Feminism, Social Issues

kink 101 for purity culture survivors: consent

[note: links may include NSFW material]

There are many amazing resources out there for people who think they might be kinky or into BDSM, and I’ll link to some at the bottom of this post. However, if you’re anything like me … a lot of what’s out there seems conflicting and confusing, and because I grew up on the rather strict end of purity culture I didn’t have the tools to start sorting any of it out. I didn’t know anything about sex, and many of us don’t. Someone I met in college thought that semen was green because of a joke they’d heard about grass stains, and I thought that “going through the back door” meant doggy.

And that’s just regular sex. If you think  you might be into kink, things are going to be exponentially harder, because while “safe, sane, consensual” seems like a spectacular phrase, purity culture survivors may not have a personal baseline for “safe” and “sane” and heaven knows we’re not given any sort of education about what consent actually is.

So, I’m going to do my best to give people like me the baseline they need to move on and explore BDSM/kink if they’d like to. I only really have my experience to draw upon, so please keep that in mind. I’m coming at this from the perspective of being a sub/bottom, but hopefully what I share here is applicable to both bottoms and tops.

~~~~~~~~~

The Most Very Important Number One Thing You Absolutely Need to Understand is consent. For all forms of sex, I strongly encourage everyone to rely on the idea of enthusiastic consent for a variety of reasons: first of all, the absence of a “no” does not make a “yes,” which is why I disagree with the “no means no” approach to educating people about consent. Second, making sure that your sex partner definitely wants to have sex with you instead of trying to manipulate them into bed means that you’re not a creep. Lastly, when everyone involved enthusiastically wants sex, it just makes it better all around, and I am very much in favor of people having the best sex possible.

However, if you’re going to explore BDSM with someone, you need more than enthusiastic consent– you need informed consent. If you don’t explicitly lay out everything that you’re interested in and what it all means and what all your expectations are, you’re inevitably going to run into something like this:

Person 1: (thinking about spanking) “Hey do you want to have kinky sex with me?”
Person 2: (thinks “kinky” means “oral”) “That sounds like fun. Sure!”

Me and Handsome have this lay-it-out-there conversation all of the time. He’s actually much more interested in the research side of things, so he’ll come to me with an idea, explain everything it would include, and I, especially since I’m almost always the bottom, get to say yay or nay.

A little bit ago,  we were talking about a bunch of different equipment we could experiment with, and possibly using a collar came up. Me, knowing myself and that I’ve been freaked out by high-collared shirts, turtle necks, and choker necklaces since I was a child, didn’t like the idea. Handsome also wasn’t enthused with the visual of me looking like I could be on a leash, so we decided that collars weren’t for us.

But, in that particular situation, I had to know beforehand that I wasn’t going to be ok with collars, and Handsome knows that he’s not interested in the domination aspect that some play with. For other things I’m open to the idea, but I’m not sure how I’ll react to it while we’re in the midst of things, which leads me to …

Very Important Idea Number Two: boundaries and safewords.

Most boundaries should be set before you enter the “scene.” For example, Handsome and I are not, and will never be, ok with using a belt to spank me. However, let’s say for the moment that Handsome is actually really into spanking someone with a belt. If I say “no, I am not comfortable with that,” it should never even come up during a scene. Ever. For any reason. Period. End of story. This could be what us kinksters refer to as a “hard” or “soft limit,” or it could just be “meh, I’m not into that today.” Subs/bottoms aren’t the only one with limits, either, and all boundaries should be respected. If I said “I don’t want to be spanked with a belt,” or “I don’t want to be spanked with a belt today,” Handsome is not allowed to bring it up during the scene. It is not acceptable for anyone to try to manipulate, pressure, or coerce someone– and while that applies to pretty much any human interaction, it especially applies to kinky sex.

