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BDSM Is My Religion

by MOLLY LAZARUS
Published: JULY 7, 2021
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Reviewed by Dr. Laura McGuire
on June 23, 2021
Can BDSM be a religion? For some people, it may very well work in the same way. Here's how some fetishists are exploring the kink-spirituality connection.

From the outside, BDSM might not seem all that deep. It's often portrayed in silly, crude, or disturbing ways. I understand why people who have never tried it think we kinksters are all shithouse crazy.

The association of BDSM and "crazy" has long been established. The American Psychological Association (APA) lists sadomasochism (the S and the M in BDSM) as a paraphilic disorder, which is the category of "sexual deviancy." This means, if a specific set of criteria are met, a psychiatrist could diagnose you with the disorder. There is a long history of pathologizing sexual preferences that stray from what is considered mainstream "normal" and it is hugely problematic.

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But seeing is different than doing.

Within the community, there's a subset of fetishists who view BDSM as more than a path to sexual fulfillment. Rather, it's considered a type of spiritual practice, whatever that means to the individual. This hedonistic flavor of devotion is often referred to as 'sacred kink'.

The fact that practitioners find spiritual fulfillment through BDSM shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the presence of sadomasochism in mainstream religions. From self-flagellation to firewalking to chastity, people have long used suffering as a means of expressing devotion or chasing catharsis.

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The idea that religious masochism is holy, but sexual BDSM is deviant feels like a double standard. In a 1983 study, Charme SL observed, "religious phenomena may provide cultural or collective responses to the psychological needs at the root of masochism."

What do those involved in BDSM mean when they describe it as a spiritual experience? What does connecting with the divine feel like in the context of kink?

I attended a sacred kink munch with practitioners from various backgrounds and identifications. Here are some ways they're using BDSM to nourish the soul in the quest for spiritual truth.

Read: Can You Be Religious and Kinky?

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I think there is also space to discuss the double standard of religious S/m and sexual

Introspection

Whether you're topping or bottoming, BDSM unearths valuable insights into your true nature. "For me," a fellow submissive at the munch explained, "S&M shines light on what needs healing in my soul and what doesn't."

"S&M shines light on what needs healing in my soul and what doesn't."

I can relate to that. One of the first things I learned when I started dabbling was that I could vibe beautifully with physical pain, but not the emotional degradation many subs crave. If a partner called me a 'fucktoy' or anything along those lines, I would carry it with me after play was over, unable to separate their dirty talk from the reality of how they felt about me.

There's nothing wrong with not participating in degrading play, of course. Yet, at some point, I had to ask myself why I cared so much. If mere words could provoke such sensitivity, a part of me must have been insecure in my value as a person. People brimming with self-love aren't derailed by role play gab spoken in jest.

Eleanor Roosevelt made the point succinctly:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

A valuable lesson for the soul. Gee thanks, BDSM!

Altered States

It's no secret that masochism gets you high. We kinky pain junkies are all about the endorphin rush colloquially known as subspace. It's a serene, floaty, delightful experience that results from a consensual ass-beating and/or submissive state of mind.

Tops, on the other hand, sometimes ride the wave of another type of high during play, known as 'top space' or 'dom space'. The organizer of the munch I attended described it as a flow state, where he could fully immerse himself in enjoyment without the insecurities and hang-ups normally produced by the ego.

"It's an almost effortless feeling when my partner and I click during play. I'm connected with her, but also with my higher self at the same time. I'm in the moment, in control, and hyper-aware of everything that's happening."

"It's an almost effortless feeling when my partner and I click during play. I'm connected with her, but also with my higher self at the same time."

Self-development

Personal growth is inevitable in D/s relationships due to the challenges both partners take on to sustain their dynamic. Ethical BDSM essentially requires both partners to continually work on themselves.

Dominance is difficult when done safely and consensually. It's not something that comes naturally to the vast majority of people. It requires the confidence to take the lead, make decisions, and be responsible for the safety of another person while providing them with experiences they'll enjoy. It also requires emotional maturity, patience, empathy, and a handful of other qualities that take time, experience, and perseverance to develop.

Read: On Top: How to Be a Dominant

Submission can be equally challenging. It takes bravery to sign up for activities that are painful or uncomfortable, and an equivalent measure of resilience to handle the fallout if things go wrong during play. (Which inevitably, of course, they will at some point.) Subs must also be in touch with their feelings and clearly communicate them. They must be able to put the brakes on a scene to protect their partners from taking play too far.

This all requires risk and vulnerability, but can be well worth it. I've seen people transform completely due to their experiences with BDSM. The abilities you refine during play will serve you in every area of your life.

Primalism

Many BDSM participants these days identify as 'primal.' During play they tap into the animalistic impulses that drive sexuality and allow those instincts to guide them.

One submissive member of the munch, a practicing Christian, relayed his feelings on exploring his base instincts. "Sexual is what God created us to be. Everything we're geared to do is in service of sexuality. Ignoring our natural urges would be a failure to honor that."

"Sexual is what God created us to be... Ignoring our natural urges would be a failure to honor that."

Coming Into the Moment

Most people have a habit of getting caught up in thoughts about the past or future. This can keep us in a fear-based place of depression, anxiety, or general malaise. A main goal of many types of meditation is to release this harmful mental chatter and bring one's attention into the present.

BDSM is a great way to take your mind off autopilot. The best play sessions are dynamic, engrossing, and require mindfulness. If both partners are tuned into each other, hours can go by without the interruption of toxic thoughts.

Ego Management

BDSM appeals to the ego, the soul's defense mechanism. Getting into kink can cause people to start to act very "cool" or even develop a superiority complex.

They soon find, however, that egos must be kept in check for kink to be sustainable. BDSM relationships thrive on collaboration, not true imbalances of power. Making it all about you will quickly lead to problems.

A dominant member of the munch I attended described his experience.

"It's certainly tempting to let dominance get to your head, but I know I can't operate from a place of ego when we play because it'd be dangerous. In a way, BDSM helps me stay grounded."

Read: What Losing My Sex Life Taught Me About Sexuality, Creativity and Spirituality

Creativity

One of my best dom friends always compares BDSM to improv theater. Practitioners must keep a keen awareness of what's part of the fantasy and what isn't.

There are those times during scenes when we're 'on.'

A: This is what happens to worthless slaves who don't do their chores. (*whap!*)

B: I'm sorry, Mistress! I crave your forgiveness!

And those times when we break the fourth wall.

A: (That wasn't too much, right?)

B: (Nah, that was hot.)

A: You're damn right it was! Now scrub my tile 'til it sparkles with radiance! (Lol.)

Once that balance is created with our partners, we can channel all sorts of inspiration from within.

If BDSM speaks to you on a spiritual level, you're definitely not alone. If you're curious, you can read more on the topic from Lee Harrington in his book, Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond.

And be on the lookout for other sacred kink practitioners your local fetish community. We're out here!

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Molly Lazarus

Molly Lazarus is a kink and sexuality writer based in the Bay Area. She dreams of a world where consent-loving hedonists can explore the depths of their depravity without fear of persecution or sexual abuse.

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