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The Ecstasy of the Agony: The Intersection of Kink and Spirituality

The Ecstasy of the Agony: The Intersection of Kink and Spirituality
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BDSM is rarely considered from anything other than its purest physical aspect; even rarer still is it presented as something other than a pagan or non-mainstream religious set of beliefs. But what happens when someone who has deep faith and belief in more traditional, conservative religion finds that their sexual interests don’t exactly fit in with that lifestyle?

  Body, Mind and Spirit

There are certainly plenty of aspects of sacredness and spirituality that are present in BDSM activities. A fantastic example of that is the aspect of service. In most religions, adherents are taught that to submit to their deity and be of service to them (or to the world in general) is one of the highest forms of faith. So for a submissive or slave to offer themselves to a dominant, and to serve the dominant’s needs and desires, can fulfill the same need to serve that missionaries, ministers, and others who follow a religious calling experience. There is a deep sense of satisfaction at the core of service, for those who do it for religious reasons as well as within relationships; many people continue to offer service simply because of the feeling of rightness that they experience as they do it—regardless of the context in which they serve.

A number of religious traditions also involve enduring trials and overcoming ordeals in order to experience a sense of transcendence or to gain self awareness through the loss of external control. From the self-flagellation of Catholic monks, to sweat lodge and vision quest rituals of the native Americans, to the physical trials of yogis, to the routine fasting in a number of religious traditions, undergoing and enduring painful or challenging situations has long been regarded as a path to transformation and communion with one’s higher power. When compared with the experience of “sub space” that many people experience during a S/M scene, or the sense of dissociation from an intense bondage or mummification experience, it makes perfect sense that people may use a BDSM context for exploring these deep unknowns in life, and using them as ways to alter their perspective of a situation, or even of their lives.

Community building in both religion and kink provides another aspect to consider. Many people get involved in churches, synagogues, temples, or other faith communities as a way to experience a sense of extended family with people that they share basic fundamental ethics with—a shared sense of life’s purpose, of worship traditions, and of witnessing. The many subcommunities under the BDSM umbrella likewise act as ways for kinksters to find greater depth and a sense of belonging; many groups focus on topics like education, charitable giving for local non-profit group, self-exploration and mentorship, or even simply a sense of family for people who cannot be totally “out” to their own families (or, even worse, who have been written off by family members who find their lifestyle inexcusable).

  Sex Isn’t Bad—It’s Just Preached That Way

BDSM and spirituality have had an intrinsic connection for many people; sexual experiences—including non-traditional desires—are often described in semi-religious terms (and really, how many of us have yelled out a deity’s name in the throes of passion?), and thought of as moments that are sacred—set apart—from our daily lives. The practice of sexuality as a spiritually condoned human experience reaches into every major religion’s scriptural heritage. The Christian bible’s “Song of Solomon” (also known as the “Song of Songs”) is a classic example of a positive depiction of sexuality. Even Mohammad taught that sex is a divine blessing.

The process of making peace with desires that run (at least socially) contrary to what we’re taught is one that is fraught with self-doubt, shame, and guilt for some people of faith. “I fought with my desires for years,” says Bill*, who was raised Catholic. “I knew that what I wanted was ‘wrong.’ I was taught that sex was something reserved for marriage and children, and I saw enough reactions from others to realize pretty early that what turned me on wasn’t okay.”

Like many people whose desires conflict with their spirituality, Bill went through a few phases of totally ignoring his non-typical sexual desires, until he finally made an uneasy peace with it. “I went to UCC (a more liberal denomination) for a while, and have since moved into my own sense of what my faith is,” Bill says. “At this point, I feel comfortable about who I am, but I still have times when I feel that shame and guilt from earlier in my life come back to haunt me.”

On the other hand, some people don’t experience that dichotomy at all. My friend Vinny put it to me this way in an email: “In spite of practicing a relatively mainstream form of Judaism, kink integrates surprisingly easily into my faith. I think this is because of two key pieces of knowledge: First, I really don’t think God cares if I get my rocks off licking my lover’s boots or begging for her cane. As long as I’m happy and not hurting anyone, I don’t think God cares. And second, the feeling I get from kink is, at its core, the same as I get from prayer. At the base of both these experiences is an ecstatic wonder that comes from being centered in my body and intimately connected to the world. Knowing these two things, kink is a completely natural fit into my spiritual life. Kink is a celebration of my body, trust, and connection with others. What could be more divine?”

Ideally, we are able to talk openly with our ministers and religious teachers about role sexuality plays in the lives of the faithful; however, sometimes those conversations happen quietly among those people who are willing to question, but not within the walls of their religious institutions. Fortunately, a large number of websites exist for people from most every mainstream religious tradition to discuss sexuality, BDSM, dominance and submission, and open relationships; these websites offer forums for support, education, and community for people whose faith is as important to them as their fetish. And when it comes down to it, what could be more divine for them than a joyful, sexual, spiritual life?

*Name has been changed.

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thanks for the article

07/26/2012

BDSM—kink—fetish: what are they? How does one do it? And, most importantly, who’s doing it? The answer might just be staring back at you in the mirror.

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