Is Reconciling Being Gay and Mormon possible?

Introduction

The purpose was to show how a person can be reconciled to being gay and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referenced as the Church), often known as the Mormon Church. However, the more I investigated, both at a personal and professional level, this does not seem possible, excepting a few isolated cases, which I explore.

Self-disclosure

I’ve been a member of the Church for nearly 44 years. This gives me an awareness of the changing history of its approach to LGBTQ matters. This length of membership gives me an understanding of its doctrine, theology and culture. I recognise the potential for bias. Though, these days, I’m not so sure whether this bias is for or against the Church. Whilst researching this, I’ve discovered nothing new, that I was not aware of, regarding their approach to gay matters. Reflecting on personal experience, as well as that of others, bringing everything together has been more painful, hurtful and frustrating than expected. It somewhat took me by surprise, raising the question why had I not seen and connected the dots previously? It also brings the question, why I am still associated with the Church?

The Church

Before examining the possibility of those who are gay being reconciled with the Church, I feel it pertinent to outline the doctrine of the Church with its relevance to gay members. Without doing so, I feel much written here may not make much sense to anyone outside of the Church. Such may also add clarity to how a therapetuic approach may or may not be of value to gay members. In case anyone is wondering, my aim as a therapist is to explore where a client is – lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, nonbinary, straight – not to convince or persuade them to be any particular way. Conversion or reparative therapy is not to be undertaken in any form.

I see four key issues standing in the way of any reconciliation. First, obedience to Church authority. Second, the Church concept of heaven and the after life. Third, the view of what’s needed to qualify to get to the highest degree of heaven. Fourth, Church culture. Fifth, considered causes of people being gay.

Obedience to Authority

At the top is the prophet. From the Church website:

Today, a prophet, acting under the direction of the Lord, leads the Church. This prophet is also the President of the Church. He holds all the authority necessary to direct the Lords work on earth (see D&C 107:65, 91).

If we keep the commandments of the Lord, we shall enjoy the presence of both the Father and the Son, and we shall receive the Fathers kingdom and shall be heirs of God—joint heirs with our elder Brother. O how wonderful, how great the blessings of the Lord to the Latter-day Saints and to all who are willing to go through the waters of baptism and abide by the law and keep the commandments of the Lord!” (Smith, “Keep the Commandments,” 3)”.

Herein lies one main issue. The prophet and other general Church leaders (seen as prophets, seers and revelators) are considered as speaking directly for God. Meaning, if you disagree with things taught by these men you are seen as disagreeing with God.

Heaven

Strictly speaking The Church doesn’t have a concept of heaven and hell. Heaven is multi-tiered. The highest level, known as exaltation, is only for families. Heterosexual families. Men and women, who become Gods themselves, able to create and populate worlds with their own spirit children. Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known Mormon couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.

Qualifying for Heaven

There are many requirements. In particular marriage – only between a woman and a man.

As said, in April 2019, by Russell M. Nelson, the current prophet/president:

…the Savior Himself has made it abundantly clear that while His Resurrection assures that every person who ever lived will indeed be resurrected and live forever, much more is required if we want to have the high privilege of exaltation. Salvation is an individual matter, but exaltation is a family matter.” (my emphasis added).

So, what is required for a family to be exalted forever? We qualify for that privilege by making covenants with God, keeping those covenants, and receiving essential ordinances.

This has been true since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Lehi and Sariah, and all other devoted disciples of Jesus Christ—since the world was created—have made the same covenants with God. They have received the same ordinances that we as members of the Lords restored Church today have made: those covenants that we receive at baptism and in the temple.

In the latest online edition of the Church General Handbook, which leaders refer to for how to exercise their authority, regarding Same-Sex Marriage, it states:

As a doctrinal principle, based on the scriptures, the Church affirms that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creators plan for the eternal destiny of His children. The Church also affirms that Gods law defines marriage as the legal and lawful union between a man and a woman.” (my emphasis added).

Reconciliation?

With the above in mind is reconciliation with the Church, with all it requires and expects, possible for someone who is gay?

I see the answer as no and yes, very much dependent on each individual. Though, what is meant by reconciliation?

One kind of reconciliation, with themselves as being gay, rather than with the Church, is possible. This is my therapeutic experience and that of Church therapists who I have contact with.

From talking to gay friends, there are some who feel they are able to remain an active member of the Church, being content with celibacy. I must admit to not having considered this as a possibility. Years ago, I had my first introduction to Affirmation held in “Gay’s the Word bookshop”, in London. This was after opening hours. At the time I was serving as a bishop of my local congregation. I attended more as an ally, yet to be fully open about being genderqueer. Having connected via Facebook previously, this was the first time I met other gay members in person.

