Bondage in Christ -
BDSM in a Christian Marriage

There has been an ongoing debate in the Christian community about whether or not Christians can engage in BDSM (Bondage & Discipline/Dominant – submissive/Sadomasochism) practices without sinning.  Although BDSM can involve literal bondage (being hand-cuffed, tied up, etc.) and discipline (such as verbal chastisement or corporal punishment), it is best understood as a metaphorical relationship between husband and wife and in terms of spiritual submission, which is an important theme in the New Testament. A BDSM relationship between a dominant husband and submissive wife is actually the ideal of marriage set out in Ephesians 5:22-26 taken to its logical conclusion! Let us explain further.

Spiritual Submission - The Ideal of Marriage

Most of us are familiar with this famous scriptural blueprint for a Christian marriage:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, 23 for the husband is head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 to make her holy, cleansing her in the washing of water by the word. (Ephesians 5:22-26)

The husband and wife who choose to enter into a consensual Dominant/submissive relationship are choosing to fully enact this commandment in their sexual life, a choice that is valid and honorable, and may bring them both deep sexual and spiritual fulfillment. BDSM, practiced responsibly, can be a tool of growth for both partners in a Christian marriage, as it allows them to more fully explore God's plan for spiritual and sexual partnership.

Just as we trust in the Lord in our submission to Him and willingly offer it, a wife who is submissive to her husband is offering a great spiritual gift and doing a great service for both herself and her husband. In Christianity, submission is holy. Even Christ, the Son of God, was submissive to the Lord:

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was
able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
(Hebrews 5:7)

When God says submit, He means submit completely, because He has a higher purpose in mind for us. When Hagar ran away from Sarah, she was sent back by a divine messenger: Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, "You must go back to your mistress and submit to her mistreatment." (Genesis 16:9) What appears to outsiders to be an "abusive" situation may in fact have a much different meaning; in this case, Hagar needed to return to fulfill her service to the house of Abraham.

BDSM does not necessarily have to involve whips and chains, black leather, or dungeon gear, although if they find these props help them get in the mood, there is not reason why Christians should not use them. There's nothing sinful about these items. In fact, they are part of the Christian heritage. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, I beat my body and bring it into submission, for fear that by any means, that after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected. (1 Corinthians 9:27) Many SM devices, such as floggers, whips, clamps, chastity belts, and the cat o'nine tails, bear close resemblance to used a wide array of devices early Christian penitents to whip their bodies and mortify their flesh. They did this to submit their bodies to Christ, to emulate his suffering on the Cross, and purify themselves spiritually and attain a closer union with God. Many BDSM practitioners describe a feeling of spiritual union with their partners that transcends physical sexuality.

Despite the misleading impressions that such common BDSM practices as spanking, humiliation, and name-calling may give, they are only performed in the context of a loving relationship to fulfill the higher purpose of  strengthening emotional, sexual, and spiritual bonds. Just as we trust the Lord, the submissive partner offers total trust to the Dominant partner, knowing that the end result will be redemption and satisfaction: 29 Let him submit absolutely; there may yet be hope. 30 Let him offer his cheek to the one who strikes it, and receive his fill of insults. (Lamentations 3:29-30)

Nevertheless, we want to emphasize that consensual BDSM relationships are not abusive, either physically or emotionally, especially not in a Christian marriage. Because the husband is obligated to care for his wife as Christ cared for the church, he must always have her best interest in mind and treat her with the utmost love and respect. However, as we will see, that does not exclude well-reasoned and loving discipline.

Loving Bondage and Discipline

Bondage and discipline are part of the spiritual tradition of Christianity, and are reflected in how a loving, all-knowing God guides his followers and instructs them in His will.

8 If people are bound with chains and trapped by the cords of affliction, 9 God tells them what they have done and how arrogantly they have transgressed. 10 He opens their ears to correction and insists they repent from iniquity. 11 If they serve Him obediently, they will end their days in prosperity and their years in happiness. (Job 36:8-11)

As God looks after us, in Christian BDSM, the husband looks after both his wife's spiritual growth and her physical needs, and the wife submits to her husband for guidance and fulfillment. For these reasons, the husband may find it appropriate to discipline her as needed, in a spirit of love. He disciplines her as God disciplines all of us believers, and as we read in Hebrews, this may smart at the time, but is always for our own good:

5 My son, do not take the Lord's discipline lightly, or faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives…He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

Of course, we are not endorsing any sort of abuse or nonconsensual violence. BDSM is not "wife beating" or domestic violence. There is a huge difference between punishment inflicted out of anger and cruelty by one person overpowering another, and discipline that is meted out with love and reason, gratefully and willingly received. Those who participate in bondage and discipline and sadomasochism do so of their own free will and by mutual agreement, and as with the Dominant/submissive relationship, it takes two to tango. Although it may seem like the person who ties the knots or wields the paddle holds all the power, if BDSM is practiced respectfully and ethically, the power is shared. The husband should always respect the limits of his wife with respect to pain or humiliation, so that he does not inflict any real physical or emotional harm on her. 

Can a Man Be Submissive to His Wife?

This is a tricky question but a very important one that needs to be addressed. We believe that a man can adopt a submissive and servile role and allow his wife to dominate him sexually, if it is absolutely clear that outside of the bedroom, the husband is the spiritual head of the marriage. Just as a woman gives the gift of submission to her husband, there is no reason why, for their mutual sexual gratification, a man should not submit his body to his wife for her use and serve her sexually. This is totally in alignment with the Biblical command that husband and wife give each other "due benevolence"; her body is meant for his sexual enjoyment and vice versa. However, this reversal of roles in the context of sexual relations is only possible due to the sanctity of the marriage bed, and an explicit understanding on the parts of both the husband and wife that they will adopt “natural” roles in the rest of their daily lives. We would counsel against couples living the wife dominant/husband submissive roles “24/7”, as this could lead to spiritual confusion.

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