Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink)

Picture of a branch with a bright red rope around it, tying a double coin knot, with the words: Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink) workthegreymatter.com

(You can watch this post on YouTube.)

Complementarians, egalitarians and kinksters are three groups of people who all frequently talk about submission in the context of a sexual relationship but using different words with different meanings.

  • The kink community (sex positives who are into BDSM) talk about D/s, a shorthand for domination and submission. (Click here for why I write about BDSM.)
  • Complementarian Christians talk about the servant-leadership of husbands and the wifely submission of—well, wives.
  • Egalitarian Christians, on the other hand, talk about mutual submission.

Each group explicitly says that it doesn’t support abuse, but each one also says that either or both of the other two groups normalise abuse. So how did that happen? Continue reading Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink)

Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Picture of woman sitting outside with her eyes closed and a slight frown, holding a closed copy of the Bible, with the words: Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws? workthegreymatter.com

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What I blog about and what I want to blog about, do not always align.

The Old Testament laws on sex, adultery and rape, particularly those in Deuteronomy 22:13-29, are a sensitive topic to say the least. Whenever I find an angle to write about, my inner caution tends to apply the brakes before my enthusiasm gets to the point of posting.

It’s not that this is a topic to be enthusiastic about, per se. It’s just that, in the last few years, the biblical scholarship I’ve read on these passages has absolutely blown my mind. And the more feminist literature I read (currently working through Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth), the more I believe the church needs to re-evaluate its relationship with these verses.

If you’re now raising your eyebrow at me, I’m gonna guess it’s for one of several reasons. I’ll take them in turn. Continue reading Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

Text on purple, white and black swirly background: Why do Methodist evangelicals insist all sex outside marriage is 'sexual immorality'? Because that's not in the Bible. workthegreymatter.com

The Methodist Conference in Great Britain recently commended a report about marriage and relationships, God In Love Unites Us, by 247 votes to 48. The headlines have focussed on how this report commends same-sex marriage, but it’s actually much broader than this. For example, it also discusses cohabitation, developing resources for married people, and even developing liturgies for when relationships end.

Meanwhile, Methodist Evangelicals Together have issued a statement and article in Premier Christianity saying that the report was one-sided, ignored testimony, and biblically unsound.  They’re calling on evangelicals to “make the case for a biblical view of marriage and relationships” rather than echo society’s views. [Edited to add: I should probably caveat here that that not all Methodist Evangelicals agree with the stance that MET has taken. Certainly, I saw tweets to the contrary as the report and article came out.]

Now, I might have my own problems with the report (the section on good sexual relating doesn’t mention consent), but I also recognise that it’s attempting to tackle and contextualise big and very sensitive issues, whilst still being accessible to read. And on the whole, I reckon does very well at this. What’s more, far from being unbiblical, I think the report is conceptually groundbreaking in how it de-couples sexual ethics from marriage.

Make no mistake, the report doesn’t give a free-for-all. For all my talk of ‘groundbreaking’, much of what the report says about sex is still well within the bounds of Methodist evangelical sexual ethics. It explicitly says “promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning” sex is unacceptable and emphasises exclusivity (albeit, not marriage) as a pre-requisite for sexual flourishing.

As such, the report places itself outside of much sex-positive thought, including any discussion of, for example, BDSM or polyamory. I’m not going to debate that in this post. In fact, right now, I’m not interested in going over same-sex marriage (though you’ll probably be able to guess where I stand).

What I want to ask is simply this:

Why do evangelicals insist on directly linking extra-marital sex to sexual immorality?  Continue reading Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again

Woman standing arms folded in from of Christian Grey picture from 50 Fifty Shades Darker.

With the launch of Fifty Shades Darker in cinemas, this guest post is just as relevant as it was when it was originally written two years ago. Ruthie Hird looks back on her experience of a toxic boyfriend (whom she met on a church retreat) and draws striking parallels with Christian Grey. I found it compelling when I first read it and she kindly agreed for me to re-blog it here.


So, there’s this book/movie that has come out recently: it’s called Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Well, I sure have, and I’ve seen the throngs of mommy (and non-mommy) squee-ing over the very idea of a dark, mysterious man sweeping girls off of their feet and having incredible sex with them. Oh, if only Mr Grey really existed! I hear women sigh longingly.

Well, ladies, guess what: he does exist.

I should know: I dated him.

And so have about 4 million women in North America in one year alone.

Here’s the thing: Mr Grey in my world was not a high powered businessman, in fact he wasn’t rich at all. He was actually a twenty-six year old, blonde haired, blue eyed, church-going construction worker. He wore a cowboy hat, drove a pick up truck, and I had no idea what I was in for when he asked me out.

