Holding someone by the throat: abusive strangulation or consensual play?

Following the allegations against Eric Schneiderman, I saw a cluster of articles a couple of weeks ago revolving around the topic of someone’s breathing by putting pressure on their throat. Some talked about this as an act of violence, others as an act of erotic play.

The articles were not always helpful – and I want to talk about this.

I’ll start with a CONTENT WARNING: this post contains stuff about sex, BDSM and sexualised violence. The links from this post have explicit content.

If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type”, and “kink” 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. Continue reading Holding someone by the throat: abusive strangulation or consensual play?

Books of 2017: Titles for those who are looking outside the box

As I finally come to write reviews of this last cluster of books from 2017 I realise that I’ve probably more not read them, than read them. Sorry about that. This batch is probably of most interest to people who are questioning some of the answers they’ve been given by the church, particularly around sex, sexuality and gender. There’s also some sci-fi. Here are the books I’ll give you a little flavour of:

  • Damaged Goods
  • God, Sex & Gender
  • Making sense of Sex
  • Searching Issues
  • Say Goodbye to Hollywood (fiction)
  • Lord of Light (fiction)
  • Soul Bare

Continue reading Books of 2017: Titles for those who are looking outside the box

45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

Candles surrounding the cross in Norwich Cathedral

With the recent trending of the hashtag #ChurchToo, people are sharing their experiences of abuse in the church. Meanwhile, others are asking questions about whether it’s just ‘a few bad apples’ or a systemic problem.

It’s a systemic problem.

Sure, it’s easy to say it’s a matter of “bad theology” or that people who abuse aren’t “true Christians”. But that doesn’t remove responsibility from the wider church to acknowledge the structural and theological problems within the church, name them as such, and work to address them. As a practising Christian, I fervently believe that the church can be, and will be, a powerful mediator of God’s transforming power in the world. But until we name these things as wrong, or at the very least as distortions and glib practices missapplied to their context, we will not have the impetus to change them.

And we must change them if we are to fulfil our calling.

So, here’s a list of 45 practices I associate with the church and the problems they lead to when it comes to consent. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. And I don’t mean to suggest that consent is the only issue worth talking about. But it’s what I blog about.

I’ve categorised the list into issues relating to authority, sex, marriage, sin and gender.  Continue reading 45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

It is 500 years to the day (well, sort of, if we don’t worry about the shift to the Gregorian calendar) since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, on 31 October 1517. His actions kicked off the reformation – a movement during which the protestant denominations split away from the Roman Catholic church.

Coming from a protestant background, this seems a fitting time for me to write 95 short statements on the themes of this blog. Of course, they don’t cover everything! But you’ll find in them thoughts and theologies that either have been, or will be, very much an integral part of my writing. (And when I’m cribbing someone else’s work, I’ve put their name in brackets.) I’ve split them into ten categories:

  • personhood
  • abuse
  • God
  • sex
  • consent
  • Christian witness
  • the Bible
  • hope
  • purity
  • and me.

Continue reading Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

#ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

With so much noise coming through my Twitter feed, and just the general busyness of life, it’s not uncommon for me to scroll past good articles and links without reading. But wow! When I saw the story about David Schwimmer (yes, Ross from Friends) making six short videos about sexual harassment, I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. They are brilliantly made, directed by Israeli-American director Sigal Avin, and achingly, shockingly real.

In the space of less than five minutes, each one illustrates a perpetrator preparing their victim for the consent violation, the violation itself, and then their tactics afterwards to rationalise their actions and prevent subsequent disclosure. They are all in a context of power imbalance. And yet, they are also all different. What’s more, they show abuse outside the obvious examples that people think of when they think of sexual abuse. In all but one, the victim is fully clothed; in all but another, the perpetrator is fully clothed. None of them involve a man forcibly grabbing a woman. None of them include one person touching another’s genitals. All of them are more subtle than that.

These are so well acted and scripted, I’m half tempted to present them without any commentary at all. However, one of the insidious things about abuse is its deceitfulness; I’ve therefore shared some of my thoughts in the hope that other people will feel more able to articulate theirs. It does mean this post is rather long, especially if you watch all six, so make a bookmark or come back when you’ve got the time. These reward close attention.

CONTENT NOTE: There are six videos here, all of which show sexual consent violations, and I discuss the coercive behaviours in detail. I’ve put notes above each video so that (if you want to) you can consider each one before you watch it, but needless to say – you might still find them difficult viewing. Continue reading #ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

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?

Don’t be misled by the title, 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

The key to lifelong sex? Get the right advice.

It staggers me sometimes just how much rubbish gets bandied about in popular culture as sex advice. Recently, it was the Guardian with an article titled “How to have sex with the same person for the rest of your life” but it presented good points poorly and made a lot of bad ones.

The way I see it, if you’re looking to have great sex with the same person for the rest of your life, there are three strands to work on:

  1. Being a decent human being
  2. Understanding the body
  3. Using your imagination

Much sex advice focuses only on one or two of these, or (worse) focuses too much on detailed points or ideas without first asking other questions to give context. But the “key” to a lasting and satisfying sex life is never “just this” or “just that”. It’s the combination of many positive factors working well together and the absence of negative factors that would hinder it. So let’s have a look at these three strands and some of the sex advice given in relation to them.

Continue reading The key to lifelong sex? Get the right advice.

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). 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 collection of thoughts.

Continue reading To the evangelical couple considering sex therapy

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

EDIT: People find this post as a result of searching for “giving and receiving” in sex. Yes, absolutely you should be able to both give and receive in sex. If you want a good post about consent and negotiating for mutual enjoyment as part of a long-term sex relationship, I recommend this post on Ashley Easter’s blog.

This particular post is about my personal experience at feeling slightly guilty about being pleasured by my husband, when I wasn’t also giving to him. But you know what, it’s OK to be pleasured.


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:

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

Now I will say that if you’re in a sexual relationship and you’re never 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.  (After all, sex is a shared experience not a commodity/object even though we often talk of it in such terms.)

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