What I’ve Learned So Far: A Reflective Epistle

In the past few days, I’ve had this odd hankering to reflect on the past year in writing. I don’t yet know how my finals will turn out, and perhaps I should be working on them. But I love to procrastinate work with other work. So, here are a few things I’ve learned since I got involved as a switch in the kink community about a year-and-a-half ago:

  • I’ve learned that munches are pretty great, especially if you can tell people apart. 
  • I’ve learned how to spank, flog, strap, paddle, cane, finger-fuck, peg, and edge. I’m learning how to communicate, ask good questions, listen, maintain boundaries, process difficult feelings, and not use dominance or submission as a security blanket. I haven’t yet learned how to get anything satisfying out of the riding crop. 
  • I’ve learned to face fears and take care of myself (I even went to the gynecologist and got treatment for chronic pain). I also started this blog, and I’m proud of myself for not giving up on it–it feels good to recognize that I’m building resilience. 
  • I’ve learned that playing with lazy, unmotivated play partners is not part of ‘paying my dues‘. I used to think that I had to deal with a few blah play partners in order to ‘hone my craft,’ a bit like an apprentice doing grunt work. In real life, that translated into bending over backwards to educate and accommodate flaky, lazy men who hadn’t taken the time to educate themselves. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten more experience, this type of man has largely disappeared from my DMs. 
  • Through my D/s dynamics, play experiences, and conversations with friends in the local community over the past several months, I’ve learned that a lot of kink isn’t sexual. Thus, I now tend to describe BDSM simply as “One of the ways grownups play.” For example, my dynamic with my Dominant isn’t really sexual so far, and my submission to her isn’t sexually motivated. Our play and D/s interaction centers around sensuality, service, and mutual growth. If you’d told me this last year, I would have been shocked. It just goes to show that even when discussing ‘alternative lifestyles,’ we often don’t recognize the kaleidoscope of healthy, loving ways for human beings to interact. 
  • On the other hand, some of my kinky play is quite sexual! In my dynamic with my submissive, a major element of my holistic dominance is my ownership of his sexual life (long-term, encompassing control that I wouldn’t have expected to want at the start of my kink journey). I’ve learned that (consensually) stepping into someone’s personal space in a dominant frame of mind can be a strong sexual trigger. Perhaps it sends a signal to my body, paradoxically, that I can ‘let go’ and be sexual (Emily Nagoski’s “gas pedal and brakes” framework makes sense to me here).
  • I’ve discovered that I have an inner sadist (which I’ll talk about more at another time). I like to watch people grow, to assign homework, to ask probing questions that confront assumptions. To an extent, it’s satisfying to watch people struggle, knowing that they will come out of the difficult experience wiser, kinder, and more resilient. A while back, my Dominant shared some concerns she had about being in a process of growth. I said, “This may sound strange, but as your submissive, I’m still sadistic. I derive joy from your discomfort.” She wasn’t offended–that tells me that I’ve chosen a good Domme. Do I have an inner masochist? I think so. Stay tuned.
  • I’ve learned that I’m not immune to pettiness, jealousy, and consent accidents. And while we’re at it, I’m not immune to ye olde frenzy. I’ve made many mistakes and will make more (see Fetish Foibles for a couple of examples from my dominant life). 
  • I’ve had a complicated journey with submission. There’s a reason I’ve been calling it #Subpocalypse2019. Being confronted with a serious opportunity to submit frightened me, even made me feel ashamed. Frankly, it embarrasses me to think of the monsters that came out of my mental closet. I’ve learned a lot about my fears and insecurities. 
  • I’ve been learning how to manage multiple dynamics, friendships, etc. that require care and attention. I honestly believe that I’ve become more of a stickler for planning and scheduling because of my kink exploration. Planning is one way to show care for people, even if that just means planning a little extra sleep into your schedule so you can be fully alert during negotiation and play. While we’re at it, I’ve learned that gratitude is more precious than gold. 
  • In making the leap from kinky fantasy into kinky reality, I’ve learned to fantasize more responsibly. That is, I think more deeply about my fantasies and how they relate to my needs. Fantasy has been a lifelong coping mechanism for me; I’ve always been imaginative, and as a child, that’s how I spun straw into gold. I used to eroticize the feeling of being left-out and marginalized in social groups, in situations where my tender young mind saw no alternative. It went something like this: “Oh, I’ve been left out. I shall now be Cinderella.” And I would revel in the degradation of my imagined servitude. Nowadays, I try to think through my options before spinning a fantasy. For example, if I’m feeling bad, I might think, “Is this a situation that I can work through in the ‘real world’? Am I using this fantasy to make my shame feel sweeter instead of confronting it?” That doesn’t mean I restrict my imagination (or, for that matter, that fantasies are ‘good’ or ‘bad’) but that I try not to use fantasy to avoid the hard work of reflecting, communicating my needs, and following through in reality. 
  • Maybe you’re wondering whether I, a queer, kinky Christian divinity student, have any reflections on faith here. First, my journey has taught me that Dominants are not deities, though we can certainly play with those roles and language. We don’t ever ‘deserve’ anybody’s submission (we don’t even deserve the capital ‘D’ at the beginning of ‘Dominant’). Now, what about God, whom some people choose to conceptualize as the ultimate Dominant? I don’t know what to make of God, to be quite honest. God is a mystery, and I’m leaving it at that for now. I haven’t truly ‘worshipped’ in a traditional sense in quite a while, but I think God can understand that. 
  • I’m pretty sure my Christology (my sense of the divinity of Jesus) has come down a few notches–I used to really like the idea that God, through Jesus, could understand the spectrum of human suffering, but I’m not so sure anymore. Overall, I feel as stubbornly rooted in my Christianity as ever, but, to quote transgender pastor Allyson Dylan Robinson, I’ve “sacrificed my certainty” many times. 
  • I’m just beginning to explore the connection between kink and spirituality (read a bit about my frustration with traditional ‘spiritual practices’ here). But I’m finding kinky activity to be intensely connective and intimate, a time when I can be completely focused on my partners. Regardless of my role, kink requires me to be vulnerable, showing up as myself. I learned how to show up with vulnerability in part through my Christian faith and nurturing community. Yet, I find that I usually can’t show up that way when I try to pray–I have too many complicated thoughts and feelings, confusion and anger, sometimes blankness where I would once have imagined God to be. It’s hard to talk to a mystery. People are slightly easier. So perhaps kink is a way that I can commune with the Divinity in myself and others. I hope to explore this idea further. 