CONTENT NOTE: References to rape, coercive control and non-consensual BDSM perpetrated against the author – as well as similar behaviours in Fifty Shades. Continue reading I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again

Sex and consent: everything I didn’t know when I married

Essay on consent; red text is what I didn't know when I married

I recently had the privilege of being able to guest post on the blog of Ashley Easter. She asked me to write about how I understand consent – what it is and what it isn’t. Over 5,500 words later (and more hours than I counted) the essay was complete. I hadn’t meant for it to be that long, but it roughly breaks down into three segments:

  • Understanding sex and consent in context
  • Giving and receiving consent
  • Bad consent and withdrawing consent

I will repost the contents of it on this blog in a few months time, but meanwhile I wanted to post this picture. It’s a zoomed-out version of the full essay and everything highlighted in red is something my husband and I didn’t know when we married. Seriously!

The full post is on Ashley’s blog here: Sex and consent: How does that work in marriage? and reposted (with very minor edits) on my blog here: Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

I changed the title because I haven’t written just about consent in marriage, though I do acknowledge that as the context from which I’m writing.

Is the One True Love biblical? On hope, choice and responsibility

I was recently asked if the idea of ‘the One’ was biblical and I decided to blog about it as I think it’s essentially a question about how romance relates to hope.

The very boring short answer is No, for the simple reason that many modern romance narratives (including the idea of ‘soul-mates’ and the ‘One True Love’) have literary origins which are much later than the Bible.

But that doesn’t answer much more interesting questions like whether God intends everyone to experience romantic affection or whether a Christian can expect to meet their ‘One’ miraculously.

So, I’ve put a few thoughts on the boring short question in an appendix, and have written a post that tries to address those questions instead. Also, because the original question asked about the Bible, I’ve framed most of my answers using examples from it.

So: is the idea of ‘the One’ consistent with the Bible?

I’m going to say more no than yes.

It’s not that God never does bring ‘the One’ into a Christian’s life (he does), but specifically expecting that God will do this makes too many assumptions about life and how God works. And it encourages too many unhelpful behaviours.

Continue reading Is the One True Love biblical? On hope, choice and responsibility

How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 3)

This post is the third of three that lists some of the ways a rant I read about an abusing big-shot dominant in the BDSM scene reminded me of Christian Grey (part one is here and part two is here). You can read the original rant (in its uncut strong language) here. If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type” and “d-type” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades.

Content note: This post talks about abusive behaviour. I try not to be graphic but it’s generally not nice to read about and I do repeat some of the creepy things Christian says and does to Ana in the 50 Shades books.

Lesson 8: There are NEVER “no limits”

Let’s start with a quote from the rant:

No one has “no limits”, and to say you don’t (especially as a new person to the lifestyle) is simply foolish because a new person has no idea what to expect.

And anyone remotely informed about BDSM knows this. Anyone who remotely cares about consent will challenge anyone and everyone who says they have “no limits,” because people who say they have “no limits” do not know what they are saying. Instead, their idea of what a BDSM scene could involve has limits.

Continue reading How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 3)

How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 2)

This post is the second of three that lists some of the ways a rant I read about an abusing big-shot dominant in the BDSM scene reminded me of Christian Grey (part one is here).

If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type” and “d-type” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades.

Content note: This post talks about abusive behaviour. I try not to be graphic but it’s generally not nice to read about and I do repeat some of the creepy things Christian says and does to Ana in the 50 Shades books.

Lesson 4: Pre-negotiation must be neutral and pressure-free

The ranter talks about limits:

There is no excuse for a D/M to be unable or unwilling to discuss these things openly and in a non-threatening, non-intimidating fashion in a neutral setting (emphasis on the “nons” and “neutral”). This allows for open communication and allows the s-type to express where they are with a particular limit.

Continue reading How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 2)

How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 1)

One of the biggest myths spoken about 50 Shades of Grey is “It’s not abuse, it’s BDSM.” I recently read a rant from a guy in the BDSM scene calling out abusive behaviour from a big-shot d-type who was using his reputation to silence his critics and the people he was abusing. Unlike 50 Shades, the rant is not fictional, which is why the strong parallels it has with 50 Shades are so serious. You can read the rant (in all its anger and uncut strong language) here. In the meantime, this post is the first of three that lists some of ways the big-shot dominant the ranter described reminded me of Christian Grey.

If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type” and “d-type” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades.

Content note: This post talks about abusive behaviour. I try not to be graphic but it’s generally not nice to read about and I do repeat some of the creepy things Christian says and does to Ana in the 50 Shades books.

Lesson 1: Abuse can happen – even in a BDSM setting

“It’s BDSM” is never enough. There should always be a discussion about consent, risk and appropriateness: that’s what distinguishes abuse from what gets called “safe, sane and consensual BDSM” and “risk-aware consensual kink”.

Continue reading How 50 Shades reflects real-life abuse in BDSM (part 1)

To the evangelical couple considering sex therapy

I recently wrote a post in which I mentioned that my husband and I went for psychosexual therapy (you can find it here: On the receiving end of sex – why it’s not just about giving). Much to my surprise, I was soon contacted by someone asking about the therapy – because they and their spouse were also thinking about it. Our correspondence was only brief, but in that time I learned that they, like my husband and me, were Christians and that they came from an evangelical background. Now, I don’t currently identify as an evangelical, but evangelicalism certainly influenced how I was brought up and how I thought about sex. So perhaps it was unsurprising that I felt for this person and ached to tell them something that would be of benefit to them. So I went away, thought about it, and wrote this (quite long) collection of thoughts. (If you’re after something short and sweet on what sex is about in the first place, try this: The key to lifelong sex? Get the right advice.)

