Q&A with J: How about Bondage in the Bedroom?

Today’s question is about a specific, controversial bedroom practice:

…what I can’t handle is his desire for bondage sex – whether he’s strapped to the bed or strung up from a hook. He feels it’s when he’s most vulnerable and sees it as completely giving himself to me. I see it as demeaning and I hate it. He believes it’s acceptable and refers to a passage in the Bible where God binds up someone for a time. I obviously disagree. We’ve been reading a lot of books trying to find an answer of whether it’s right or wrong, but have not found anything. With all of the conversations about 50 Shades most authors have left it kind of vague and open. Do you have a more definitive answer? This is a huge issue in our marriage.

I see a few issues in this wife’s question: (1) Is bondage an acceptable practice? (2) Why does the husband get particularly aroused by bondage? (3) Is it okay to ask for or demand a sexual practice your spouse doesn’t like? (4) Should you go along with a sexual act that’s problematic to you but turns on your spouse?

Q&A with J: How about Bondage in the Bedroom?

What about bondage? I’ve written a few times on the trend for sexual encounters to include BDSM (see Q&A with J: Is BDSM Okay in Marriage?Has the Mainstream Embraced BDSM? Should You? and Married, Consenting Adults: Whose Okay Really Matters?) When I denounce many of these practices, I often hear from spouses who cry foul and assert bondage is not like all that other BDSM stuff.

First, let me say it’s still in the BDSM category (the B stands for bondage), because that category includes a wide range of activities all centered around power shifting in the sexual act. That’s true for bondage too, although I recognize it’s quite different from some of the extreme activities of hard-core BDSMers.

However, I get what the foul-criers are saying. After all, if hubby wraps his hands around your wrists and holds you in place while kissing you, isn’t he technically “binding” you? Now how about a necktie? Or furry handcuffs? Why not a restraint? Where do you draw a line, and on what grounds?

Look, I don’t think anyone’s going to be turned away at the Pearly Gates for putting a couple of toes over the BDSM line. But let’s discuss this honestly and in light of Scriptural instruction and principles. And let’s not take the immature attitude of “What can I get away with?” but rather “What honors my spouse and my Lord?”

It would be much easier if God would lay out exact instructions on where the line should be drawn, and then we could make sure we stayed on the correct side. Yet the Bible includes commands, but also many stories and principles and encouragement to “reason together” (see Isaiah 1:18). Meaning the Lord wants us to consult with Him regularly and use our God-given reason to apply His Word to individual situations.

Considering the commands and the Word of God as a whole, I believe the issue with bondage is indeed a matter of degree. Like how one glass of wine is good for your heart, but a full keg of beer is no one’s best buddy. Intent, intensity, and intimacy matter in deciding what is best for your marriage.

Moreover, one person would find even the necktie restricting and demeaning, while another sees no difference between that and being gently held against the mattress.

But the word “hook” in your email made me wince. Seriously, y’all, if your bondage tool looks like a medieval torture device, why are you so into restraining your spouse that much? What’s up with that power trip? And how does that match what God describes as sexual love in Song of Songs or agape love in 1 Corinthians 13?

Also, if a position would be heinous outside the bedroom, why is it okay inside the bedroom? For example, if a husband hogtied his wife to a chair, wouldn’t that strike you as abusive? But do it in the bedroom, and now it’s sexy? Being thoroughly Texan, I’ve been to a few rodeos, and if someone suggests securing me down like I’ve seen cowboys lasso cattle, that ain’t a turn-on; the cowboy doesn’t feel more intimately connected with the target of its roping.

By the way, a Bible search turned up only a handful of scriptures referring to binding, and the one that stood out to me as God binding someone is in the Book of Job, in which the heartbroken patriarch expresses his feelings: “Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest. In his great power God becomes like clothing to me; he binds me like the neck of my garment. He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes” (30:17-19). Not exactly a positive view of binding. Other references usually involve “binding up,” with a clear sense of treating wounds. So I don’t know what your husband’s referring to. But it sounds like he’s picking out one verse to support what he already wants to do. Which is not a good way to treat the Word of Lord. The whole thing matters, including scriptures about love (see 1 Corinthians 13) and the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which lay out what loving actions really look like.

Why does hubby want it so much? He gives a reason, but I wonder what shaped his view of sexuality in this way. Why does he find this practice so arousing? Especially when it’s not mutually desired. If it were me, I’d want to know.