Other things can be negotiated during a scene. For example, I knew I was open to the idea of a riding crop, but I wasn’t entirely sure where he could use it, or where I would like it to be used. In this particular case, I consented to exploring it, and was open to it used almost anywhere. When we began using it, I relied on my safe words– which for us, since we don’t usually do any role play, is “ouch,” “no,” and “stop.” Some people use “yellow” and “red,” but there are a variety of things to use safe words for: such as “I like being hit that hard and this often, I just want you to use that thing somewhere else for a while.”

The most amazing thing about BDSM in my opinion is how communication works. It relies upon complete and total honesty at all times, and if you feel as though you cannot be explicitly honest with your partner, you are not with a good partner. If you feel that you’ll be ignored, you are not with a good partner.

This whole “set and respect boundaries” idea isn’t something that conservative Christians are real good about teaching and modeling. In fact, people who come from a purity culture background were probably taught the exact opposite. You have the right to have boundaries, and you have the right to have those boundaries respected. When people cross your boundaries, you absolutely have the right to tell them so and to enforce those boundaries. If you say “you crossed my boundary, don’t do that again,” you are not being mean. You are not being “unkind” or “uncharitable” or “ungracious” or whatever word was the one that got tossed around in your Sunday school room.

I also want to make it very clear that you don’t have to have a “good reason” to say “no” to something, whether it be equipment, an act, or a scenario. Feeling “eh, not really interested or turned on by that” for no particular reason is the only reason you need. I’ve found that women who were brought up in purity culture tend to believe that we have to justify and rationalize every decision we make, and I’ve found that’s actually really sort of ridiculous. “I don’t want to” is the only reason anyone needs. If that’s not a good enough reason for your partner … get a new partner.

And lastly, Very Important Idea Number Three: know thyself.

This is probably going to be the hardest one for purity culture survivors to get used to, because it goes against everything we’ve been taught. The only thing most of us know about sex is “just say no,” until we get married and then we’re supposed to Instant Sex Monkeys/Porn Goddesses.

The reality that we struggle to understand every single day of our lives is that being a person means having to come to terms with our sexuality, and that sexuality is a part of our identity in a way that “SEX OUTSIDE OF CISHET MARRIAGE IS A SIN” doesn’t quite cover. There’s no room for gay people, or bi people, or asexual people in this narrative, firstly, and there’s barely any room for straight people, either.

But, if you want to explore kink, it’s important that you explore yourself first of all, and that doesn’t just mean masturbation. It also means embracing your fantasies, whatever they are and however weird you think they might be. Thanks to the teachings I got about “fantasizing about any person living, dead, or fictional is a sin,” I ended up resorting to … well. Google The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife when you get a chance and … yup. There’s a whole wide world out there full of people thinking up interesting things, and I think you should go out there and find them. Honestly, most of my sex education came from a website dedicated to Star Wars and Star Gate fan fiction– and through writing a ton of my own.

Fantasy, thankfully, is a safe way to figure out what you think you might like, and the sky is the limit.

There’s also an element of just being comfortable in your own skin. “I want to be tied up and spanked” is something that takes some confidence to say, and of knowing who you are and what you want. Purity culture is dedicated to the idea of abstinence, of denial, of building our lives and our ethics around refusing to do what we want. Because of that, it can be difficult for us to admit that we might want something. BDSM is the opposite of that– it’s built at least partly on knowing and doing exactly what you want exactly the way you want to do it. That can take some getting used to.

