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?
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.