Q&A with J: Is BDSM Okay in Marriage?

BDSM comes up from time to time. If you don’t know what that is, let me (somewhat sadly) educate you: It stands for Bondage – Discipline/Dominance – Submission/Sadism – Masochism. The activities range in intensity, but they are all categorized together because they involve shifting of power in the sexual act.

Another single reader contacted me about these practices. Here’s his question:

“I’m a 23 year old student who’s single, but I have found myself struggling more and more with being kinky. Or at least feeling as though I’m kinky. I don’t know I’m confused. When I talk about being kinky I am specifically talking about bdsm – sadomasochism and domination and submission.

“The problem is that I feel somewhat predisposed to those activities… (E.g., I used to have quite bad depression…and one time I tried to hang myself and I was aroused by it.) I guess my question is, is it alright to be like this? And if I ever do get married would it ever be permissible in God’s eyes to try anything like that? Or is this stuff generally best to leave alone?”

My answer gets a bit graphic, so this is my NSFW (Not Safe For Work) warning. Also, not safe to read with kids hanging over your shoulder.

Is BDSM Okay in Marriage

Yes, you should leave this stuff alone. Why? Because it really doesn’t match up with God’s descriptions of love among his people, and the intimacy of the marriage bed. You might want to check out: Married, Consenting Adults: Whose Okay Really Matters?

But that’s not enough to tell you. Because now you have to figure out what to do with all of those feelings! You can’t just shut them off with a click. You might want to start by understanding why people pursue kinky sexual interactions that involve pain.

For one thing, God made us so that when we experience extreme pain, our bodies respond with numbing and feel-good chemicals to counteract our discomfort. Those who engage in BDSM capitalize on that connection by inflicting pain that heightens awareness and brings forth a counterbalancing reaction. However, God intended sex to include the pleasure without the pain, and that is entirely achievable.

Others engage in these behaviors basically because of the power trip. Power is very exciting for many people, and power in the bedroom can be even more so. But how is a power imbalance what God intended for married couples experiencing His gift of sex?

Unfortunately, people with backgrounds of sexual abuse also find BDSM intriguing, because they lacked control in their first experiences of sex…and this gives them a sense of control. That’s true whether they are the one in power (dominant) or the one in submission (submissive), because one calls the shots and the other practices “safe words.” But surely, our notions of sexuality shouldn’t come from misuse of God’s gift of intimacy. Sex isn’t about control, but about love and connection and generosity.

By the way, the connection of hanging and arousal is known as erotic asphyxiation. That you responded in that way does not mean this is something you are truly attracted to doing. It can be a natural response to the brain’s lack of oxygen and increase in carbon dioxide, which causes feeling of giddiness and heightened sensations. In fact, public hanging victims were sometimes observed achieving erections as they died. But a continuing fascination with this activity, or engaging in it on purpose, is listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of American Psychiatric Association.

So what needs to happen now? It’s not just about getting rid of one thing (interest in problematic sexual practices), but replacing it with far better (God’s intent for marital sexuality). My suggestion? You’ve got to sit down and talk with a Christian mentor, counselor, or therapist and see why this is an issue for you. Then you need to find ways to combat erroneous thinking and replace those messages with what God desires instead.

I’m hoping you have some resources to do this, but you can also connect with online ministries. I suggest asking around or looking up options. They’re not the only ones, but I am aware of XXX Church; although I’ve not had direct interaction with them, I’ve heard good things.

Above all, remember Philippians 4:8 (NLT): “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Focus your thoughts on the higher things of God, including His plan for marital intimacy.

See also: Has the Mainstream Embraced BDSM? Should You?

27 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Is BDSM Okay in Marriage?

  1. Sheila Gregoire

    Great answer, J! I totally agree.

    I think pain/humiliation should never be part of a good, godly sexual relationship.

    I think having someone lie completely still so their spouse can touch them/arouse them is one thing; forcing someone to do something degrading is completely another.