Continue reading To the evangelical couple considering sex therapy

On the receiving end of sex – why it’s not just about giving

Sex: not just about giving

Photo credit: Toa Hefitba, Unsplash.com

EDIT: this post is aimed at people who feel guilty about being pleasured. If you want to read about consent and negotiating for mutual enjoyment as part of a long-term sex relationship, I recommend this post on Ashley Easter’s blog.


The ‘always be giving’ myth

Every now and then I read something that suggests that if you’re not on the giving end of sex, you’re doing it wrong. The argument follows a few leaps of logic:

  • It is better to give than to receive;
  • Therefore, to desire your own pleasure is to put yourself before your intimate partner;
  • Therefore, if you’re not giving, you’re abusing.

If you’re in a sexual relationship and you’re never or rarely at the giving end of sex (or not nearly as often as your intimate partner), then that points to an imbalance and imbalances raise questions about the overall health of the relationship.

But I cannot reconcile myself to a model of sex where the expectation is that you must always be giving. Or, to put it another way: I cannot reconcile myself to the idea that a healthy sexual relationship means you should always be contributing to the pleasure of your intimate partner.

To explain, I’ll need to tell you about some of my sexual history. Deep breath. Continue reading On the receiving end of sex – why it’s not just about giving

Ruth and Joseph: A closer look at love vs abuse

This post is a writer’s-commentary on a sketch I wrote, based on two Bible stories: Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:1-20, and the book of Ruth. If you haven’t read the sketch, it’s in my previous post.

I originally wrote the sketch as an illustration of the differences between good and not-so-good sexual desire, which in the church often get called “love” and “lust”. But these words are often unhelpful as they are often used in different ways. Bigger than that though, is the problem that “love” and “lust” don’t usually come on their own.   Continue reading Ruth and Joseph: A closer look at love vs abuse

What’s bad about “the worst” six slaps?

It took me a moment to register that I was smiling as I read chapter 26 of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, you read correctly, I was smiling. Christian and Ana were engaged in a playful game of cat and mouse around the kitchen – he with his dastardly boasting, she with her undaunted wiliness  – and it was fun. Until suddenly it wasn’t a game.

The ending of Fifty Shades of Grey (both film and book) is undeniably one of the most irritating things that I’ve had to get my head round. Ana asks Christian to show her “the worst” in the film or “as bad as it can get” in the book. In the film he asks her if she’s sure, in the book he asks if she’s ready. She says yes. He says he’ll hit her six times. He then hits her six times. He then stops. Does this mean she actually was consenting to the whole relationship and he’s not actually abusive? Deep breath. Content note: I talk about abusive and violent behaviour in this post and the use of discipline in a BDSM context.  Continue reading What’s bad about “the worst” six slaps?

7 essential facts about consent

This piece of writing is a fantastic one-stop-shop about what consent really looks like. The BDSM-er who wrote it intended it more as a vent of frustration than an educational piece, which is why I have ever-so-slightly edited some of the original language. Reproduced with kind permission of tumblr’s HotDogPhoto.


During the last several months, my local community and the scene at large has had a number of issues regarding consent violation, assault, and generally predatory behavior. In the wake of these instances, I’ve seen a lot of discussions of consent and in the course of those discussions I’ve seen a lot of comments that have chilled my blood. People saying things like, “Well, I subscribe to a blanket theory of consent,” or “The older generation of kinksters doesn’t think about consent that way.” The purpose of these statements is often to make it appear that the issue of consent is that of a subjective communal construct that my peers and I are changing after the fact.

Here’s the thing: It’s not. “Consent” as a concept, has been widely employed in medical ethics (and extended to ethics more broadly) through the last 60 years. So, unless you got into the scene before Nuremberg, the word “consent” has entailed much of the same conceptual baggage the whole time. I want to take some time (as someone with years of graduate training in the history and anthropology of medicine, and medical ethics) to clarify some of the facts. Continue reading 7 essential facts about consent

A message to Muslim teens on 50 Shades

As I consider myself to be a person of faith, I’m often interested in how other people apply their beliefs to sex. I recently read a post by a Muslim writer and mother who says:

I cannot discuss all the points in the book thoroughly in just one article. However, to highlight some major issues, I want to tell my dear teenage daughters…

My only caveat on this article is that the author criticises a particular practice that labels itself “Christian” in the Christianity sense. Her criticism of the practice is justifiable in my view, though it seems strange to me that her single reference to a religion other than her own picks this out – particularly when a great many Christians, including me, would describe the practice as anything but Christian. [Edit: you can read her response to this below]

That said, what she makes a number of excellent and concise points. You can read them here: What Muslim teens need to know

Did you find this post by clicking on a pingback on the MuslimMatters site? You might be interested in this review of the film of 50 Shades of Grey from a Christian(ity) angle.