Regarding reconciliation, some felt they were. One person said he was happy to be celibate now during mortality. He considered being gay as being broken, that he would be fixed in the resurrection. While this shocked, saddened and astounded me, they seemed very content. Hearing someone feel this about themselves was hard for me.

Options – are there any?

Apart from the choice described above, reconciliation with being gay and a member of The Church seems not possible, are there any other options?

  1. Stay and deny or suppress being gay
  2. Leave The Church altogether
  3. Find a different congregation that accepts Christianity and being gay

The first two seem valid options, which I will explore below. The third seems possible, though unlikely to be embraced. This needs more study, but my adhoc experience is that people leaving the Church rarely find comfort in other churches, being more likely to reject Christianity, even God altogether.

Staying or Leaving?

Staying

As mentioned some who are gay do stay fully involved in the Church. The questions are under what circumstances, plus for how long. Time will vary with the individual. I’ve heard of and seen people, after coming out to themselves (plus family and others) stay for varying lengths of time – from weeks, months to several years. It seems eventually there becomes a severe disconnect between who they are or how they want to be and what the Church expects of them. If you look at a section of the website the Church has, specially aimed at LGBTQ members, it gives mixed messages. The page for individuals initially is supportive, making it seem that a person who is gay can stay. However, when you reach the section “Does the law of chastity apply to those who experience same-sex attraction?” the difficulties become apparent. The law of chastity is described as:

Abstinence from sexual relations outside of a marriage between a man and a woman according to God’s law. (my emphasis)

Fidelity within marriage.

This would work if all marriages were acceptable. Being that they are not, it imposes a life of celibacy and potential loneliness for those not marrying someone of the opposite sex/gender. It is often posited that the law of chastity is the same for all single people within the Church. I disagree. If you are a single heterosexual person, you can date, hold hands, kiss, cuddle, hug a person of the opposite sex and no one will raise an eyebrow. Do any of that with someone of the same sex or gender and many an eyebrow will be raised, with the added potential of Church discipline. This was made apparent, when recently BYU (a Church owned and run University) updated its “honour code” to remove a section on “homosexual behaviour”:

On Feb. 12, officials posted the update to the honor code on BYUs website. The update deleted a section titled homosexual behavior,” which said in part, Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the honor code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

This removal led to many gay students feeling they were now allowed to date, kiss, cuddle as straights students do. A couple of weeks later BYU clarified this was not the case.

Are there exceptions to the potential loneliness? Perhaps a few. If a person is asexual and/or aromantic, maybe the need for a romantic, intimate, sexual relationship is not as pressing. Conceivably such a person can live their life fully involved as an active member of the Church. This is something to be explored more, to gather data on, as to whether those who stay and are celibate are either asexual and/or aromantic.

Mixed Orientation Marriages (MOMs)

Another exception are Mixed Orientation Marriages (MOMs), where one spouse is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, the other straight. This used to be a recommended option by Church leaders, as a means of “curing homosexuality”. Thankfully, this is no longer recommended. Though, as Church culture often lags behind Church teachings there are still couples who enter into such marriages. Such often get publicised as being successful.

One such couple were Lolly and Josh Weed. Married in 2012. Divorced in 2018. Unfortunately they inadvertently became the poster couple for many, that MOMs worked. Whilst the Church itself did not overtly encourage this, Church culture overtook the situation. In a post, the couple opened with “(And the post in which we sincerely apologize to every member of the LGBTQIA community)”, as they explain why, though still friends, they were no longer able to stay together as a married couple, apologising for giving the impression that a MOM is an acceptable, workable relationship where one is a gay. Due to the publicity this received in Church circles it was saddening and frustrating for me, to see another recent MOM receive much publicity. Skyler and Amanda Sorensen say they are happy in their relationship. The question for me is will this last? Will it end like Josh and Lolly Weed, or continue throughout their lives? No one can know for sure. Are they reducing their chances of greater happiness?

It is disappointing for me, that Dr Ty Mansfield (well know in The Church LGBTQ+ community), a private practice therapist in Utah and adjunct professor at Brigham Young University, quoted in the above linked article, seems to be encouraging MOMs: “Mansfield – who is also attracted to men, but married to a woman – said that between 40 and 60 per cent of his clients were navigating sexual or gender-identity questions”, and added: Whatever path you choose, there are healthy ways and unhealthy ways to navigate that path.”

According to Mansfield, 80 per cent of those in mixed-orientation marriages” said they were generally satisfied, a far greater proportion than those that were single and celibate (42 per cent) or single and not celibate (40 per cent).

This is all very personal. For some a MOM may actually work. But at what cost to mental health, to the overall happiness of the couple?

Studies cited in the article indicate that being in a same-sex marriage or relationship, happiness is far greater than being in a MOM. So while it may be an option for some, I feel it is not appropriate to encourage such marriages. Doing so may encourage others into thinking similar relationships will work for them or members of their family. The consequence being, if things don’t work, it leaves in the wake, broken hearts, along with confused and hurt children. More so than if they had been raised in a same-sex marriage.