    Thanks for tackling the hard stuff!

  2. anon

    No offense (truly) But I think that response is a bit one sided, and under educated response. I do tend to agree about the pain part. Can it get out of control and self serving… yes. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be fun, and increase trust and intimacy. [link removed]

    1. J Post author

      I don’t know why you believe it’s “undereducated.” If you want to make that charge, perhaps you can back it up with reasons. I have studied this pretty thoroughly, so I’m not naive about the subject.

      (And yes, I removed the link to a post that argues the opposite of mine; others can find that on their own if you they wish.)

  3. BRENDON BEST

    Hey J! Amazing blog! I’ve been reading your posts for some time now and thoroughly enjoy the truths, concepts and ideas in developing greater intimacy with my amazing wife! Can I just say that your posts are really shining light into darkness because while reading (especially this last post) I felt like layers of perversion were being stripped away! Thank you for your tremendous ministry! 🙂

    B

  4. Amy

    Good response, J! And good Q&A series — good for you for tackling what can be some controversial issues.

    I would question Anon’s comment above about this type of sexual practice building trust and intimacy. I’ve read this type of comment on other Christian marriage blogs which support the sexual practice and this idea of increasing trust and intimacy always comes up.
    Obviously you would have to have great trust in your partner during something like this, but increasing intimacy?? Just don’t get that one.

    Anyway, looking forward to reading tomorrow’s Q&A! 🙂

    1. unmowngrass

      It would increase intimacy because one person would be significantly more vulnerable than the other. I don’t mean ‘deliberately vulnerable’ in a manner that often shows intense inner strength, I mean really, actually, helplessly vulnerable. You’re bringing out the edges of yourself, all your fears and weaknesses, and you’re laying them in front of your partner, asking that they accept you just as you are. Except, unlike with regular sex, you’re not both doing it at the same time, together, on an equal footing. One of you is very helplessly vulnerable, and the other one is literally in a much more powerful position and could abuse that and there’s nothing that the vulnerable one can do to stop it. But, when the ‘powerful’ one deliberately restrains themselves, and goes cautiously and with respect to the extent that they let the more vulnerable one actually be in control, well, it obviously builds trust, but it builds intimacy because it’s a thing that they haven’t shared with anyone else, but that the two have walked through together and seen how each one reacts. (But the same thing would be true with the thing I suggested downthread as well.) Obviously, in any given situation, there is only going to be one powerful one and one vulnerable one. Some people may have issues they need to walk/play through, that involves them taking only one or other of those roles, at least for a time. BUT, to keep the relationship as a whole in balance, personally, I would recommend that a couple are, on average, taking turns, and/or playing with switching the power dynamics during the activity itself, so that these things don’t over-power the entire relationship of equals that otherwise exists.

      1. J Post author

        So if all that is true, why isn’t it true outside the bedroom? Why wouldn’t harsh physical practices increase intimacy outside the sexual context? Would it be okay for one spouse to hold all the power in the relationship itself?

        I simply don’t understand this reasoning. It’s mental gymnastics, and I think you can increase intimacy in a hundred other ways that don’t involve putting your mate at physical or emotional risk in this way.

      2. Amy

        “It would increase intimacy because one person would be significantly more vulnerable than the other.”
        “One of you is very helplessly vulnerable, and the other one is literally in a much more powerful position and could abuse that and there’s nothing that the vulnerable one can do to stop it.”
        “…but it builds intimacy because it’s a thing that they haven’t shared with anyone else, but that the two have walked through together and seen how each one reacts.”

        Sorry, I still stand by what I wrote earlier…I do not see how this type of sexual activity builds intimacy. This sounds like such double talk and I can never understand how a Christian especially views this type of sexual practice to be a way to build intimacy or to be God-honoring.

        Having fun and being playful in our sexual activities with our spouses is perfectly fine, but this crosses into life threatening if taken too far. And neither I nor my husband would ever think of hurting the other in the name of intimacy.

