According to an old saying, there are three things you should never discuss in polite company: sex, religion and politics. And yet, what could be more a part of our everyday lives, identities and personal reality than those three hot topics? Part of avoiding those conversations is that it doesn’t allow us to acknowledge how intersectional these crucial topics are. Our sex lives impact our politics. Our religion (or spirituality) affects our sex lives. Our religion influences our sexual politics too. So much energy and emotional energy flows through each of these topics that it is foolish to ignore how they intersect with our daily lives - and our sex lives.

Sex and Religion Is a Tough Conversation

One of the toughest conversations we can have around these topics is how religion and sex, particularly kinky sex, struggle to coexist. Religion has always had a complicated relationship with sex. On the one hand, they have always gone hand and hand. Every major religion on earth has a lot to say about how sex should be, what is approved, and how it must be done. Religious leaders, whether through abuse or control, often use sex as a weapon to shame and demand obedience. This history leads many to reject religion altogether, especially if they start to explore their sexual desires and power outside of what dogma told them. So can being kinky or sexually empowered go hand in hand with being a person of faith or are the two like oil and water?

Read: My Complicated Relationship With Religion and Sex


Abrahamic Sex Shaming

To find the answer, we must go back to the beginning. Pre-historic religion was originally matriarchal, meaning they saw the divine as female. Before folks figured out sperm was crucial to conception they thought women spontaneously multiplied. This lead to Goddess worship and a deep reverence for women’s sexuality. Even after things took a turn toward patriarchy, pagan religions still believed that sex was a healthy and sacred part of life.

Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all have a lot of stories and rules that make sex a very sensitive topic. While not in the Bible, one of the early stories that circulated in Judaism was the story of Adam’s first wife, Lilith. Legend says this powerful early feminist wanted to ride Adam on top and refused to always be on the bottom in the bedroom (or Eden, in this case). For this demand, she was cast out of paradise, forever labeled a demon and Adam was given a nice, submissive replacement in Eve. That’s a heavy way to shame people sexually from the dawn of creation.

Read: BDSM Is Older Than You Think. Way Older

Some Religions Saw Sex Differently

In other parts of the world, religions were seeing sex in a very different light. Hinduism still put great importance on sex being within marriage, but it also celebrates the beauty of diverse sexual expression. Hindu temples are adorned with images of coitus in every position imaginable. The Kama Sutra outlines pathways to sexual pleasure and fulfillment, embraces third gender expression (the hijra) and Tantric yoga brings sex into the light of sacred union.

Modern Religion Grows in Its Understanding of Sexuality

Today, many religions are growing in their understanding of sexuality. Pope John Paul II wrote "Theology of the Body," which explores the beauty and purpose of sexual passion in Catholicism. More and more reformed Jewish and Islamic leaders are opening up dialogue around previously taboo subjects, such as homosexuality and transgender inclusion.

What about kink?

On Fetlife, there are groups for kinky Christians, pagans, Jews, etc. Talking to some of the members of these groups, there is a common thread of conflict: can faith and kink live in peace? Across the board the answer seems to be that it can.

“When I started viewing sexuality as part of who I was, I realized that sexuality in all its forms must be good. God made me and sexuality is part of me, so God must have made my sexuality and what God makes is good," Rev. Natalie Waste told me. "So my sexuality must be good. I started to view my sexuality in ways that helped me strengthen my relationship with God, in simple ways like giving thanks to God for sex and kink and also in seeing my relationship with God in the same ways I would with a person just on a larger scale. As a submissive, I approach my relationship with God as I would any dominant, through love and obedience and submission, knowing that God as a dominant knows what is best for me, just as any human dominant would do.”

“It is definitely possible to be sexually empowered, kinky and religious," says psychotherapist Loren Barnes. "If spirituality or religion is important to you, there are ways to make it work and still honor your sexuality. The exact nuances of the intersection of these two areas of life will vary widely from person to person, however. Each person has a unique sexuality and a unique spiritual life. For some, finding the right balance might mean finding a religious community where they feel more comfortable, which can take time, patience, and trial and error. It might mean hitting the books and seeing what a given theology really says about sexuality because often other followers aren’t well-informed and their views are actually rooted more in the dominant culture than in the theology of their religion. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your religious life. Sexuality and spirituality are two of the most intimate and personal areas of our lives - that’s why they can feel so vulnerable.”

According to religious scholar and sex therapist Stefani Goerlich, Judaism differs from many other major religions in that it doesn't view sex as something sinful or shameful. "Sex, with an emphasis on the female orgasm is a mitzvah - a holy obligation. In fact, it's considered to be a "double mitzvah" to have sex with your partner on Shabbat, as a way of celebrating and sanctifying the Sabbath," Goerlich said.

"The cornerstone of Jewish sexuality is Shalom Bayit ("peace within the home"). Jews view sex as a divine gift and a key element in cultivating, maintaining, and preserving the bond between partners. If the way one chooses to do this is through rough sex, or power exchange, or any other fetish, that's OK! As long as the intention behind the action is rooted in connection and mutual care. Observant Jews do place an emphasis on modesty outside the home, of course, which may (depending on one's level of observance) limit the ability to engage in BDSM/kink play in public spaces such as dungeons or conferences; but generally speaking, there is no religious reason to avoid BDSM if that's what enhances your relationship. “

Even where there are spaces that still believe that religious people have to be vanilla, others are carving out a place of their own, an island between two worlds were sexual agency and faith are united. We don’t have to choose between being a person of faith and sexually liberated, we can take elements of both and live in joyful synchronicity.