Some lean this way because of what they’ve seen in pornography, others because of past experiences, and still others for various reasons. However, it could be he wants to be at your “mercy” because of some shaping event in his past. And that could skew how he’s looking at sexuality generally.

If he has sexual baggage that makes him lean in this direction, he may need to talk to a pastor or counselor about that background. He needs to find out what’s going on emotionally that makes this a “sexual need” for him, and if he can find other ways to achieve sexual satisfaction. If it’s just that this strikes him as an edgy, exciting event, he might be open to other options.

If he wants it, must you go along? And here’s where the rubber meets the rough road. Frankly, at the end of the day, it’s just not okay to demand a sexual act that repels your spouse so thoroughly. So what if he “feels it’s when he’s most vulnerable and sees it as completely giving himself to me”? You think it’s demeaning and you hate it.

I constantly encourage spouses to try new things, spice up their marriage bed, and engage frequently and happily in this amazing physical act that expresses covenant love and nurtures deep intimacy. Thus, if it’s a matter of one spouse stepping outside their comfort zone a bit, I’m in the go for it camp!

But there’s no scriptural prescription or practical marriage benefits to demanding or forcing sex of any kind on your spouse. Your spouse is not your personal sex provider where you put in your order and they must deliver your request. You can ask for a sexual act, but you don’t get to insist on it. Especially if it’s deplorable to your beloved.

I suggest you two have some honest conversation that explores why he wants this practice, why you have problems with it, and what alternatives you might be willing to try. You might find that in the end, you’re totally okay with mild bondage but draw the line at more restraining devices. Or he might discover he can forgo bondage if you’ll wear sexier outfits to bed or something.

I don’t know what the mutual win looks like for you. But the way to start dealing with this issue is respect and honesty in discussing the topic. And when searching the Scripture for answers, look for the overriding heart of God in how He wants us to behave in marriage.

9 thoughts on “Q&A with J: How about Bondage in the Bedroom?

  1. Anon

    I love your answer for this, which is basically to each his/her own as long as it’s not in direct conflict to the Bible. I love how you said it’s important to understand each other’s conflicts and desires and meet in the middle for a win. It’s important for us as Christians to remember that just because we’re not personally into it, that doesn’t make it wrong – especially in cases without scripture condemning it. To me, bondage is so harmless, but to someone else, they immediately think it’s 50 shades of grey and everyone’s going to end up with bruises and merely seen as a sexual objects. Sex is spiritual, but if we’re being honest, it’s also pretty much the most primal thing we do on the regular, so saying sexy/kinky desires are gross (you didn’t, a lot of others do), it’s a lopsided argument that doesn’t play fair. For example, sometimes you just want a quickie. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about your spouse’s enjoyment or the spiritual aspect of sex. It just means you’re horny right about then! Point is, it’s a good thing God kind of left some things open to interpretation because like sex drives, sometimes marriages need an extra dose of communication to get needs understood and met.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thank you! You make some great points.

      One small thing: I wouldn’t characterize my position as “basically to each his/her own as long as it’s not in direct conflict to the Bible.” Rather as long as it reflects the Bible’s teaching and God’s design for marriage.

      Reply
  2. anon a different one

    I agree with pretty much all of this. This felt like a much more open post than the last “bondage” question. I believe there is a line… But that line should be set by both spouses, just as the article said. I personally find it fun and very exciting binding or being bound. I couldn’t tell you why (and I’ve tried to figure it out) but it just seems to have always had that effect.

    My wife, the only person I’ve actually tried any of this with, isn’t so fond of it. Its led to some frustrating atguements but I have never forced her to do anything she didn’t want to. I do wish she was a bit more open sexually (overall not just with this…but that is a whole other issue), trying to force it, just pushes her farther away, from it and me. That’s the oppsite of what God or I want

    …but it is frustrating.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I don’t know what you mean by “much more open than the last ‘bondage’ question.” I have been consistently against the vast majority of BDSM practices, and I believe bondage can easily become too extreme. However, there’s a difference between a small shift of power and restraint and domination. I do believe degree matters.

      Still, I don’t believe the sex in most marriages would be improved by adding bondage, but rather friendship, sexual frequency, openness, and the biblical principles of love. Spice it up? Sure. But kink it up? Not so much. And I think we’re living in a world too comfortable with kink and in churches not comfortable enough with truly intimate sex.