I honestly have more to say, but I think that’s enough for now. I am grateful for the people, the discoveries, and the opportunities to learn that I’ve had so far in the kink community. I look forward to learning more as I continue my journey.

Be of good courage!

Masturbation Monday

Sex Dreams – A Grumble

You know, I can see a variety of reasons to cultivate a ‘lucid dreaming practice’. Not automatically dropping out of the air mid-flight when I realize I’m dreaming is one of them. Another reason? I would love to have a good sex dream. My sex dreams, like most dreams, usually end up mixed-up and stressful. Oftentimes, there’s some obstacle to sex, overwhelming desire thwarted by lack of privacy or another problem. I’ll keep looking for places to have sex, only to find that my partner isn’t who I thought they were (or, alternatively, scorpions come out of nowhere).

Last night’s sex dream had all kinds of obstacles. In the dream, I had some serious sexually submissive feelings toward a cis man (I almost never have such feelings toward men in real life). And this was the worst possible man–he was ‘the Reverend’ from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (honestly, couldn’t it have at least been Gretchen?). Having somehow decided that kidnapping and fundamentalist cult leadership weren’t deal-breakers, I threw myself at him. He responded favorably. And then he uncapped his dick, which was like a set of Russian nesting dolls. I didn’t like the new shape he revealed. I then realized we didn’t have any condoms or dams and backed away from the encounter. Well, at least dream-Perpetua had some sense. I wish I could lucid dream my way into a positive, safe experience or let go of reality entirely. Yes, maybe I will cultivate that lucid dreaming practice. It’s on my to-do list. 

Penance, Part 7

Catch up on the entire series here. I’m exploring some concepts that I started to work through in my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance” using this experimental semi-fantasy flash erotica series. It is not intended to model realistic and healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. This installment (a bit long for flash) is a response to the Masturbation Monday blog meme.

After a few days’ thought, he washes the handkerchief and hangs it to dry on a tiny shoestring clothesline rigged across the Monstera plant. It seems like the right thing to do. He’s filled the first notebook with writing about anything and everything he can think of. His secretary looked at him like he had grown an extra head when he asked for paper (what she doesn’t know is that he first tried to filch it from the printer, accidentally breaking it in the process, and had to hire a repair worker from his own pocket as a result). 

