points throughout the service task. A more thorough discussion of our wants and expectations would have helped us both. 

Second, we threw nudity in without considering our task environment. If you’re gonna clean in the nude, remember the factors of chemical exposure and room temperature–my sub got cold! 

Third, I used a more critical approach to assess the work than I normally would–one that was not true to my needs or our D/s dynamic. In my sub’s case, it was reminiscent of a difficult dynamic from another part of his life that he didn’t enjoy. It is perfectly fine to negotiate a service task in which the Dominant acts very stern and critical, but that emotional dynamic should not be taken for granted or forced upon a situation where it has not been negotiated. 

Nowadays, I still assign practical service tasks that aren’t the slightest bit sexy for my sub (they’re still sexy for me; being served and obeyed is immensely satisfying in many ways), but I’m more mindful of the importance of clear communication about our expectations and desires from service.

Fetish Foibles, Part 1 – Play Partner Selection Error

Greetings, Beloved! I’m starting a little post series about mistakes that I’ve made over time as a kinkster in hopes that others will be edified and comforted. As Queen Clarisse Renaldi would say, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did…make your own mistakes!”

Today’s foible: play partner selection error. TL;DR – I suffered many fools for no good reason. #QuelleSurprise

Finding a trustworthy play partner can be a harrowing process, especially for women. So far, I haven’t had any traumatic experiences with people I’ve chosen to play and/or have sex with. I’m grateful for that. Early on, I wasted far too much time entertaining people (men) who were pushy, flaky, or just not evolved enough to engage with kink safely. 

For example, I once gave my phone number out to a guy who then revealed that he self-identified as a sociopath (a “socio”). He appeared to have no understanding of why that was a problem, and I actually tried to explain it to him

At the time, I had this strange idea that because I was a new Dominant, I had to “pay my dues” by putting up with mediocre experiences and attitudes. Please note, especially when you’re just starting to explore, mediocre experiences are part of life, even when the stars seem aligned for maximum pleasure. But there’s no need to waste time on people who don’t care about your needs. 

My first mediocre kink experience occurred on a kinky Discord server with an anonymous switch guy. I dommed him in a lengthy text-based roleplay scene (we must have texted about six hours in all!). While I enjoyed the scene, he kept wanting to interact with me as “Mistress” afterward and messaged regularly looking for dominant attention from me. I got overwhelmed and soon just stopped replying to his messages. We both made mistakes in that situation. He assumed that I would always interact with him as a Dominant without asking me what I wanted. I just went along with it and replied to his messages in the way that he wanted, feeling like it would be rude not to (until it was just too much and I had to jump ship). At the time, it didn’t occur to me that I could have said, “I enjoyed our play but I don’t have the energy to dominate you all the time” or even “Thanks for playing, but I don’t want to talk to you right now/anymore.” I was the flaky one (the flaker?) in that situation, though I don’t blame myself; he really should have known better. 

In other situations, I was the flakee. I would talk to guys who would disappear, only to pop up again weeks or even months later as though no time had passed. One guy was a combination of flaky, pushy, and unevolved. When he messaged me, I put a great deal of emotional labor into teaching him how to navigate FetLife respectfully. He ‘didn’t have time’ to go to munches. Nowadays, that would be an instant “Nope” from me. If you can make time to get fucked up the ass, you can make time to eat pancakes. Back then, I tried to be understanding. We met up briefly and scheduled a play session (we were both really interested in pegging). I bought lube, gloves, and a bulb enema for him. He cancelled at the last minute. We scheduled again. He cancelled. He tried to coax me into sending pictures of my strapon. At one point, I replied, “Too much trouble.” He didn’t message again for six weeks.

When he finally did, I was just laying the foundations of my dynamic with my current sub and told him that play was unlikely. He responded by pouting (“Oh I’m :/ well let me know if things change”). In his last message, he said he didn’t want to be “that annoying guy” but wanted to see one more time if I was interested. The sad part is, I don’t think he realizes that he became “that guy” a long time back. He was the stereotypical horny FetLife jerk, and I almost played with him. 

