Probably not surprising that Christianity Today and I have a difference of opinion on sex. But the weird part is that this time around, we wind up at the same place--nearly. We're in the same neighborhood.
Kim Gaine Eckert wrote a piece for CT discussing the pitfalls of 50 Shades of Grey.
Let me start by exploring what we have in common, which is that 50 Shades of Grey gives us both reason to pause and consider the effects of media on sexuality and our perceptions of sex in particular.
I found Grey difficult to get through, in part because I didn't like the writing, but also because I didn't like the portrayal of what is a clearly unhealthy relationship. And the unhealthy part has nothing to do with BDSM.
It's been explored several times, so I won't rehash all of the details, but the relationship reflected in 50 Shades is not clear-cut BDSM, as this classic post from Crushable highlights. BDSM is based on trust and consent--that's a key part of it. A key part of how pleasure is derived from it. And I don't feel that 50 Shades did a particularly enlightened job of showing that.
But that's okay, in the end, because 50 Shades is fantasy, and we are all allowed to have whatever fantasy we want. The real issue is when the confusion with abuse doesn't come with a clear cut line that says, "Yes, this is fantasy." For many people that haven't encountered the BDSM community, this is their first introduction to it--and it's woefully wrong. Abuse is not love, and BDSM does not condone abuse.
Moreover, the idea that abuse and BDSM are the same thing is harmful not only to the uninitiated. It's hard enough for people to be taken seriously when they voice abuse allegations and are also connected to BDSM as it is, without the world deciding that abuse is just a little kink.
So Eckert and I are at the same end: The obsession with 50 Shades is undeniably troubling.
But she's got a much different view of what's troubling about it:
The appeal of Fifty Shades reflects our hyper-sexualized cultural climate, in which the procreation-focused, missionary-position-only thinking of our puritanical past has been rejected. Instead, the cultural norm has become fetishized sexual behavior that equates "good sex" with over-the-top pleasure, wild foreplay, and euphoric orgasm. It champions personal gratification, and with the book's edgy BDSM details, places sex firmly in the realm of power and control.Here is a key point where we differ--she believes that good sex is being fetishized, and I believe that people are finally able to seek what they want from sex, with openness and acceptance (to an extent) from a wider world. And I'm okay with that. It's a good thing.
Eckert makes several points that I don't think are necessarily relevant. She talks about how sex can cause different emotions, how sex is different in different contexts. All of that is accurate. But relevant? Not so much.
Even couples that engage in BDSM are still capable of having different types of sex. They are still capable of reconnecting with sex, of being vulnerable during sex, of having sex that's heartbreaking and beautiful. The points aren't mutually exclusive.
She also says:
Is sex about pleasure? Yes. But it's about so much more. Sometimes sex is amazingly pleasurable, and sometimes it's not. The range of emotions and experiences in our sexual relationships with our spouse remind us that, whether euphoric or disappointing, sex is a gift from God. Sex tells the story of our longing for connection and intimacy. We are made for one another, to know and be known.Obviously, there are some concepts here that I disagree with. I don't believe I was "made" for anyone--because I don't believe I was made, and I don't believe any of you were either. The same goes for sex as a gift from God.
But there's a deeper concept that I disagree with here too: the idea that sex must be compartmentalized, and that because you enjoy this kind of sex you aren't really connecting.
There are many couples that enjoy BDSM that are still intimate and connected. I'm sure there are many couples that indulge and still have sex that isn't BDSM. We all know that sex is sometimes pleasurable, sometimes isn't (I'd wager we'd fall more on the mostly pleasurable side if we had real sex ed to teach people about their bodies).
I suppose the disagreement comes down to this: I see 50 Shades of Grey in terms of glorifying abuse, and she sees it as glorifying sex.
And me? I don't have a problem glorifying sex.
Glory, glory, hallelujah.