He knows the Dominant will visit this evening. The Agency sent a confirmation message yesterday. He felt relieved–he’d half-expected that they would drop him altogether after last session’s disaster–but somehow more nervous than he was before the first session. He is, as his mother would say, ‘a wreck,’ pacing the condo, fluffing pillows and such. He’s even set out a carafe of water and two glasses. He has a feeling that last week’s behavior won’t go unaddressed. 

The Dominant appears in his doorway empty-handed. No implements, but the electric blue streak in their hair today makes the back of his neck prickle. Danger? Arousal? Who knows. He lets them in without fanfare. He wills his hand not to shake as he pours the water. The Dominant makes themself at home, once again going through their papers. He sits stiffly and waits. Finally, they fold the papers and take off their glasses.  

“There’s something different about you today,” they say. “You’re all pulled in. Like your wings are folded to your sides.” 

He looks down at his lap. He’s never thought of himself as a bird before. 

“Tell me what you’re holding in.”

He looks up at the command in their tone. He senses that he has to answer. “I was disrespectful last week,” he says after a moment, in a small, brittle voice. He can’t say anymore, can’t bear to look at that furrow in their brow, so he focuses on the handkerchief, still hanging. 

“Yes, you were,” the Dominant says after a beat. “I see that it’s affecting you.” 

To his horror, tears spring to his eyes. Before anger can claw its way up through his shame, the Dominant speaks very quietly. “Good.” Good? Unable to trust his voice, he fights to sit up straighter, wills the tears to dry under the breeze of the air conditioner as he stares a hole through the cloth. 

“I see that this is hard for you.” He can’t speak. “Here’s what I want to happen,” they say. “Look at me for a second.” He does. They point at the floor between their legs. “I want you to take this cushion and sit here, facing away from me.” 

He doesn’t think to disobey. The floor creaks as he fits himself into the small space between sofa and coffee table, drawing his knees up. He feels the warmth of the Dominant’s legs on either side of him, the hard boots bracketing him. They’re a bit scuffed-looking up close. 

A soft voice floats down from above. “Lean back a little.” As he does, he feels their hands strong on his shoulders, holding him in place. He swallows, again finding the handkerchief in his vision.

“You cleaned that for me, didn’t you,” the Dominant says, pressing on his shoulders gently. “Thank you. That pleases me.” 

He nods. He feels surrounded, enfolded, so close to the ground. He tilts his head back, feels their shirt brush against his hair. 

“I want to stroke your hair.” 

“Mmyes,” he replies, feeling mellower in spite of the tears starting to track down his face. They cup the back of his head and massage, occasionally catching enough hair to tug on his scalp, just a little. One finger finds its way to his cheekbone, collecting a tear on its way. 

“Good,” he hears again as his eyes fall closed. He stays there, resting in that pocket of warmth, for the remainder of the session. 

-To be continued-

Masturbation Monday

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


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.

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.

Penance, Part 2

Read the first series installment of this semi-fantasy flash erotica series here. I anticipate this’ll be a slow-burning series, gentle readers. 😉 This fiction explores some concepts that I started to work through in my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance.” It is not intended to model realistic and healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. This installment is a response to the Wicked Wednesday blog memeFor some of my more realistic short erotica, see “Stay Like This.”

His mouth runs dry, stomach twisting. Penance. They? Vague memories of workplace sensitivity trainings ooze through his molasses mind. She–they–shake out their umbrella and sling a black messenger bag off their shoulder. 

He stutters “Are these–” 

Now, they grin outright, nodding. “The implements of correction.” Their voice is soft and low, cello-like. 

“Uh,” he replies eloquently, still stuck in place. So much for his plan to fall dramatically to his knees in greeting. That idea seemed so much more intuitive in theory. He looks down at her–their–shoes. No stilettos here, just chunky black boots like his teenage nieces wear. Or like the sisters in his parish growing up used to wear. Or army boots. What a weird overlap. 

“Look up, please,” they say. He does. 

“Let’s have a little chat. Let me get these wet things off, and we’ll sit at the island, alright?” 

“Alright…Miss?” He winces as it comes out. 