How do I avoid the jerks? Nowadays, I rarely consider anyone who doesn’t go to munches. And I pull back from any stranger who leaps to ‘submit’ to or ‘serve’ me for no good reason; that’s domism, and I’m not indulging it. Kink is a collaborative process. Most guys I met in my early exploration didn’t get that memo. 

I’ve also learned over time to weed out anyone who self-identifies as an “alpha male.” It leaks defensive, patriarchal shame, and I’m not taking the time to unpack that with random dudes anymore (for the record, I nope right past the “alpha females” too). My emotional labor is valuable. If a guy I’m talking to says something that rubs me the wrong way, I say so and (sometimes) give him a chance to correct himself. Seeing how someone reacts to being told “No” early on can be a great early indicator of how they’ll act later. Generally, I feel that I’m in a safe enough position to give second chances. Not everyone has that privilege, and I wouldn’t judge anyone who has more stringent boundaries. It feels good (though I roll my eyes at myself) to see how much I’ve grown in being able to set the boundaries that work for me. Do you have any “fetish foibles” to share? Had any play partner fiascos? Let me know in the comments! 

PS–Great video on how NOT to approach people in kinky contexts here

Featured image:  Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel, by Henri Vidal in Tuileries Garden in Paris, France

File URL: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3b/Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statue.jpg

Attribution: Alex E. Proimos [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)] No changes were made to the image.

On “Christian BDSM” in Fundamentalist Culture

Content notice: Toxic, sexist Christianity, rape culture

Gentle readers, few things make my brain overheat faster than “Christian BDSM.” Now, I guess I technically practice Christian BDSM because I’m a kinky Christian…whose play and dynamics are informed by my faith. But when I hear about “Christian BDSM,” what does it mean? Usually, it’s a kinky married man-woman couple that organizes a power exchange based on Bible verses like Ephesians 5:22, which says “Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord.” The couple often comes from an evangelical and biblical literalist standpoint. 

Before I dive into that, I want to note that some Christians believe that BDSM is sinful, disrespectful at best and dangerously abusive at worst. This post doesn’t address that issue in depth. I’m also not specifically talking about “Christian Domestic Discipline,” though there can be some overlap between the rationale and practice of CDD and Christian D/s marriages. As the microcosm of Christian Fetlife discussion groups demonstrates, Christian kinksters are all over the map, from fundamentalists who believe in biblical headship to queer progressives like myself. Right now, I’m talking about a subset of Christians who believe that the Bible mandates male dominance and female submission in the context of marriage and use a combination of BDSM and evangelical/fundamentalist concepts. It’s difficult to research this topic; most of what I can say about it is anecdotal. But over time, I’ve seen enough to get a basic sense of the phenomenon (and for my brain to melt). 

Conservative views have often seemed to float to the top when I’ve looked for information, whether I was googling or searching Fetlife. For example, the first (and most radical) Christian Fet group I found has discussion topics that include…

  • The ‘sinfulness’ that occurs when women and ‘effeminate men’ have governing power in society
  • Scriptural interpretation to support the subordination of women (using Genesis, for example, to say that Eve’s sin was a violation of the natural marriage hierarchy)
  • Biblical polygyny and whether it is acceptable for a Christian man to have more than one wife in the modern day. Somewhat bizarrely, the forum has a sticky thread about “The Evils of Toxic Monogamy Culture” that blames an “egocentric and megalomaniacal version of feminism” for creating a culture in which a woman “threatens to leave because of her husband’s interest in another woman.” 

Concepts like “headship” show up often in these kinds of discussions, along with assertions that women were created to submit and men to dominate. These kinksters see BDSM as a natural extension of the order of creation. 

To be quite honest, I am appalled. Here’s why my brain melts: I respect the right of consenting adults to choose the relationship structures and, to an extent, the sexual ethics that work for them, regardless of whether I share them myself. But as other writers linked in this post have pointed out, consent is not given in a vacuum; it is influenced by all kinds of factors. Thus, my feelings are messy and uncomfortable. 