Priesthood Roulette

Being gay, wanting to enter into a relationship with another gay person openly, would be seen in conflict of Church teachings. In some congregations this wouldn’t really be an issue, with some congregations being fully accepting. It is the local leadership to be more concerned about. Some operate what might be termed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, letting things be. In another congregation the bishop may feel the need to follow policy to the letter, resulting in the excommunication of those in same-sex marriages/partnerships. 

Leaving

Is it easy to leave the Church? Like a lot of things related to gay matters and the Church, it’s complicated. If someone decides to leave, the question is how. Just stop attending, which seems the easiest. Though it leaves the possibility of other members trying to “reactivate” you, to encourage you back into Church activity. This may be not just annoying, but triggering, if you regularly have someone contacting you, their aim to bring you back. The alternative of removing your name from Church records, is a permanent solution. Doing so can take a lot.

As mentioned in Families Held Hostage

A strong and brave man who is willing to face an enemys bullets often melts and becomes compliant when faced with his mothers tears when she says, “Son we all love you so much, please stay active in the Church, pay your tithing, and go to the temple often so that we can all be together in the celestial kingdom of God. It would break my heart if you were not there with the rest of our family.” This awesome power, a loving mothers pleading and tears, are at the disposal of the Church!

A man or a woman who, … then decides to leave the Church must also be willing to give up his or her family.

A person, for example, working with a therapist using the GRACE model, may come to reconcile that God is okay and accepting of them being Gay. Though, so long as the Church keeps teaching that being actively Gay is against “the covenant path”, there is a deep conflict that you cannot be with your family in the next life.

General Church leaders try to make it seem they are more accepting, by seeming to reduce the type of Church discipline, making it appear on a par with straight relationships, with quotes such as the following:

While Church leaders still consider a same-gender marriage by a member to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline. Instead the immoral conduct in heterosexual and homosexual relationship will be treated in the same way,”

The reality is somewhat different. Because the Church sees the only valid marriage as between a man and a woman, a gay couple, who get married, as mentioned, are dependant on the local leadership as to what will happen discipline wise. It comes down to what colloquially is known as “priesthood roulette”. Whilst the same handbook is given to all bishops, each will interpret it differently. An older leader is more likely to adhere to procedures that were applied in past years, whereas younger bishops are more likely to be more lenient in administration of discipline, in many cases just ignoring any knowledge they may have of a married gay couple in their congregation.

The GRACE model

This has been an appropriate, effective model for assisting reconciling a person of faith with being gay. Yet, within a fundamentalist faith I argue reconciliation with the GRACE model cannot work. I acknowledge that many members of the Church will not agree with the description of it being fundamentalist.

Consent and Agency

Part of the concern I have is around consent. There are a few gay people who join the Church. One such is Jacob R. His story was published in the August 2020 Ensign, a world-wide Church magazine. My concern here is this pushes people to be celibate. There is not space here to details my concerns, but I wrote a blog doing so. Such an article can, and no doubt will, be weaponised. It’ll be sent to families with gay children, telling them not to worry, their son or daughter just needs to be celibate and everything will be okay. Similarly it’ll, no doubt, be sent direct to a gay person, telling them they just need to be celibate!! All followed by “See this guy called Jacob Rin the Ensign did it!!

Was Jacob exercising his consent? I feel that is debatable, as in his words:

After I gained that testimony, I asked to be baptized. The missionaries asked me, Are you willing to endure to the end and keep the commandments?”

I said yes, even though at the time I didnt fully understand everything that question entailed.” (my emphasis)

Saying yes, though he “didnt fully understand everything…entailed”. Something that frequently happens. Happened to me. Especially for children baptised aged eight. How can they really understand all that will be required throughout their life? There’s something about full consent missing in such decision making.

Being consensual is not just saying yes. It must be an informed yes. All parties being fully aware of everything that they are agreeing to do. As much as it may be claimed, this is not the case when joining the Church. When children are baptised, at age eight, there is no way there will understand all that would eventually be expected of them. Plus, it is doubtful many at that age will be aware of their gender or sexuality.  A few may. So if, at whatever age – child, youth or adult – someone begins to realise they are gay, a choice needs to be made.  Deny part of themselves and stay, facing a continual struggle. Or leave the Church.

The Future – Changing Approaches?

Over the years Church doctrine, theology, approach and policy toward being gay has changed. Or perhaps developed. Many members will deny this. They may admit to a “policy” change but not a doctrine. For the individual person this has little difference to how it affects their life. The evolving of these teachings has come as science, psychology and society progressed in their approach to the gay community. 