  5. Todd Dickinson

    J,

    Totally agree with your assessment, and your response to the anonymous post above. Speaking from my own experience, when I am justifying my sins by finding someone who is just as sinful as I am to agree with me, I’m treading dangerous waters. Misery loves company, and common sense alone should dictate that purposefully humiliating your spouse will have negative repercussions sooner or later.
    If that is the primary way that your experience sexual gratification, there is a darker force at work, and the author of that unGodly work is NOT anonymous.
    The pursuit of such behaviors can be highly stimulating, but so can sticking your finger in an electrical socket. Seems just about as rational to me, except in this case, you want to stick your spouse’s finger in the electrical outlet, to make you feel good.
    Ummmm… What?!?
    (My sexy wife is too smart for that, and that’s why she’s still as “hot” to me after 25 years, as she was the first time she took my breath away😁😋)
    Oh, and no choking was required to take that breath from me… Just her God-given beauty.

    1. anon

      First, if any counter arguments are going to be deleted I’m not sure why I’m bothering but here goes. Nowhere did I ever say anything about or condone in ANY WAY humiliating, hurting or causing any other kind of damage to your spouse. Nor did I say anything about FORCING someone to do anything… that is ridiculous, and exactly the opposite of what I said.

      Under educated was a poor choice of words. However, as stated, there are degrees to this as everything. If you eat a piece of chocolate, it’s nice. If you eat nothing but chocolate for a year, you are going to have problems… That’s not a perfect example, of course as I’m not really talking about frequency, but I hope it gets the point across. If it becomes self serving, or one spouse wants something and the other doesn’t, or anyone gets forced to do anything, then yes… it becomes unGodly very quickly. But that’s not the ONLY version of this.
      If both spouses enjoy it, and want to do it. There is nothing wrong with it.
      I’m not trying to convince anyone to do something they don’t want to. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it; there’s nothing wrong with that. But just because you don’t like something, doesn’t automatically make it evil.

      1. J Post author

        I did not delete counter arguments; I chose not to send my readers to a post that represented a viewpoint I don’t support. This is my platform, and that’s my prerogative. You’re welcome to check out my comments policy.

        I’m glad you responded, though, because I welcome discussion. I actually agree with you that frequency and intensity are part of the equation here. Certainly, I believe that binding your mate with a necktie isn’t in the same category as erotic asphyxiation. It was clear to me from this reader’s question that intense BDSM was at question here, and I don’t believe that’s in line with God’s design for sex and marriage.

        1. anon

          I think we’re closer to the same side than earlier. I think my issue is that I believe the article comes across as a bit generalized. Apparently not your intent but, to me at least, it in fact felt like you were saying binding your spouse (or being bound by them) is the same as any over the top stereotypical BDSM…whatever. Or that it at least leads to it. It could just be me.

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  7. unmowngrass

    I think there may be another answer here, and I’d be interested in your thoughts on this too, J.

    Children process their feelings through playing, and, although the definitions of play will be different, to a large extent, so do adults. ‘Play’ for adults very often means sex, but not always. (Non-sex example: books. The woman who is lonely and stuck in a dead-end job that doesn’t make a valuable contribution to society writes a book where the ending is “and then they got married and lived happily ever after. Epilogue: They’re having a baby! And it’s twins! Hoorah!” whereas the woman who is overwhelmed as a sahm and feels she’s lost her own personal identity writes a book where the ending is “and then the heroine got a job and her life was good.” Or, “the heroine goes back to grad school because she finally believes in herself!” or “the heroine inherited millions and used it to save the farm! Now she’s a savvy business woman as well as everything else she was doing!” Or whatever. Exactly the same as children playing make-believe. Obviously, it’s not the only reason people write books, but it’s one of them, and I hope you can see my point.)