      Reply
      1. Kay

        I like what you said here about a small shift in power versus restraint and domination, though maybe you will see this as falling under the latter. My husband likes some very light bondage (think loose neckties around his wrists) because he feels it is super intimate and vulnerable because of that surrender of power. He can so easily overpower me (not that he does) that it is attractive to him to surrender that (or pretend to, anyway). I don’t think it is my “power” or domination over him that is so arousing but rather the surrender of his own power, if that distinction makes sense. As women, we are essentially powerless with our husbands during sex and so we have to learn to trust them with our bodies (and hearts) if sex is going to be great. So when that power shifts (even if it’s just pretend), now the husband feels that need to trust his wife with his body and his heart in a way he otherwise couldn’t understand. I think that light bondage kind of falls under the idea of what is beneficial or not. For us, this builds trust and intimacy.

        I don’t like that the OP ‘s husband asks her to do this despite her feelings about it, though. That is destroying intimacy, not increasing it. But I feel like it has increased our intimacy in my marriage–though to be fair we’ve only done it like twice.

        Reply
  3. Sarah

    This is something I have always wondered. My husband and I both enjoy being bound to a point. Usually a necktie or something like that and it’s always loose enough that the person being bound has no issue getting out if they needed to. We both find it incredibly arousing to let our spouse “have their way with us” without being able to return the favor at that moment (although again if the one being bound needed to get out, they would have no problem doing such). That being said, it’s not something we do all the time and we don’t NEED it in the bedroom. It’s just a fun thing we do every now and then to spice things up. But we also totally understand it’s not for everyone and some people have major issues with it. If either one of us ever had a problem with it, the practice would end right there (hence the super loose binds)

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    J, I’m curious about a couple of things. I’m not trying to challenge your position on BDSM in these questions. I’m genuinely curious about your thinking on this.

    You advocate oral sex, so what would you say to wives who don’t want to try it because they think it’s kinky? Or, perhaps they think performing oral sex is demeaning. One could even argue that there is a shift in the balance of power during oral sex. How do you determine what constitutes kinky if there is nothing in the Bible that directly speaks against a particular sexual act? (I know your stance about SoS and agape love, but is there any other basis for your thinking?)

    For the record, I’m a female who is not into BDSM in any way and I love giving and receiving oral sex.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Like many scholars, I believe oral sex is specifically mentioned in the Bible (Song of Songs 2:3, 4:16). But yeah, if a wife doesn’t want to do that, she should absolutely not be pushed into it. I’ve said that repeatedly as well.

      As far my reasoning, I try to engage with the Bible regularly and learn more about who God is and what He desires for His people. If there are specific commands, those cannot be ignored. There are also prescriptions for wise living (e.g., see Proverbs, James). And there are stories and scriptures about what kind of God we serve that highlight principles we can apply to many situations. As we become more like Jesus, I believe we also have a better sense of what would honor His, and our, Father.

      All too often, I’ve found in my own life and in others’, we simply aim for what is allowed, rather than what is truly good. I learned my lesson about that erroneous perspective the hard way, but I also think it’s a struggle for every believer to get past their own beliefs and seek what God truly desires. Do I succeed all the time? No, but you asked for my basis of thinking. And I suppose that’s it: Staying engaged with the Word, seeking to grow closer to Christ, and aiming for His will, not my own.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Thanks J! I always appreciate how you use scripture as the basis for many of your posts. You don’t use scripture out of context to back your believes. Rather, you use the Bible as a whole to form your conclusions. Once again, your answer supports this. Your blog truly embodies the response you just gave.

        I couldn’t agree more with your statement about aiming for what is allowed rather than what is good. Very well stated, and point taken! Striving for what will bring us greater intimacy and honor God in the process is good and what he wants for us.

        Growing up, I was taught about the beauty of sex in marriage. But, I was also taught that certain things were wrong and not part of God’s design. Among those things were oral sex and masturbation. Even though I personally never thought they were necessarily wrong in the marriage bed, I still harbored a lot guilt about both. (I do think they both have a place in the marriage bed and can both be very intimate.) Your blog and several others have really helped me let go of that guilt. Thanks for the work you do here!

        Reply

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