“Actually, I prefer Sir,” they reply, dark eyes gleaming. “But we don’t need to worry about that right now.” 

But I’m not attracted to… he thinks as he juggles their belongings to the closet. 

He turns back to them, already perched on a stool and unlacing their boots to reveal socks marked “Ineffable.” Their movements are purposeful and contained, not at all like the whip-slinger he expected. This Dominant wipes rain off their steel-rimmed glasses. 

What on Earth. He must have stood there a little too long, as the Dominant–or interrogator?–raps the island’s granite top with their glasses case. 

He feels himself step forward, blushing. It’s a move he’s used on subordinates before, summoning. Whatever, he thinks, in a fit of pride. His steps sound loud on the wooden floor, even louder when he arranges himself on the stool that’s really too small for him. 

They watch him quietly. Like a lightning rod that deflects noise. 

He tries for board room-level confidence, pasting a dime-toothed smile onto his face. “Well, you found me,” he says with a lame little chuckle.

They smile. “Yes, I did,” they say, pulling some papers out of their bag. Instead of passing them over to him, they adjust their glasses and start to read silently to themself, annotating with a red gel pen. 

For what feels like a long time, they leave him with nothing but the sound of the rain. He crosses his arms. What does this person expect from me? Shouldn’t I be tied up by now? Won’t this ‘Dominant’ do his-her-their job? He feels the words build up inside him, rushing to the surface like hot magma. 

“I’ll have a glass of water, please,” the Dominant says, oblivious. That knocks the wind right out of his sails. He gets up robotically to fill a glass with ice. And then he gets one for himself. 

-To Be Continued-

Told ya. Slow.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Penance, Part 1

[Image description: Photo is of a pair of lace-up black leather boots.]

Hello, Readers! I’ve decided to explore some of the ideas I discussed in my recent essay “BDSM is Not Repentance” through fiction. This is the first part of an experimental semi-fantasy flash erotica series. It is not intended to model realistic or healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. This first installment is part of the Masturbation Monday blog meme sponsored by Kayla Lords. 

He runs his hand through salt-and-pepper hair, drums fingers on his desk to drown out the feeble patter of rain. He grimaces at the cleaning he’s done. She might not show, he thinks. If this day turns out to be a waste of his time and money, he’s leaving a one-star Yelp review and jerking off to Brazzers. 

He was very clear in his inquiry letter to the Agency: he wants to suffer for his actions. He filled out their required spreadsheet of soft and hard limits in a bluster of clacking keys; yes to humiliation, yes to cock-and-ball torture, no to tickling, yes to single-tail, etc. 

He selected a generous three-day time window, signed off with his electronic signature, and procured his background check. Now, it’s just a question of when; it has to be some time today. He waits for her, whomever she is, to waltz into his spartan condo, order him to his knees and slap him around, make him feel powerless. That’s fine. More than fine. 

He chose the “mystery” option to let the Agency assign someone to him, but he’s poked around enough online to have a pretty good idea what she’ll be like: a goddess in stilettos, dark, streamlined slickness over icy pale skin. She’ll beat the devil right out of him…if she shows up. The thought shoots straight down to his cock, and he just catches his hand straying down his khakis. He groans, irritation rising in tandem with arousal.

Just as he’s about to unplug the air freshener and heat up the leftover buffalo wings, someone knocks at the door. He freezes. Somehow, his legs carry him over. He peers through the peep hole at a short, slight woman with asymmetrical hair and a rainbow umbrella. She must be lost, he thinks, wondering whether she’ll go away if he ignores her. But he opens the door. She smiles at him. Her eyes crinkle at the corners. Staticy heat skitters through him, the sensation of thawing after a trudge through the snow, as he realizes that this person isn’t lost at all. “Hello,” she says. “My pronouns are they/them/theirs, and I’m in charge of your penance today.” 

-To be continued-

*Yes, he accidentally misgenders them.

Masturbation Monday

Submission is Scary

[Image description: Photo is of a freshly rained-on brick patio with plants growing around the edges and through the cracks. A pair of pale human feet is at the edge of the frame.]

This’ll be short because I’m emotionally exhausted.

I’ve heard it said that in BDSM, dominants learn power, submissives learn courage, and switches learn wisdom (I wish I could find the original source). That statement oversimplifies things for sure, but it illustrates where I am right now. Looks like I’m about to be very courageous. I’m talking with a friend about experimenting with a low-key D/s dynamic where she is dominant and I am submissive; it’s more of a mindset than a specific kind of play. Not having had any experience with actually submitting before, I’m terrified. 

