Kink is fine as long as you’re married?!

The July+August issue of Mother Jones (one of my favorite magazines) contains an item about web sites for Christians seeking sex advice and sex toys. Those sites raise an interesting question about what “counts” as sex-positive.

The article begins with two quotes, one from the Song of Solomon, and one from a Christian sex toy web site (Book22.com) that itself refers to a Christian sex/marriage community bulletin board and advice site (TheMarriageBed.com). In characterizing the advice given on The Marriage Bed, JoAnn Wypijewski writes, “They must shun porn, but are commanded to pleasure. they may enjoy oral and anal sex, toys and fantasies, “mild pain” through spanking, biting (so long as nothing becomes a fetish or substitutes for intercourse, and couples fantasize together, of themselves married and forsaking all others).” In addition, she writes, that Christian couple should feel free to “slather their skin with chocolate body butter and Happy Penis Massage Cream, restrain each other with silken bonds, use blindfolds and swings, vibrators and pierced-tongue stimulators, penis extenders and dildos (though not those molded after real flesh). All this may be theirs if they are straight and married.” She even describes an essay written by one of the founders of The Marriage Bed (the husband of a husband/wife team) that encourages wives to strip for their husbands, and finish by masturbating to orgasm while he watches.

And therein lies the problem. While I want to rejoice that Christian couples are getting good sex advice and affirmation of their desires for pleasures of many sorts, there is no getting around the prohibitions against extramarital sex (which, in every US state aside from Massachusetts also means prohibition against sex with somebody of the same gender, though that is explicitly prohibited for good measure), or sex that involves even fantasizing about extramarital sex. This can’t be sex-positive, and yet I want to be happy that these people who are devoted to their faith are at least getting advice that allows for sexual fulfillment within the oppressive boundaries of their doctrine. Yet if, as Wypijewski suggests, that means usurping “a vocabulary of desire that owes everything to gay liberation’s unlocking of sex even as they slam the door on the notion that gays and lesbians have any right to sexuality,” if it means exploiting gains in sexual freedom that came as a result of enormous risks taken by those who are then explicitly excluded from basic civil rights by the very people doing the exploiting, this can’t be considered positive even in the most generous of interpretations.

In presentations I’ve given, I’ve described ways of thinking about sex as fitting into conservative sex narratives (no sex outside of marriage, and then a restricted notion of appropriate sex which is geared toward reproduction and marital duty), liberal sex narratives (where most consensual sex is okay as long as it takes place in a loving, and preferably monogamous, relationship) and sex radical narratives (where all consensual sexual activity and identity is okay, period.) It would appear, from this article, that the conservatives are using language from the liberal and sex radical narratives but inserting them into the conservative sex narrative. Is this a way to draw the uncertain back into the Christian fold? Is it a way to help keep committed Christians happy in their marriages? And how unjust it is that many of those who opened the door to this kind of freedom are still being stigamtized and shut out of basic access civil rights by those very powerful Christians who are probably enjoying vibrators and bedroom strip shows!

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Kink is fine as long as you’re married?!

  1. Pingback: Emerging Woman » Blog Archive » Abstinence/Oppression

  2. Pingback: Sex in the Public Square » Blog Archive » Sex-postive or Sex-radical?

  3. Hi. I’m a longtime TheMarriageBed.com forum regular who personally knows the owners (Paul and Lori) and is familiar with the Oversight Group (OG) and inner workings of TMB.

    The Mother Joans article is, frankly, misleading re: the sexual ethics and theological perspectives held by the OG and that thus shape TMB. It really appears that the author’s apparent bias led her to a very skewed perception of TMB, and this misperception is communicated throughout the article. It seems to be a case of a person who doesn’t understand the people she’s covering (or their ethics, theology, or conception of human sexuality) assuming she has them pegged. Whatever the reason, from the perspective of someone who understands TMB, she missed it.

    A self-described “liberal Christian” and TMB regular (who usually likes MJ) addresses the MJ article here: Mother Jones & Evangelical Christian Sex.

    I see something similar in your own post – a desire to find politically relevant and opinion-affirming material apparently leads to rash, under-informed conclusions and irresponsible speculation that is conveniently compatible with what you want to promote and those you wish to blame. Maybe I have the “why” part of that wrong – if so my apologies. But the conclusions and speculative insinuations are under-informed.

    …there is no getting around the prohibitions against extramarital sex … or sex that involves even fantasizing about extramarital sex. This can’t be sex-positive … within the oppressive boundaries of their doctrine.