~~~~~~~~~~

Anyway, this has gotten long, so I want to stop here. I wish it wasn’t so necessary to talk about such fundamentally basic things, but it is, and we all need the occasional reminder. Feel free to ask me anything you’d like in the comments, or send me an e-mail (my contact information is at the top).

Further reading:

“BDSM” category at Frisky Business
“Stay Safe” category at the Submissive Guide
Clarisse Thorn’s list of BDSM resources
A Submissive’s Initiative “BDSM Basics” archive

Honestly, though, the best stuff is in books. The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Tristan Taormino is a good book to start with.
 Photo by Savara
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  • Oh, the 20/20 vision of hindsight. If I could go back in time and make my younger self less ignorant, I would hammer in the idea of boundaries and how much red flag it is when your boyfriend whines about a simple boundary like not calling more than twice a day. And how he keeps you from leaving by standing at your car door and talking for fifteen more minutes, even after you explain how annoying that is when you are trying to GO. And tell my younger self that, yes, he really does think it means you don’t love him as much when you have and maintain boundaries and he’s not going to get over it, and it gets 25x worse when sex is involved and he won’t shut the fuck up about stuff that doesn’t actually work for you and whyyyy don’t you care about his needs. NO BUENO, ABORT MISSION.

  • Erin

    Dear Samantha,
    At risk of sounding evangelical, your post has to be a cosmic response to my dilemma. I literally came home to my partner 2 days ago and said: “I’ve accepted it. I don’t have a low libido, I just need you to tie me up. But I can’t emotionally let myself go there. I can’t get patriarchy out of my head.” I love the likes of Tristan Taormino, etc,, and was actually going to direct this question to Dan Savage, but bless him, he’d probably say, “I have no idea how your Jesus is ok with this, other than I think since Christians were wrong about slavery, they’re probably wrong about spanking, too.” But it doesn’t speak to my heart. So intellectually I’m there, I’ve been there for years. Could you do me a crazy, irrational favour as a sister Feminist and Christian, and say some kinda Bible-informed benediction that would speak more to my heart? I think my most anti-patriarchal interpretation of Christian scripture is: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Creator and their creations, and aim to always live out of this creative spirit. And intellectually I know that consensual kink is creative and loving, but my heart doesn’t believe it. I think I just need to start asking other Christians to say that back to me, ’cause I don’t really believe it. And there are only a handful I can ask. So you’re step 1.

    • What’s been helpful for me is to put it in terms of Creation. I have always believed that God delights in beauty in diversity; to me, the overwhelming amount of variety we see in nature and in people seems to indicate that variety is a basic part of his/her Creation.

      We also exist in the form of a mind-blowingly fantastic body. On top of the fact that we can self-repair and a bunch of other crazy stuff, we’re also capable of experience a huge range of sensations. This goes hand-in-hand with the variety evident in the human race; our bodies can do and feel some fantastic things, but not every person is going to have the same range or experiences, and that’s part of what makes the world so beautiful.

      Here’s an example: some people really enjoy spicy food. I’m not one of those people– I like my seasonings to stay on the mild end of things. However, some people like their food so hot it would make me cry. But they genuinely like it. People who enjoy different aspects of BDSM are similar, I think. When Handsome is using a riding crop, it genuinely feels good. It doesn’t even register as “pain” to me if he’s using it correctly– it’s just another sensation that’s different from say, a massage, just like Thai food is different from Italian food.

      There’s also things like this: “Endorphin Levels in BDSM.” The human body is capable of amazing things, and if you’re the kind of person who wants to use BDSM to explore that, than I think it’s just a way of taking advantage of how “fearfully and wonderfully made” we are.

  • “Lastly, when everyone involved enthusiastically wants sex, it just makes it better all around, and I am very much in favor of people having the best sex possible.”

    Ha! I laughed out loud when I read this, because it is SO very true.

    These are all fantastic thoughts if you were raised in a purity culture, even if you’re not into kink or don’t think you’re into kink. Thanks for sharing.

  • Angie

    All I can say is “thank you!!!” My husband and I tried a bit of bdsm kink a few years ago and it made me feel good but also guilty (like I was dirty or something) but reading your last few posts have given me the confidence to give it a try again in the last few weeks and our sex life is ah-mazing 🙂 we are both enjoying ourselves more and our relationship has improved as our sex life has. So again I say “thank you”

  • Sylvia

    I was raised in a fundamental purity church/cult that didn’t even allow the Bible college students to date one on one (yeah, the divorce rate among couples who married straight out of that college is astronomical, including my own parents). I ran away from the college and married an outsider who was twice my age, just to get out. He was old fashioned and pretty much just into vanilla, except he had this funny idea that taking me to see porn movies would broaden my horizons. He never wanted to try the kink, but would use ALL the different positions every single time.
    My second husband, before we got married, was more into kink. He enjoyed spanking me, and there were some other things we did that kind of fall into the kink category. AFTER we got married, we didn’t do those fun things, because married people don’t do them. I tried talking to him about it, but he was way too closed minded for that.
    My third and longest relationship, the guy was really into kink. He didn’t want me to come up with ideas, he wanted me to submit, and let him do whatever. I don’t like that. I want to participate. I want to think about what he’s about to do, and anticipate.
    I was with a guy for a couple of months who didn’t bother to earn my trust, just tied me up and whipped me and blindfolded me and CUT me. NO TRUST. He took without permission, and I immediately broke it off with him.
    There were a couple more in there, but they were vanilla. They didn’t want to talk about kink, much less play…
    And my fiance. Oh, boy.
    I am 53 years old, and just now experiencing things that I wish I had known about years ago. The difference between him and that one who TOOK is that we talk. He’s an over the road truck driver, and our main form of communication is over the phone. For hours a day, we talk, and the topic inevitably turns to sex and kink and what we’d like to do next time he’s home (three days at a time isn’t enough to try EVERYTHING).

