Christian blogger and "Jesus Feminist" Sarah Bessey argues that BDSM—even safe, sane, consensual BDSM—is about normalizing and mainstreaming the "sexualized violence against women." (Even gay BDSM? Even Femdom?) The post was written in reaction to the Jian Ghomeshi story, but Bessey isn't just concerned with whether or not Ghomeshi behaved violently and nonconsensually toward the three women who anonymously shared their stories—anonymously for good reason—with the Toronto Star. Even if Ghomeshi hadn't assaulted anyone, even if everyone Ghomeshi had ever slept with had nothing but nice things to say about him, BDSM is not okay. Ever. Why not? Well, first and foremost...
[This] way of treating each other—violence, dominance, bondage, abuse, exploitation—is wrong. WRONG.
We who claim to follow Jesus know that there isn’t really any corner of our lives that is exempt from our discipleship. We are a people who are meant to be a glimpse of life the way that God intended it to be, we’re to be about the business of living prophetically into the Kingdom of God right now. We are people of shalom. This means seeing the humanity in one another, justice, mercy, faithfulness, loving one another well, peace-making, even purity (a much misunderstood word) and mutual honour. And that commitment includes our sexuality and our most intimate partners. These kinds of sexual acts are dehumanizing, period. Full stop.... Even with consent, it’s exploitative, evil, and wrong.
That seems general—condemning BDSM of all stripes, genders, and sexual orientations—but then Bessey lists her specific, non-Jesus objections to BDSM:
How dare we make light of the very real terror and horror that women have endured and are enduring? You talk to a woman who has been raped or sexually violated or beaten or abused and then try to tell me that it’s okay to be turned on by that. It is NOT okay. It is never okay, it never will be okay. Violence against women is epidemic and evil, it’s not to be mined for sexual pleasure. How dare we forget our sisters? How dare we make light of or sexualize for our own pleasures the unmitigated horror that is endured by women even at this moment? .... This post isn’t about Ghomeshi. Not really. We don’t know enough to make claims yet and it might very well be none of our business. We can only pray for true justice to be done now, however that shakes down. But it is about the larger question—how do we view women? how do we treat women? how do we think about women? what is an acceptable way to treat another human being who is made in the image of God? and what do those things say about not only us but the God whom we claim to know? what does this say to the women among us who are abused and sexually violated?
There are more things in heaven and earth, Sarah Bessey, than are dreamed of in your theology.
Like kinky women. They exist. Right here on planet earth. Female subs, female doms, female switches. Some are straight, some are lesbian, some are bisexual. Erotic fantasies involving dominance and submission—up to and including rape/ravishment fantasies—are very, very common among women. These women aren't figments of the straight male imagination. They're people with agency, individuals with a right to seek out sexual fulfillment, and they have the freedom to define pleasure for themselves.
And some of them are Christians.
Also: Kinks aren't conscious choices. Some human beings process their fears (of sexual violence, of sexual humiliation, of sexual betrayal, of a great deal else) through their erotic imaginations. And for some women the very real and depressingly legitimate fear of sexual violence transubstantiates into kink, aka the desire to live out their worst fears in a situation where they have complete control—that is, through consensual kink play with a trustworthy partner. The playacting that goes into kinky sex no more trivializes the horror of rape than Hamlet trivializes fratricide.
noun, plural catharses [kuh-thahr-seez] (Show IPA)
1. the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.
People also relieve emotional tensions through certain kinds of sex play. BDSM isn't about "mak[ing] light... of the unmitigated horror" of rape (or gay bashings or slavery); it's how some people process those unmitigated horrors. Fear can be mitigated through kinky sex play while the horrors that inspire the fear remain unmitigated.
Shaming people for being kinky is about as effective as shaming people for being gay. Screaming "Jesus!" at gay people doesn't turn us straight. It does, however, turn some of us into deeply conflicted, sexually repressed, self-hating gay messes. Likewise, screaming "Jesus!" at kinky people—male or female, dom or sub—won't turn them into vanilla people. Just messes.