1/12/2009

BDSM in Mainstream Religions

While this is a Christian BDSM site, I believe it is still interesting and worthwhile to know what other religions, creeds, and sects believe about BDSM. There are so many religions out there today, and so much diversity of belief, that this would be nearly impossible to fit into one solitary post. Therefore, I will begin today with a look at the *official* teachings of the three mainstream world religions today: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Please note that I say the *official* teachings because often, the official doctrine of a church and the actual practices of its members are very different. Please keep that in mind and don't make any assumptions (such as "All Catholics believe...") about individual people just because their church has a certain teaching.

Hopefully, later blogs can delve into the BDSM practices of Eastern religions such as Hindu, American cults and sects, and pagan religions.

The three religions considered most "mainstream" today are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Both Christianity and Islam stem from Judaism and its traditions; Christianity began about 50 CE and Islam around 600 CE. Even given their common roots in Jewish history and the patriarch Abraham, these three religions have very divergent opinions on sex and, therefore, BDSM.

Of course, none of these religions' ancient texts specifically mention the sexual practice we now call BDSM. There are examples in some texts of flagellation and master/slave relationships, but not in a sexual manner. The best I can do is relay what each of these religions teaches about sex and what is permissible for its practiontioners. And please, don't just trust me or any other web site; check my resources, do your own research, and never take just one website as the truth.

I will begin with Islam. Official teachings of the Qu'ran are that sex should be avoided outside of marriage. Inside marriage, however, Muslims have great freedom; the only two acts specifically forbidden in the Qu'ran are anal sex and sex with a menstruating woman. Some misinterpretations of Muslim holy texts have led to the belief that even anal sex is okay, but these texts actually refer to the variety of positions that can be used (both missionary and rear-entry vaginal sex are permissible). Any sex acts must be consenual, so a husband cannot force his wife to practice BDSM or vice versa. Inside these boundaries, anything for the sexual pleasure of both within marriage is acceptable.

I read a few articles about the acceptability of oral sex for practicing Muslims. Although it is considered by some leaders to be disgusting and against social norms, it is not specifically forbidden and couples may engage in it without going against the Qu'ran. Other leaders appear to have no problem with it whatsoever, seeing any sexual act between two consenting spouses as acceptable.

Obviously, as sex is saved for a married couple, threesomes, group sex, swinging, and homosexuality are not allowed.

Jewish law (the Talmud, written oral traditions about Jewish law, and the Hebrew Bible, the written holy texts also used by Christians as the Old Testament) accepts most sexual acts between two married people. It is forbidden for men to masturbate, and while the issue of female masturbation is less clear, it is still usually cautioned against to ward women against lust and impure thoughts. Also, any sexual act or contraceptive device that blocks or kills sperm is forbidden. This means the pill is okay but condoms are not; anal and oral sex are okay if the man is not brought to orgasm. Ejaculating outside the vagina is considered killing sperm, so it seems other forms of sex play are all right, as long as actual ejaculation doesn't take place.

Also, couples may not engage in sexual activity during a woman's period or for the 12 days afterward, until she can be purified. This gives couples a time to concentrate on non-sexual forms of intimacy and bonding, but BDSM and other sexual activities would obviously not be okay during this time.

Under Jewish law, male homosexuality is specifically forbidden. Jewish scholars vary on whether female homosexuality is a sin or simply frowned upon. Obviously, this depends upon the sect and theology of the particular scholar. While threesomes and other group sex are not specifically mentioned, like in Islam, sex is only meant for a married heterosexual couple. Sex is the woman's right and a husband's duty to his wife, although she should not deny her husband to punish him, either. Sex is wrong if it is selfish or if couples are fighting, and should always be a celebration of love and intimacy.

Interestingly, some Jewish BDSMers have been asking their rabbis about the morality of their practices. The rabbis have not agreed on how permissible BDSM is. One rabbi said, as long as both parties are consenting and enjoy the BDSM aspect, it is okay. Another rabbi believed anything that humiliated a human being or made the marriage partnership less than equal was "frowned upon by Jewish law."

