While writing about the 50 Shades of Mess, I’ve many times confronted the question, “What do I think about S&M?” As in how do I feel, personally? Do I like it? Love it? Hate it? Do I make judgements about it or the people who participate in it?
I think with the publication and subsequent popularity of 50 shades, it’s easy to see that generally speaking, there are 2 camps. Those who loved the 50 shades book and are interested in trying out what they saw and those who hated 50 shades and therefore also hate the type of kink that it explores. The problem here is that 50 shades is an incredibly poor representation of kinky subculture. It seems to imply, through the oh-so-eloquent words of its protagonist, that S&M is inherently dirty and wrong. Even Christian Grey acts like this is the case, and the way in which he is portrayed seems to suggest that his participation in S&M is why he is messed up. It presents a limited, prejudiced, and ill-researched viewpoint of one type of S&M that happens to heavily feature submission and humiliation.
There’s so much more to it than that.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, S&M isn’t my thing, although I do understand the appeal. Let me expand.
Kink (as I have come to understand it) isn’t just about sex. It’s about trust, freedom, and often, the pure pleasure of physical sensation. It’s letting someone else control your body for a period of time, so that you can simply feel and experience something that is pleasurable to you.
There are communities of intelligent, creative, compassionate people who like kink. They are your co-workers, friends, neighbors, that nice lady you see every Saturday at the farmers’ market. You can’t tell who they are by looking at them; they come from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all ages and all genders.
If all you think of when you consider kinky sex is the leathery, whips-and-chains sex part, you’re not understanding it properly. You may not even understand “sex” (as in intercourse) properly. Sex is more than moving parts; it’s emotional and spiritual. It’s vitally important, in more ways than one. It’s the deepest possible connection one human can make with another, and if you’re missing that, you’re probably missing out.
The deeper connection, the spirituality of the sexual act, is what makes it so important to religions– I’m talking specifically Christianity, here– but I think I agree with many current Christian bloggers when I say Christians have in recent years focused on the wrong aspect. The sex act is important, but the emotional/spiritual act is more important. It’s the reason why adolescent Christians are told to preserve virginity. Your heart and soul, more than just your body parts, take part in sex, and they should be guarded, protected, cherished. It’s not done for some prudish, holier-than-thou reason, but because the soul is a valuable and easily-wounded thing and while your sexual mistakes are not irreversible, they require healing, repentance, forgiveness, and time.
Similarly, if you look at S&M and all you see is sex, you’re looking at it the wrong way. I say this knowing that there’s a right and a wrong way to be a part of kinky culture, just as there’s a safe and an unsafe way to go base jumping or sky diving.
I said before that I can see the appeal in S&M, and in order to go into that point, I need to explain another, equally important issue.
If you are a heterosexual, white male, you may have little experience with being in a situation where you feel that physical or sexual abuse is imminent, so it may not be instinctive to check your surroundings for possible threats, or look for a safe escape route, or make sure that you are accompanied by a burly man who has your best interests at heart. As a small female, I know how frightening it is to venture off into the night–to go dancing, for instance– and hope beyond hope that I will not run into an aggressively sociable man, or worse, group of men. Dude, you may think that you are being friendly and persistent, I on the other hand, think you could potentially threaten my safety.
Now, imagine a community in which there are strict rules dictating when and how you are to be touched and by whom. And if anyone disobeys these rules and threatens you, someone will come to your rescue because not only are they concerned for you, but also they care about maintaining order within the community. Suddenly you are safe and free to explore your own desires without threat of someone forcing their desires on you. You participate in what you want to with whom you want to do it, and ignore the rest. Mutual consent is the key word of the day.
It’s an appealing idea, no?
While there are aspects of S&M that you may find particularly unpleasant, you don’t have to look at or participate in those activities. There’s no law that says if you like one type of kink you have to like them all. If it’s not your thing, don’t do it. Consent, remember?
It’s more like a buffet, where you can pick and choose, than one of those awkward family dinners, where you have to eat a little bit of everything or Aunt Suzy will be offended that you didn’t even taste her Gorgonzola souffle.
The individual nature of S&M makes it cruelly frustrating when all S&M enthusiasts are painted with the same brushstrokes. No, they are not “deranged” or “sick” or “brainwashed” or “horrible.” They are our mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, and brothers with a set of interests shared by few others who have relegated themselves to a corner of society– often a secret corner, unbeknownst to most of their friends and family for fear of being judged by those they care about. This little corner has suddenly been spotlighted and misrepresented by 50 Shades of Mess. Now everyone and their best friend’s mother-in-law are throwing in their 2 cents’ worth of judgement and opinion whether they know what they are talking about or not. And it’s mostly “or not.”
Now, being a Christian, I know a little bit about judging other people. We’ve been judging others for centuries with little regard for the planks in our own eyes.
So you may ask, do I think S&M is a sin? Well, yes and no. I think it can be, just as anything can be a sin, depending on how you think about it when you’re doing it. A recovering alcoholic may find that for him/her it’s a sin to drink an alcoholic beverage. Even just one. For a recovering bulimic, it may be a sin to try a new fad diet. So if you are a Christian, and you like kink, it’s something you’ll have to pray about with consideration. It’s a personal decision, and you should do your own wrestling with God. No one can make your choices for you.
As for the S&M community, I think it’s foolish to stand in judgement of an entire group of people and say that what they do, no matter what it is or what you know about it, is wrong and dirty and ugly. Before you go throwing around opinions, you should know what you’re talking about first. Do your research. Talk to people in the S&M community, and I think you’ll find that they are, for the most part, reasonable, intelligent, and kind folks. You probably already know some of them.
And like members of any community, whether they be evangelical Christians, transvestites, NRA members, homosexuals, feminists, or S&M enthusiasts, they dislike being painted with the same broad strokes.
So look, when your friend/relation/co-worker comes up to you and says,
“Hey man, I just wanted to tell you that I am gay/am an evangelical Christian/am a feminist/am a man but like to dress in women’s clothing/own an AR-15/like a little kink in my sex life.”
Then that’s when you can say,
“That’s OK. You’re still my friend/relation/co-worker and I care about your well-being. If you are safe and happy, then that’s all that matters to me.”
Because really, isn’t that important, too? Maybe more important that your moral or intellectual high horse. We’re talking about someone you actually know and presumably care about. Don’t write someone off just because you don’t agree with or don’t understand their position. Take a minute and think. What do you really know about being a member of the NRA or how much do you understand about kink? You are not the expert. Be a reasonable human being and investigate the matter before pronouncing your judgment as though it could ever be the final word on the topic. Remember, the old saying still applies;
“Before you judge a person walk a mile in their shoes.”
That way, when you judge them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.