When married kinky Christians cite scriptures to explain why men deserve to be in charge and to discipline their wives, I worry. Mainly, I worry that the consent in these dynamics, from the choice to engage in them to their ongoing maintenance, may be compromised by heavy social conditioning. What if you were indoctrinated in a fundamentalist Christian community where men were in charge, women were subordinated, female purity was emphasized, and sexual assault was covered up? If you still subscribe to that community’s doctrines as an adult (perhaps even still living in that community), can you engage in a healthy way with a lifestyle whose cornerstone is informed consent? If you start a power exchange, but one partner is thought to be more deserving of power by nature, what is exchanged? 

In a lifestyle whose practitioners sometimes say “The difference between BDSM and abuse is consent” (a statement that I sort of but don’t entirely agree with), how can the partners decide when abuse is occurring? Who even gets to decide? Does the submissive partner have a say, and will she have the unconditional support of her faith community if she needs to leave the situation? Perhaps not, especially if that community doesn’t condone divorce. If the dominant partner is having problems (with shame, with jealousy, with bearing the weight of leadership, etc.), will he be able to lean on his partner, or will assumptions about what he should be able to handle as a Christian husband keep him from getting help? All of these questions trouble me when I consider such marriages on a personal, relational, and political level; they cause my general ethic of acceptance to break down. 

When I ponder these issues, I think I gain some understanding of Christians who think that BDSM is naturally abusive; in their experience, especially if they swim in conservative circles that promote male “spiritual leadership,” it might be. If a marriage is sort of hierarchical to start with, the ‘lower’ partner may feel the need to guard fiercely against the prospect of abuse. Coming from a religious context with a gender hierarchy, perhaps what some people picture is husbands abusing their ‘God-given’ power by beating their wives under the pretext of BDSM. 

Here’s how I would articulate the problem: the coercive, hierarchical fundamentalist framework in which the kink resides limits the options, both real and perceived, of the participants, creating a risky situation in which consent may be compromised. 

I won’t tell individual Christian fundamentalists not to practice power exchange relationships (I can’t know and evaluate every single situation, and my opinion wouldn’t matter anyway). Yet, I can see the theological patterns and social circumstances that give me concern, and those I can challenge to an extent.

I am reminded of how much overlap exists between the patriarchal patterns of fundamentalist Christianity and culture at large in the United States. Even for those of us who didn’t grow up in evangelical purity culture (I just grow up around it), patriarchy and other systems of power and coercion shape our choices and limit our ability to consent. In my home state of North Carolina, for example, you can’t legally withdraw consent if vaginal intercourse is in progress. Guess who that benefits. 

Legislation is just the tip of the iceberg. We have a great deal of work to do to create a better culture (to “unscrew” the sexual culture, as activist Jaclyn Friedman says). We do that work by educating ourselves, holding abusers accountable, supporting survivors, and making consent a baseline in our interpersonal relations (not just sexual ones), among other things.

For me as a Christian, part of my work is acknowledging the ways that Christian scriptural interpretation, theology, and culture have contributed to a coercive sexual culture and finding ways within my faith to shift that culture. I don’t expect to make fundamentalists change their core beliefs, but I do want to understand the sexual consent issues that permeate life in my notch of the Bible Belt. I want to take them seriously, illuminate them where I can, and assist others in our collective healing. That’s my ministry right now. 

Further reading: 

Kinky Christian writer Samantha Field wrote an excellent article (with resources) called “Kink 101 for Purity Culture Survivors” that I found part of the way through writing this post. Read her work for sex-positive post-purity culture recovery.

Queer feminist activist Kitty Stryker is a massive influence on my thinking about consent and consent culture. She was the first thinker I heard say that true ‘consent’ is never fully attainable in our society because so many coercive factors act upon us. 

Feminist theorist Marilyn Frye’s essay “In and Out of Harm’s Way: Arrogance and Love” also heavily influences my views on consent and coercion. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline – Learn about the signs of abuse, find resources, and get help here.

Beatitudes PSA – The Rich don’t need your blessing.

[Image description: Photo is of the cover of The New Interpreter’s Bible.]

