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I received a very thoughtful question from one of my readers about spirituality and its relationship with sex, kink, and BDSM. I thought I’d share the exchange (with permission) for others to see. Maybe it can provide some insight.

Her Question:

Hi Jeff! My name is [redacted]. I live in [the USA]. I am a wife and mom and also a writer and photographer. More importantly, I am on a deep spiritual journey and learning more about my mediumship.

My background and previous career was in clinical psychology and corporate psychology, and while I am glad to leave behind my “corporate life” I will always carry with me my love for research and understanding human behavior. Lately, that is crossing paths with spirituality… and sexuality.

Looooong story short, I am currently researching (and personally searching) to make sense of where spiritual growth coincides with sexuality (specifically, BDSM). These two beliefs/values can seem complimentary – but can often seem at odds.

Here are some questions circling for me:

– Can enlightened spiritual growth and “kink” (BDSM) exist together?
– Does BDSM conflict with living a pure and spiritual life?
– Is BDSM a dark and negative force that distracts from alignment with spiritualism?
– Or can (consensual, of course) BDSM be a healthy bridge to deeper spiritual growth?

The bottom line question for me… Is one’s “kink” spiritually good or bad?

More personally said, do I have to give up my submissive BDSM desires in order to continue my path of spiritual growth and mediumship?

My Reply:

Hi [redacted], thanks for writing. I appreciate the thoughtful questions!

Short answer is yes, spirituality and BDSM can coexist, but it depends on your spiritual practice. Some spiritual practitioners consider sex (especially kink) to be taboo and antagonistic to their goals. Others use sex as their primary means to achieve enlightenment. For others, BDSM is just a thing you do within a larger spiritual framework. It comes down to your values and what is important to you.

Everyone’s spiritual practice is different, but most involve a fundamental worldview about who we are, where we come from, why we are here, etc. It defines your primary values in life and almost always have a concept about God.

Let’s just look at a couple examples off the top of my head:

  1. Traditional religious, Christian, etc. – Sex is between a man/woman, missionary only, lights off, only in marriage, for reproduction only… Perhaps they add the God element in there as the couple is really doing this all for Him anyway. Purity is a huge element as well as the idea of transcending the body and its sinful and depraved desires. BDSM would be antithetical to this, but I’m sure some people found a way to rationalize it!
  2. Atheist, Pagan, Satanic or Left Hand Path people – They’ll specifically use sex and definitely BDSM as part of their spiritual practice, which involves achieving altered states of consciousness, manifesting desired outcomes, invoking spirits, etc. To them, sex, sensation, and hedonistic pleasure are part of the game. It’s antagonistic to the traditional Christian perspective and probably why it’s considered “demonic” or unholy. It also puts a heavy value on the physical body and the material world, which most spiritual and religious practices seem to try to transcend to some degree.
  3. New Age and/or Tantra – This probably closer to what you’re looking for. While the practice of “sacred sexuality” and tantra varies widely and has a lot of roots in Eastern religions, it’s focused on bringing spirituality and sexuality together. New Age gurus like David Deida teach these concepts of masculine/feminine union, amplifying the polarity between the two partners to increase energy/pleasure (BDSM is good for this because one partner plays the dominant, the other the submissive). There’s also the whole Kundalini thing too which is another topic altogether.
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Does BDSM conflict with living a pure and spiritual life?

You mention “living a pure and spiritual life” – you are equating purity with spirituality. Interesting. The idea of “purity” is something to consider questioning. What does it mean to you? Why is this important? Is your spiritual practice about trying to obtain some sort of purity perfection? Who is judging you? Does it involve cleansing of sins or trying to abstain from “sinful” acts? Did you grow up in a religious environment that stressed purity as a virtue?

One thing I’ve grown to understand lately is OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and how purity, morality, and scrupulosity are major components. This causes a lot of guilt and anxiety about what is right or wrong and provokes ritualistic compulsions to alleviate this anxiety and guilt. For example, a person has a perverted thought or masturbates… then feels guilty and ashamed and has to pray for forgiveness or do some sort of ritual to make themselves pure again. Just something to be aware of.

Do I have to give up my submissive desires to continue my spiritual path?

You asked about giving up your submissive desires in order to continue your path of spirituality and mediumship. I ask, does your spiritual practice involve giving up your desires in order to “be more spiritual,” obtain “enlightenment” or “get into Heaven” or be “pure and free of sin?” It’s worth questioning if it’s really serving your best interest. Is your spiritual practice something that empowers you or controls you? Also, who is the judge? You, or someone else?

Another thing to consider is the act of submission or surrender can be a very spiritual act. But who are you surrendering to and in what ways? In spiritual circles, surrendering to your higher power helps alleviate the suffering that’s part of the human condition. In BDSM, one partner is typically letting go of control to the other under a predefined set of rules both parties agree to in advance. The act of surrender is what helps the ego temporarily dissolve and the submissive can experience a certain kind of ecstatic freedom that’s hard to obtain in the vanilla world. I talk about how I surrender to Truth in My Self Love Practice.

This all comes back to what your spiritual practice is and what your relationship to sex and BDSM is. If BDSM is just a personal tool for you and your partner, it seems like it can fit right in and the only thing getting in the way is you. You seem to want this, but doubt that it’s ok, and are asking for reassurance that you can still have this and “be spiritual.” I leave the answer up to you to decide.

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However if you participate in the BDSM community, you’ll find all sorts of people with different beliefs, but by and large, there’s a worldview of sex positivity, openess, tolerance, and resistance to “vanilla” aka traditional lifestyles. It can be very cliquey and cultish and form it’s own dogmatic belief system. If you want to fit in and be part of their in-crowd, you are going to be motivated to follow their ever-evolving rules and ethics. The same goes for whatever spiritual community you are a part of. There will always be some sort of “rules” that form over time and to be a good member of that community, adherence to these rules is a must.

Having said all that, it’s really up to you. In the end it comes down to your own relationship to yourself, your sexuality and spirituality.

I will say that my girlfriend and I had a strong interest in kink when we first got together but it has gotten less as we’ve been together. We both felt like our attraction to BDSM was rooted in some sort of trauma or pain and once that wounding was exposed and loved/integrated, the draw to kink has subsided.

So consider this, does your spiritual practice involve healing trauma, integrating shamed and unloved, disconnected parts of yourself? Do your sexual interests point toward an area that needs more love and presence? If so, you could use BDSM to root those out as long as you’re prepared to handle the emotions that come up. My partner and I have found that many kinksters have a ton of unprocessed trauma. Fetishes have direct links to childhood attachment styles too and almost all involve some very vulnerable part of ourselves that is asking for love and integration.

Here are some recommendations for further reading:

Hope that is helpful!

Photo by Artem Labunsky on Unsplash

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