    I don’t think playing through feelings is inherently wrong in itself. Especially if you know that that’s what you’re doing, playing through the feelings so you can move past them strikes me as healthier than squashing the feelings and then getting “stuck”, emotionally. Sometimes, especially when they are unaware of what they’re doing, adults can “play” through feelings at huge cost financially, and to their relationships, which isn’t a good idea, but if you can get the same thing accomplished for much less output, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that (but this is just my opinion).

    This young man obviously has a lot of feelings that need processing, and he has to do SOMETHING with them. Things like journalling, counselling, and obviously, prayer, can be great tools, but sometimes, they will only take a person so far, and they do need to play it out to it’s conclusion, and then play it out again and see what they could change, and play it out again and again until they get to the ending that satisfies them, like, how this truly =should= have gone.

    But, as I said above, playing something out doesn’t always have to mean sex. I think it’s healthier, actually, if it doesn’t, so that the person can enjoy the sort of sex life God intended, without linking their libido to their pain. But that doesn’t mean their aren’t solutions. They can take the BDSM stuff and not use it in a sexual context. I have known people who have asked someone to tie them up in a clothes-on context, and I’ve thought about it myself. Have your partner tie you up, but then stay sitting right next to you, to drive home the message from them “I will protect you, you don’t need to be afraid”, and playing out on the tie-ee’s side, “I am powerless, but that doesn’t mean that I am unsafe”, for example. Obviously these messages will ripple out into the rest of life, too. Another solution is to buy some barbies and some action men and literally play it out with toys the way that children play their feelings out with toys too. There’s no shame in doing that if it would be helpful to the person and leads them to a healthier place emotionally. (But I would advise doing either of these under the guidance of a counsellor if it’s going to be a deeply-rooted thing that can easily get out of control.) There are probably other creative solutions too.

    Hope this has been helpful, anyway; I didn’t post it to be controversial for controversy’s sake.

    1. J Post author

      I see some danger in “playing” things inherently problematic out to their full conclusion. Sometimes we think this works, but it actually tempts the doer into wanting more. This would be a very thin, difficult line to walk in my opinion.

  8. alchemist

    You needn’t read anything into the erotic asphyxiation thing. It’s just a physiological response. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

    I have some questions 1) is he/she still depressed? Disordered thoughts is part of depression. Even low level depression can make you think some pretty weird things. Again, doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
    2) If (s)he’s single and 23, why is he even thinking about this? It seems to slightly strange to be worrying about this at this junction.

    Then some observations – temptation is not sin. Being inclined to BDSM isn’t in itself sinful. Just because want to do it doesn’t mean you have to. If you are a believer, you are no longer a slave to your flesh. Also, your sexuality is not static. It can be re-trained. Otherwise porn addiction and recovery wouldn’t be a thing.

    The marriage bed blog has some articles about this. They seem to think light bondage is ok, but not anything that hurts, humiliates or degrades either partner.

    Shaunti Feldhahn has a book called the Fantasy Fallacy. I haven’t read it myself, but it might prove helpful.

    Feelings does not define you. Everyone has sinful inclinations. We will continue to struggle with our sin natures until Jesus calls us home. However, the Holy Spirit empowers us to resist our flesh and live by the Spirit.

    Also, if there is still residual depression, Christian counseling is an excellent idea. Even if the depression is gone, relapse rate for major depression is very high. Getting some cognitive behavioural therapy to help explore some thought patterns is probably a good idea.

    1. J Post author

      As usually happens, there’s more to the email than the part I pull out as relevant to the general question. Depression is no longer an issue, and there were some reasons he was thinking about it. Hope that suffices to answer your query.

  9. Dunce Scholar

    The issue here is the struggle between loving pleasure and loving God. (2 Timothy 3:1-7)
    The other issue is that the question posed itself, points out it’s own answer.
    By even asking the question indicates your conscience has already pricked you to a dichotomy of your action and belief. (Note The Matrix – Morpheus says to Neo “There is knowing the path then there is walking the path) You have not come to realize what you believe on this issue, but your conscience does.