    “Can’t”? “Oppressive”? “Doctrine”? The OG and opinion leaders on TMB would illustrate that the boundaries of their Christian sexual ethic, theology, and perception of human sexuality are in effect more sexually liberating and provide greater potential for sexual experience than sexual ethics with fewer boundaries. And they’re more informed and better educated than MJ appears to assume. Nor are they alone in asserting the potential superiority of married sexual expression. ‘Secular’ sex therapists like Dr. David Schnarch (The Sexual Crucible; Passionate Marriage) affirm from their clinical studies that monogamous, life-long committed relationships provide the best context for creating potential for and facilitating sexual fulfillment and sexual self-expression. I don’t bring all that up as some sort of cheesy resume, but to emphasize that TMB is not as MJ, and now you, are stereotyping them (perhaps as just a bunch of head-in-the-ground Republi-christianist Bible-Belters bent on self-affirmation?). The sexual ethics promoted by TMB’s OG are sex-positive, well informed, nuanced, and can hold their own in the public arena. Sweeping all that away with a few comments after a very cursory read doesn’t add weight to your dialogue with MJ. Neither does stuff like this:

    …a vocabulary of desire that owes everything to gay liberation’s unlocking of sex …

    That is straight up fiction, regarding gay liberation and the source of TMB’s very sex-positive vocabulary. I’ll let bluechristian.blogspot.com cover the MJ article in more detail.

    TMB’s resources limit them to an in-house ministry, meaning that they don’t presently facilitate sexuality forums for singles or for inter-faith/ideology dialogue on sexuality (Christian-secular, Christian-other, etc.). Providing forums in both those areas are desired future goals, though, and routinely discussed by the OG. All that to say, if you go to TMB looking for some lengthy articulation of their ethic pre-packaged for non-Christians, you won’t find it. But it would be a big mistake to conclude that the substance for one isn’t there.

  4. TMB Regular asserts that “The OG and opinion leaders on TMB would illustrate that the boundaries of their Christian sexual ethic, theology, and perception of human sexuality are in effect more sexually liberating and provide greater potential for sexual experience than sexual ethics with fewer boundaries.”

    My question remains: For whom?

  5. As an author and relationship coach that works primarily with Christian married couples, I highly respect the work done through TMB.

    In my own experience, I have seen the damage that “religious psychological baggage” can cause to married Christians relative to sex and sexuality.

    There are thousands of married Christians that struggle with a way to reconcile their Christianity and sexuality and TMB is one of the most solid resources for these individuals.

    Although I understand (and sometimes empathize with ) those that consider themselves to be outside of the “Christian mainstream” when they feel as if Christians are sticking their noses into their business (and bedrooms), I think you are pointing your criticism and (even) your analysis in the wrong direction.

    If you were evaluating a Ted Haggard blog decrying homosexuality, that would be fair enough.

    Instead, you are parsing one of the truly sex positive Christian sites in existence.

    I fail to understand your reasoning.

    You don’t want Christians telling you how to express your sexuality. But, it is okay for you to tell married Christians (of a very specific theological persuasion) how they should think about their own sex lives and sexuality?

    I challenge you to find ONE post on TMB (and there are tens of thousands) in which any of the moderators or administrators opines about what someone outside of their assumed audience (married Christians) should or should not be doing sexually.

    The members of TMB are attempting to reconcile their own theological predispositions with their sexuality; they are not looking to affect the sexuality of anyone else.

    In this scenario, who, really, is the evangelist?

    I contend that it is the person hoping to tell Christians (and TMB) what they should think and believe (i.e. “Your silly boundaries are so passe) relative to THEIR marriage, sex lives and sexuality.

    That stated, I think “TMB regular’s” point is very relevant…

    “‘Secular’ sex therapists like Dr. David Schnarch (The Sexual Crucible; Passionate Marriage) affirm from their clinical studies that monogamous, life-long committed relationships provide the best context for creating potential for and facilitating sexual fulfillment and sexual self-expression…”

    If we agree that sex and sexual expression are positive and that we should all be “sex positive,” then it is a relevant (scientific or otherwise) issue to ask, “What circumstances/environments are the most conducive to a healthy, fulfilling and pleasure-filled experience of life-long sexuality?”

    Obviously, this author does not believe that the “traditional” Christian boundaries (within marriage, with the opposite sex) provide any real value to this equation.

    Most of the members of TMB would disagree. Again, this is not the 1800’s. Most married Christians today have had the opportunity to see “both sides of the fence.” MOST married Christians were single and sexually active. Many married Christians have dabbled in homosexuality. And, in their experience, they find expressing their sexuality within their marriage to be the most fulfilling (and exciting) form of expression.

    And, as “TMB regular” stated, many professionals (including “secular” professionals) would agree.

    Again…no one (especially on TMB) is sticking their noses into your bedroom.

    But, we are not allowed to freely attempt to maximize our own sexuality (within our chosen theology)?

    Lastly, your statement, “a vocabulary of desire that owes everything to gay liberation’s unlocking of sex,” is both patronizing and (frankly) naive.

    The “gay liberation” movement of the past 40(?) years has “unlocked” sex?

    Ten thousand years of sex and sexual expression (nothing new under the sun…sorry) and sex has only been “unlocked” within the past semi-millennium?

    You may be referring to your perceptions of Christianity and sexuality. But I assure you that the reality is quite different. The longest tradition of Judeo Christian history has been very much supportive of sex and sexuality as a gift from God (Song of Solomon, anyone?).

    The relatively recent (several hundred years?) of institutional and “religious” aversions to sexual expression are not based on Scripture. They are based more on the Platonic idea of the separation of spirit and body…with “things of the body” being lesser and baser.

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