    We just watched The Secretary. Interesting movie, but didn’t particularly turn us on. I may watch 50 Shades when it comes out on DVD, I haven’t decided yet. I did try to read the first book, and it was so poorly written I threw it down in disgust. If the movie is as bad as the writing, I’ll just return it unwatched….

    I am glad you are willing to share about kink. It surprises me how many people like us are into kink, with the repressive and oppressive backgrounds. I don’t know why it surprises me, but it does. (I’m also a little surprised sometimes how many alcoholics and drug addicts there are who came out from this background.)

    BTW, I’ve been meaning to say this for awhile. I love that you call your husband “Handsome” on the blog.

  • cynthiajeub

    Things I added when I shared this link on Facebook:
    (1) Samantha says she and her partner don’t really do roleplay, so her section on safewords is rather unclear. A safeword is a word or phrase that means “stop” or “no,” for the purpose of allowing you to say the words “stop” or “no” as part of your roleplaying, but still being able to communicate with your partner. There are also other ways to indicate consent that are helpful while gagged, like a certain gesture. The Top/Dom’s job is to pay attention and watch for the safeword or other indication that you don’t want to keep going.

    (2) KNOWING YOURSELF IS DIFFICULT if you’ve been taught that consent isn’t important, and if you’ve also been trained to deny your own wants/desires/uncertainties/repulsion/discomfort. I wasn’t taught about consent, and it’s still hard to recognize for myself what I like and what I don’t like. Samantha’s article says to fantasize and explore for yourself, but another huge part of this is exploring with a partner who knows about your past. I have, several times, decided to try something once, then give it a few days before I know whether I liked it (and I ask myself if I want it again). Part of consent is that you have a right to change your mind. Just because you tried something a few times doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. I’ve found it helpful to just say “hey, I may find it more difficult than most people to figure out what I want, so I’ll get back to you on this.” I’ll try just about anything once, but you may prefer not to try things you’re unsure about. That’s also up to you.

    (3) Don’t worry too much about categorizing yourself within the kink world. There are tops, bottoms, Doms/Dommes, subs, Switches, and a whole lot more. Research. Explore. Only play with people who respect you and where you’ve been.

  • geekmom

    HA! Former fundie/homeschooled here and I got all my sex ed from Star Wars fanfiction too. I remember my heart pounding as I clicked on the “You must be 18 to read this” stories and thinking that I was a liar as well as a weirdo sex addict. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to relax.

  • “I also want to make it very clear that you don’t have to have a “good reason” to say “no” to something, whether it be equipment, an act, or a scenario. Feeling “eh, not really interested or turned on by that” for no particular reason is the only reason you need.”

    YES. THIS.
    Also? This is not just an issue for women raised in purity culture. The idea of being GGG (“good, giving, and game” as coined by Dan Savage) often gets warped as “if your partner wants to try something, a caring GF/BF will give almost anything a shot, barring a really good reason not to.”

  • I’m not much into BDSM, but I think what you have written is important. When I first married, I thought only men could initiate sex. Expressing desire or preferences was nearly impossible for me. At one point, our sex life dropped off sharply because hubby thought I never wanted it. It took a lot of encouragement and some very honest conversations for me to finally get in touch with my erotic self. Patriarchy makes for really bad sex. We’re both so much happier now.