I led a discussion of the Beatitudes in Sunday School today. In the Bible, the Beatitudes are statements of blessing that Jesus gives to his disciples at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. These are the Beatitudes as told in Matthew 5:3-12: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Beatitudes are tricky. In context, they are revolutionary; Jesus and his disciples were persecuted and eventually executed by legal authorities for threatening the established social, political, and religious order of the Roman Empire. When looking at the key words’ original meanings, I learned that underpinning the Beatitudes is a drive for justice. For example, as the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary noted, “righteousness” isn’t about being “personally pious.” In the original Greek, the word dikaiosyne, usually translated as “righteousness” in this passage, also means “justice.” 

The Beatitudes contradict typical social attitudes about wealth and power with shocking fierceness (see also “The Woes” in Matthew 23). They turn expectations upside down. When I read them, I get the impression that God loves and honors those whom society looks down on (like the poor). We don’t need to become rich or powerful to be worthy of love and justice, but God celebrates the difficult work of peacemaking; God understands the sorrow of those who cry out for justice and is on our side–that’s huge. Unfortunately, many people (myself included) have defanged the Beatitudes, making them all about personal piety. It’s hard not to; the powers that be don’t want justice for the poor and downtrodden, and that agenda shows up all the time in Christian communities. It’s difficult, especially in the United States, to push back against the notion that if you’re poor or suffering, you’ve done something to deserve it. Sunday school illustrated this problem. 

When we discussed the Beatitudes today, I noticed an interesting pattern: people defended the rich. Even though I tried to emphasize the importance of justice in the Beatitudes, the discussion kept cycling back to these three areas: defense of the wealthy, personal guilt, and individual piety. The class struggled with the language around wealth and poverty, asking “How can that be? Does that mean that you’re not blessed if you’re not poor?” 

I don’t actually know the answer to that question. I suppose it depends on how one defines wealth (and how that wealth was acquired, and what you do with it). In Jesus’ day, social mobility was limited. In general, the rich stayed rich, and the poor stayed poor. Resources were limited. In order to become ‘wealthy,’ you would have to take from someone else, in the way that a king collects tribute by force (see 1 Samuel 8 for more spicy commentary on that). In other words, if you became rich, there was a good chance you were also greedy

In our current culture, where we like to think that wealth is a meritocracy, that idea can be uncomfortable, even for people who aren’t wealthy. Here in the American South, it’s common to believe that financial benefits will accrue if you are faithful to God and that abstract benefits to the economy justify the runaway accumulation of wealth. The (often unrealistic) belief that you should be able to get out of poverty through hard work and dedication, the “bootstraps” narrative, is also common. 

Some folks turn to an explanation I call the “IN SPIRIT Loophole” to avoid acknowledging the blessing of the poor alongside the peacemakers and the merciful. We don’t know exactly what “poor in spirit” means; some think that it refers to humility, while others think it refers to a sense of ‘downtroddenness.’ Literal, physical poverty and blessedness just don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. The Gospel of Luke doesn’t leave room for that. Luke just says “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Way to refute the Prosperity Gospel in one fell swoop.

It may not mean the rich aren’t blessed by God (though it probably did when first written), but it entails a countercultural worldview either way, one that lifts the lowly, sorrowful, and oppressed. It doesn’t tell them to change. It does challenge us all to do hard work (including acts of mercy, peacemaking, and things that make us unpopular with the powerful forces that govern our lives), secure in the knowledge that we are loved, respected, and valued. We don’t rely on the blessing of governments, corporations, or other powers for worth, even though we live under their influence. 

That idea was very hard for my class to accept (and I don’t blame them). We went around and around, raising defenses whenever I steered the conversation toward justice. It was a bit like trying to work the knots out of tight muscles; when a muscle is chronically tense, it forms a habit of tension. It may need regular massage and other caring work to stay relaxed for very long–and that can be painful. Reading challenging scriptures like the Beatitudes in unconventional ways is challenging. We can only get so far in thirty minutes of meandering group discussion, but I hope that it inspired feelings of compassion and courage alongside the frustration. 

Further reading: 

Some Modern Beatitudes – A Sermon for All Saints Sunday” – a different but beautiful take on the Beatitudes 

Rightwiseness and Justice: A Tale of Translation” – why dikaiosyne ends up getting translated as “righteousness” instead of “justice”