She brought up the idea of D/s a couple of days ago, and my subconscious wouldn’t leave it alone (I actually dreamed about it; I pay attention to dreams). When we finally started discussing it in messages, I had a physical fight-or-flight response–pounding heart, churning stomach, etc. Having only experienced kink so far as a dominant and top, giving up control and letting myself be led is scary. But scary doesn’t mean bad, and I’ve learned over the years that if I don’t let myself be scared sometimes, I won’t grow. 

Even though I’m intimidated by the vulnerability of it, I’m proud of myself just for being courageous enough to explore this path–I feel braver already. I’m also terribly curious about what I will learn and the wisdom that this experiment will bring. 

That’s all I got for now, but I’ll have more reflections soon! 

BDSM is Not Repentance

[Image description: Photo is of a black flogger draped over a gold handheld mirror.]

Content notice: possible self-harm, police brutality 

Some time ago, I read about a guilt-ridden police officer who went to professional dominatrices to be beaten and humiliated as punishment for his habit of mistreating the people that he stopped on the street. As far as I know, his kinky sessions didn’t stop him from hurting the people under his power. He was still cruel. To put it in religious terms that I understand, he wanted to burn off his sins by ‘suffering’. Instead, he just burned off his guilt and went on his way. Shame covered him like a blanket of ash. 

He wouldn’t be the first to try to use BDSM to cope with guilt and shame. Some reading this post might wonder whether typical kink ‘punishment’ activities like being caned, forced to do chores, or verbally degraded will allow them to compensate for behavior that they’re ashamed of. My answer is “Maybe, but probably not.” 

My full response would be a real treatise, accounting for the various ways that people like to define BDSM and even ‘punishment.’ I’d also have to talk about whether I think that consensual punishments are fruitful (I have complex feelings). I’ll save those for other posts and spare you the ninety-five theses. 

For now, I want to talk about repentance, something more powerful than self-punishment. The Hebrew and Greek words that we often translate as “repent” appear over and over in the Bible.  

In Greek, the original written language of the New Testament, the word is “metanoia,” “to change the mind.” In biblical Hebrew, words literally meaning “to turn” or “turn around” are common (a little more on the language here). 

Wikipedia calls repentance “the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to change for the better.”

In short, repentance isn’t just about feeling sorry. Feelings are important, but they don’t do much in themselves. Instead, repentance is about harnessing thoughts and feelings through reflection in order to change behavior. 

Let’s consider the police officer. Did he repent? No. He felt bad and used BDSM to feel better. Perhaps, he thought that because he had chosen to experience pain, he now understood the pain he had caused others. Maybe he thought that his pain (carefully calibrated to satisfy him, as kinky pain usually is) would balance out theirs.

Repentance doesn’t work like that. For those who use Christian God language, God doesn’t work like that. 

Jesus didn’t say “I was in prison, but you felt bad and punished yourself.” Jesus said “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Mt. 25:43). 

This passage might sound harsh and confronting to some readers. It is. It doesn’t leave room for us to pretend that feeling bad about something is the same as doing something about it. 

But it also means that God doesn’t demand that you punish yourself to counteract the suffering you have caused. It means that you get to choose how you respond to that suffering. 

In the police officer’s case, there was most likely nothing he could do to repair the harm he had caused. The bodies he bruised (probably black bodies) would have to heal themselves; the heartache and trauma might never fully go away. He numbed them out with his own ‘suffering’. But he has the power to recognize what he has done and to make different choices, I hope with the help of a good therapist and strong community. That in itself is painful, and not in a fun way (think of a much less extreme version of Voldemort’s fractured soul).

The temporary hurt of kinky play is not a shortcut to understanding the harm one has caused, and it isn’t repentance. 

That being said, does BDSM have a role in repentance? Maybe so (and I’ll talk about that more in another post), but it depends on one’s goals and attitude. I want to practice treating others well through kink, and I want to give myself care in the play that I choose. I want what my sub experiences under my direction to have a positive impact on the way that he interacts with the world outside of our dynamic. I believe that kink can help people to reflect and grow. In the end, though, repentance is a chosen struggle, and there is no substitute.