  • Great discussion. Personally it is hard for me to understand where my boundaries are by discussion. The actual reality seems to be what gets me to yes or no. I suspect though that this is just my ADHD nature

  • Dave

    Does anyone know if there is any kind of online community for Kinky Christians? A forum or anything? Honestly, until I read Samantha’s first post, I didn’t even know there were any others out there besides myself…

  • I posted a link to this on my Tumblr, and it got over a hundred likes/reblogs today. Thanks for writing/sharing. I think a lot of people (including myself) need to learn about what you’re discussing so open and honestly.

  • capeviolet

    Thank you for writing this. I’m a 35 year old virgin whose come out of church in the last 3 years and developed an interest in BDSM. Starting to explore my sexuality and break free from what I learnt in fundamentalist and evangelical culture.

  • Shannon

    I was raised conservative Christian and didn’t have sex until after I left the religion in my 20s. My first sexual partner was into kink, so I decided to give it a try after a time. Looking back at my fantasies before I became sexually active (despite being a supposedly innocent, chaste lady, I had quite the fantasy life that I was very very guilty about), it’s no wonder I immediately fell into a sub role and love every minute of it. I found out a lot about myself in a safe, loving environment thanks to having a partner well versed in BDSM.

    “The only thing most of us know about sex is “just say no,” until we get married and then we’re supposed to Instant Sex Monkeys/Porn Goddesses.” That really hits home to me, and it’s something I am still struggling to overcome. Though, with me, it’s reversed. I have this assumption that, since I am in a committed partnership, I should be able to have sex whenever I want.

    Obviously this is not the case, seeing as there has to be consent, and there are plenty of circumstances where the other partner is not interested. But because I was raised with this view of sex in a relationship, that sex is always available, a part of me throws a complete fit when it doesn’t get what it wants. I do have a very strong libido as well, so that doesn’t make it any easier (neither does not having sex until I was 26, yay repression).

    But I hate being like that, feeling as though I’m obligated to sex. Just disliking that aspect of myself, however, doesn’t make it go away. Because I know getting after myself in a punishment sort of fashion (how I was raised to deal with issues) doesn’t do anything, I am struggling to find a better way to deal with it. BDSM does actually help to an extent, though it’s not the entire answer that is going to help me deal with the damage that was done to me by a dogmatic approach to sex, control, and boundaries.

  • J G

    I don’t know how I did it, but I told my wife that I’m a kinkster when we started dating. At the time we both thought it was something that would go away eventually, or that I would overcome through faith or something similar.

    It was still a part of me when we married three years later, and it’s still a part of me now, 18 years later. I’ve come to accept it. She still regards it as a perversion and wants nothing to do with it. I’m miserable, and have come within a whisper’s breadth to having an affair with other kinksters a few times.

    Thus, I would add “Talk about sex and your interest in kink before you get into a serious relationship. Put it off, and it’ll be hell.”

    • That really sucks. I hope you both can find some help and happiness.

      • J G

        I don’t know if it’s the obvious similarities to abuse and violence or it’s just because it’s something that doesn’t get, but I flat-out can’t see her embracing a kinky lifestyle, even just occasionally, for my sake.

        Slightly less unlikely is the possibility that she will consent to me finding a play partner or attending play activities as long as there is no sex.

        Most likely is that I’m either going to continue to be absolutely miserable until we divorce; or I’ll end up having an affair, and then we’ll divorce.

        • Your marriage and your choices aren’t any of my business 🙂 but it sounds like you might benefit from a sex therapist? She may not need to “embrace” kinky sex to find *some* aspects of kinky sex appealing. Even a lot of Cosmo’s basic sex tips are sort of kinky– fuzzy handcuffs, temperature play (putting quarters in the freezer, keeping spoons in hot and ice water next to the bed, etc).

          Maybe she won’t ever be into restraints or impact play, but there’s so much else out there that maybe she could find fun.

          Cheating isn’t a good option. If you’re that miserable, there’s probably a bunch of reasons why, and only one of them is the lack of kink. Please try therapy first.

          • J G

            You’re right, and I don’t mean to involve you in them. It’s the curse of complete anonymity on the Internet, we overshare. 🙂

            We started seeing a counselor last week.