Christianity has so many separate sects and denominations it would be impossible to list the views of all of them here. Many Protestant and evangelical denominations believe Christians should use the Bible as the definitive guide to morality, and since BDSM is not specifically forbidden in the Bible, I would assume consensual practices are okay with these groups. The only catch, of course, is that the Bible does forbid group sex, sex before marriage, lust/fantasizing, denying your spouse sex, and adultery. As long as Christians are staying away from these forbidden areas, anything consensual between a heterosexual married couple would be fine.

Other Christian groups believe the Bible alone is an insufficient or unclear guide to morality, and encourage their members to rely on the Word of God (as recorded in the Bible) and tradition, passed on by church leaders. While these groups include Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox groups, the most famous example of this in the U.S. is the Roman Catholic Church. Since this is by far the largest of these "Bible + tradition" groups, as well as the best known, I have specifically researched this denomination's beliefs. Please do not assume it mirrors the beliefs of other Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox churches!

The Roman Catholic Church is, of course, well known for its stand against artificial contraception. In other words, BDSM that includes condoms or other birth control would be a no.

What is less known, however, is this church's view on other human sexuality. While researching this blog, I almost wondered if the Catholics hated sex or simply didn't like others to know their views; it is almost impossible to find any good articles that clear state the church's position on sex aside from abortion and birth control! However, with perserverance, dedication, and some good Boolean search techniques, I finally pinned the church's official teachings down.

First, like the other groups, the Catholic church teaches against any sort of sexual activity outside of monogamous marriage. Homosexuality is banned, as are all the other prohibitions listed in the Bible (refer above). There is also the well-known decree that all sex must be open to conception--in other words, no birth control and no pulling out, and no foreplay or turning each other on that is not for the express purpose of leading to conception-friendly, genital sex. But, even more incredibly, the Catholic church bans any sexual activity other than genital sex. That's right, only penis-to-vagina interaction here, folks--even during foreplay.

According to one priest, kissing and touching are permissible, as long as they are included as part of sex. They are not permitted as "ends unto themselves." No, this doesn't mean Catholics can't kiss or hold hands--only that overtly sexual kisses and touching should be reserved for sex (leading up to it, during, or after). So making out or turning your husband on over email, in a text message, or even at home without the intent to culminate the tease in sex is not okay--even for sacramentally married couples.

Basically, Catholic doctrine teaches that to be moral, sexual acts must be open to conception and pregnancy. If they are not, they are
"intrinsically evil and are therefore always immoral, regardless of circumstances, intention, or purpose."

Because there is so much gray area and confusion in today's secular society about what is and is not sex, Catholic theologian Robert L. Conte, Jr. has given readers a list of activities which are not acceptable:

  • anal sex
  • oral sex
  • self masturbation
  • manual (hand) stimulation of your partner
  • homosexual acts
  • acts with multiple participants
  • acts with foreign objects or devices (sex toys, vibrators, etc.)
There you have it. Only genital sex is allowed.

Of course, many Catholics have written in, wanting to know if they may use these activities as foreplay, leading up to genital sex that is open to pregnancy, as part of sex, or after sex to bring the woman to orgasm if she was not satisfied by vaginal sex alone. The answer by the church has always been "no." Church leaders maintain that each act is separate, and only the one act (genital sex with option for conception) is morally allowed for married couples. So you cannot give a hand job or oral sex as part of foreplay, you cannot stimulate your wife's clit during vaginal sex, and you cannot bring her to orgasm after sex with your mouth or hands.

For the Catholic church, as long as kissing and touching leads to genital sex, it is okay. During vaginal sex, any position is acceptable for the mutual enjoyment of both spouses. I am unclear if dominance and submission play would be considered appropriate foreplay or not; if it turns you on to talk to dirty to your spouse, and it leads to vaginal sex, it might be okay, but you would have to talk to a priest to make sure. It is possible it would not be allowed because it is not specifically related to genital sex. As for the other components of BDSM, such as whipping, bondage, and toys, it seems they would be forbidden unless leading directly to vaginal sex. Again, I am not a church theologian, and these documents did not relate specifically to BDSM, so if you are a practicing Catholic with questions about BDSM, seek out a priest.