    You may not yet know what you believe about BDSM, in relation to what God intends but the fact you are asking the question poses two facts.

    1. You ask the question because you know something is wrong with it.
    2. You ask the question so your desire to perform the action your conscience questions can be justified and silenced. aka Seared conscience or self justification. (Jeremiah 17:9-10; 1 Timothy 4:2; Acts 28:27)

    Again another way to look at it is when a Husband and Wife come together it is called commonly as “love making”, not “fury making”, “pain making”, “anger making”. What is driving this desire?
    It cannot be love because if the outcome of your actions results in your death or the death of another (even accidentally just do a search and you will find quite a few instances) you have a lot to answer for (see Deuteronomy on Laws regarding accidental death and death caused by negligence.)

    Besides love is a very silly word in English because it means too many things that have to be interpreted in context.

    When the Bible is talking about love it never uses the word “Eros” which is the passions and where we get our word erotic.
    It does use Philos as love between friends, family etc and Agape the love that is the highest form of love. This is the love we should be growing into.
    Such love is NOT feelings based. The 20th and 21st Century idea of loving is very inverted and Satanic (if you understand what Satanism is in it’s purest form as mere seeking SELF (not crucifying self), the I WANT (which is Idolatry “eidololatria” – to serve what you see) then the application is far greater than sexual.)

    As Jesus said “If you love me keep my commandments.” John 14:15

    Jesus give us the definition of love “Agape” as Keeping His Commandments.

    That is what John who had the title “the apostle Jesus loved” said in 1 John 4:17-18

    “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

    You fear God if you are not doing as He commands, (and of course this is the beginning of wisdom, see Psalm 111:10) when you do as He commands you stop fearing and start loving (aka obeying God).

    Now apply this principle to BDSM, or even just forms of strangling and does that conform to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:28-31) Is that how He loves His Church / Bride?
    His seed is His Word (Luke 8:11) and He washes us with His Word (Ephesians 5:25-26), He places His Word in us to bring forth fruit (Matthew 13:23). I think you get the metaphors.

    This is an issue only the anon questioner can answer between His own conscience and God because he will find black and white areas in the issue, the difficulty comes when you deal in the grey (only to Mankind. God does not see grey issues, take deep consideration of that).
    God may have to convince you of the truth in this and that can leave you feeling condemned and rejected of God. Again re-read Romans 8. )

    He has had to convince me in many things, only now am I learning how good it is to submit to His will. Now I can truly start to pray “thy will be done” because prayer means “to bow to the will of another.”

    Seek God in helping you to loathe whatever is driving that desire and power and change it into your desire and passion to war against the your own flesh do it with great zeal. (Believe me when I say that such a suggestion is enlightening to me as I write it for you. Just make sure your zeal is balanced with knowledge of His Word.)

    Our life here is a war, we have all noticed that as God leads you on in His path that there is nothing in this world that does not attack us to take us from His Truth and lead us away by our noses as mere chattle.

    As scripture says “Work out your salvation.” (Phillipians 2:12-13) Work it out, study, seek God and engage a conscience attitude in disallowing the mind and heart to wander by it’s lusts. God WILL change you.
    And no I have not achieved that either. we are all being sanctified as the dross is removed to purify our mettle.

    May the Lord bless and strengthen you.

    1. J Post author

      Lots and lots here. I tend to think along the same lines, that the love God describes as ideal conflicts with many of the practices in BDSM.

  10. Steve

    I like your approach to this controversial topic. There is a lot of unsettling stuff in the BDSM world that is certainly not Godly. Oddly enough, I did joke with my wife just the other day that, considering how the campaign season has gotten started, by next November I might be in the mood to hang myself…

    I do wonder though if it possible to separate the domination and submission from the sadism and masochism. By that I mean that if a couple prefers for one to be ‘in charge’ or the one who initiates, that is not as harmful as sadism and masochism, which always involves pain.