Finally, please remember that despite Church teachings against birth control, Catholics in America use birth control with exactly the same rates as their Protestant brethren. Please do not assume because the Church only allows vaginal sex that most Catholics follow this rule; I am sure it varies by individual couple.

In essence, while all 3 mainstream religions (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) vary in regard to specific sexual activities allowed, they all agree that masturbation, homosexuality, adultery, lust, and pre-marital sex are not okay. With some limitations, certain BDSM activities would seem to be allowed for devout religious practitioners nonetheless. Certainly, in many Christian denominations, Judaism, and Islam, it seems to be permissible as long as the aforementioned "forbidden activities" are avoided.

Interestingly, all three of these religions have members who practice BDSM. While I hesitate to use the results of just one study, I was only able to find one study about the demographics of BDSMers, due to our relatively under-explored nature as a community. This study, done 10 years ago by a Ph.D. studying kink and fetishism, showed that in 1999, 51% of BDSMers were Christian (23% Protestant, 15% Cathoic, 10% other Christian, 3% Evangelical Christian)! Four percent were Jewish and less than 1% were Muslim. Of course, of all the BDSMers interviewed, only 9% were devoutly religious, with 34% devout or at least practicing their religion, and 37% had lapsed from their religion.

For more information, please see my resources:

On Islamic sexual teachings:
  • "Answering Christianity: Is Anal Sex Really Allowed Between Husband and Wife in Islam?" click here
  • "Sex and Islam" click here
On Jewish sexual teachings:
  • "Judaism 101: Kosher Sex" click here
  • "The Ties that Bind," New Voices national Jewish student magazine, click here
On Catholic sexual teachings:
  • "Sexual Sins Within Marriage," Catholic Planet, click here
  • "Sexually Stimulation Actions Lawful within Marriage," Catholic Information Network, click here
On BDSM statistics:
  • "BDSM Demographics Survey" click here

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic blog! It was all very interesting. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Actually, as a Catholic, my understanding is quite different, that oral and even anal sex are allowable as long as they are part of foreplay, and do not "frustrate" the possibility of conception. So a man cannot deliberately ejaculate in his wife's ass or mouth, but only vaginally.

Christopher West is a Catholic whose interpretation of John Paul II"s "Theology of the Body" has been very controversial, but also upheld by very orthodox theologians, such as Dr. Janet Smith:

To this, Smith replied that few know that some orthodox Catholic ethicists have “a tradition of approval of such behavior as foreplay to intercourse” so long as this approval is not confused with the condemnation of sodomy, an act which replaces marital relations. She added that priests have been trained to teach West’s position to married couples “for a very long time.”

A few resources:
* A post on male and female climax

* A post on oral sex

* A summary of the controversy with Christopher West

* Dr. Janet Smith's full response

* A more academic document that goes into a lot of detail (and I have not read it in detail yet), including the following:

i) Mutually agreeable erotic words, looks, gestures, and bodily contact of various sorts, including manual and oral stimulation of the genitals, can prepare psychologically and/or physiologically for marital intercourse, and can intensify the experience of communion and make it more gratifying. Self-stimulating acts also can prepare oneself for intercourse.

...

iii) Any act of the wife or the husband intended to bring about his ejaculation outside her vagina cannot be ordered directly to marital intercourse, and so is not a marital act. As will be explained, every attempt to obtain sexual satisfaction in a nonmarital act is wrong, and so such nonmarital acts always are morally excluded. If such acts are intended to serve in some way as means to the marital good—by maintaining intimacy when intercourse is impossible, satiating the sexual urge during a period of separation and so lessening temptation to commit adultery, treating sexual dysfunction, and so on—they are morally bad means to an ulterior good end.