    So drop the sadism and masochism in the garbage where it belongs, as well as any kind of humiliation or degradation (which can never be cool) and then you’re left with a certain dynamic that some couples might like. Just a thought…

    1. J Post author

      When you start looking into domination/submission in the BDSM world, quite frankly it can get pretty creepy. I don’t know why a major shift in power is necessary for couples to become aroused and feel satisfied in the sexual act. And I certainly don’t see that dynamic reflected in the descriptions of marriage and relationships in the Bible. Thus, I’m not prepared to sign off on that.

      That’s my perspective, though I recognize we must choose for ourselves and go before God with our own consciences.

  11. Steve Dailly

    An interesting post and intriguing discussion. I have a couple of comments that may or may not be helpful.

    Firstly, a point about the language we use. Terms like ‘BDSM’ come with a lot of baggage and seem to imply a whole subcultural world of assumed identities, multiple partners and ‘The Scene’. And anything that derives itself from even loosely from the Marquis de Sade is going to be problematical for a Christian. His whole thing was atheistic, anti-moralistic and socially transgressive – and he was psychotic.
    While we can’t be totally deaf and blind to the world around us, I do think we need to filter and challenge what the media serves up as ‘normal’.
    Secondly. I believe that married partners need to work out the mechanics of their own relationships, pretty much wherever that takes them. Obviously, for Christians this needs to be deeply informed by Scripture and by a genuine desire to serve one another, but I don’t think it’s right to be prescriptive. It seems to me that what’s done in the ‘bedroom’, especially if it’s a new or slightly adventurous thing, should be talked about extensively and explicitly beforehand and maybe afterwards too. Everything we do should be to build one another up and never about self gratification.

    Lastly. I’m not an expert, but it seems that the original correspondent has been trying to work out a deep-seated trauma. Maybe a counsellor’s office rather than the marriage bed is the best place to do that.

    1. J Post author

      Yes, I believe I mentioned counseling in the post.

      But I think one of the problems of Christianity in the past has been a complete unwillingness to link what happens in the marriage bed to our walk with Christ. Sure, many have been too prescriptive. But often we don’t talk about it or think we can be prescriptive because sexuality is private, although I don’t see that approach in the Bible. Rather, God does not shy away from the topic of sexuality and having something to say about what that should and should not look like.

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  13. Anonymous

    I’m going to stay anonomous on this one — but let me encourage the original poster here.

    Before I was taught about sex, as a 10-year-old, I realized that there were two things that turned me on — nudity (or the hint of it), and cruel violence. So my Dad told me about sex (and 10 was way too late), and that clarified the cause of the first. But I kept my mouth shut about the second.

    I think somewhere in my brain, something wanted to protect a woman if she was being hurt, and some Godly wires got crossed, and I wanted the hurt itself.

    Regardless, STAY AWAY. Don’t watch horror, or more horror than you have already seen. That urge, like homosexuality, has no godly outlet.

    Is there a truly great movie, that has cruel violence in it that might get to you, but not to others? Stay away. You are vulnerable. Pray, and then just obey. Maybe it’s really also a great movie. Not worth it. Stay away. Others may not be tempted by it. You are. Stay away.

    I’ll tell you, nothing feels freer than walking away from a sexy movie that all your friends are watching, and knowing that they are laughing at you, and knowing that God loves you, and has won you, and that you are free.

    The less you feed it, the weaker it gets. I’m 42 now, happily married with two kids. We have a great sexual relationship that doesn’t involve any sadism or masochism, and I don’t want it to.

    On the other hand, the nude women part? That DOES have a just outlet. You were made to want sex so that one day some woman can have the honor of pleasing you, and she wants a man so that you can have that honor too. Don’t feed that either, and don’t worry, it won’t get weaker. 🙂

    (And to the more important topic, that was to the side of what you wrote — Please don’t hang yourself. God made you on purpose. We don’t see it, because we don’t get to look in the little book that’s all through Revelation– only Jesus is worthy. But God made you on purpose.)

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