The changes have primarily been what caused a person to be gay, plus whether and how a gay person can be cured, to become straight. I quote Taylor G. Petrey, in his Tabernacles of Clay (p. 2). The University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition:

Rather than holding to a monolithic traditional” view, Mormonism has been beset by competing theories of sexual difference over the past several decades. … On the one hand, Mormon leaders have embraced the ideals of gender essentialism—the belief that there are fixed differences between male and female, which represent the natural and divine order of sexual difference. On the other hand, Mormon leaders have often taught that the differences between male and female are malleable and contingent, and so they must be guarded with strict social, ecclesiastical, and legal norms and sanctions.

As an example of change over the years, in 1954, Apostle Mark E. Peterson said the following regarding black members of the Church. I acknowledge the next few paragraphs will likely be offensive, but feel are needed to make a point:

Petersen complained that those who did not understand the LDS churchs religious teachings were unfairly accusing it of bigotry. He insisted that one should behave with respect, generosity, and kindness toward the Negro,” including support for certain legal and social protections.” (my emphasis)

This was said at a time when the Priesthood and Temple blessing were denied to black members of the Church. In June 1978, this “doctrine”, “teaching” or “policy”, however you may refer to it, was changed so there was no longer any such restrictions. This was welcomed by many, if not most, members of the Church. There was however sufficient complaining, that the un-reversible was being reversed, that in August 1978 (12th paragraph) Apostle Bruce R. McConkie felt to make the following statement to try to calm things:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. . . . They dont matter any more. . . . It doesnt make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.

On the current home page for the Church’s LGBTQ+ website it says something very similar, to the words, quoted above, of Apostle Mark E. Peterson, in 1954:

Kindness, Inclusion, and Respect for All of Gods Children” (my emphasis)

Similarly on the leadership page, Apostle Quentin L. Cook, says:

But let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those. And lets not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. I feel very strongly about this, as you can tell. I think its a very important principle.

Many members will say same-sex marriage will never be accepted. It was said that black members would never get the Priesthood or temple blessings. I hope that one day the Church will again, reverse the un-reversible, embracing same-sex marriage, allowing such marriages to be performed in their chapels, by their bishops. 

Perhaps one day the Church will find the empathy that Meg-John Barker in quoting Gayle Rubin (1984), in their book, Rewriting the Rules (p. 102), speaks of regarding sexuality, to which I add gender:

Most people find it difficult to grasp that whatever they like to do sexually will be thoroughly repulsive to someone else, and that whatever repels them sexually will be the most treasured delight of someone, somewhere… Most people mistake their sexual preferences for a universal system that will or should work for everyone.

Concluding Thoughts

Over time society in general has become more accepting of people who are gay. A fundamentalist religion, such as the Church, in its approach to the gay community seems stuck in the 1950s, making it extremely difficult for a young person questioning their gender and sexuality to accept themselves, acknowledging their gender and sexuality as being different to most of the congregation and community they live amongst. Some may say they have a choice to leave, but that is never as easily done as said. It is as if their lives are held non-consensually hostage.

Some things maybe we can never really know. Yet, coming to know and accept ourselves can bring an inner calm and serenity that allows us to be more at peace with the unknown. Perhaps the Church will change. Perhaps it will not. Finding internal peace, in not knowing whether or not that change will happen, can save lives. 

Whatever the Church may say that eternity will be, does it really matter? Isn’t eternity right now? Today, being part of tomorrow and yesterday. Isn’t it better to wonder and just be living, rather than be perplexed or in a sorrowful about the future? Being in the present moment, just living now.

Surely suffering for the sake of suffering is not correct, worthwhile or helpful.

Thoughts on BDsM / Kink – quite normal really…

In their book Rewriting the Rules, Meg-John Barker quotes Gayle Rubin (1984):

Most people find it difficult to grasp that whatever they like to do sexually will be thoroughly repulsive to someone else, and that whatever repels them sexually will be the most treasured delight of someone, somewhere… Most people mistake their sexual preferences for a universal system that will or should work for everyone.

What it’s not

Before continuing, it will be probably be helpful to dispel a couple of myths and misconceptions about BDsM/Kink.

Many will have heard about, if not read, or seen, the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. Here we have Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey entering into what we are led to believe is a BDsM relationship. It is not. It is an abusive relationship. Consent is missing. There is no full consent between the two.

Also, BDsM is not psychopathological. It’s normal. It’s okay. It may not be your “normal”. You may not be “okay” with it. And that’s fine for you, so long as you don’t impose those thoughts and ideas on to others. Reread the opening quote, from Gayle Rubin, if you’re in any doubt about this.

Introduction

BDsM is a term which covers a wide range of behaviours, generally involving the use and exchange of power in an eroticised relationship. Informed Consent (www.informedconsent.co.uk), the leading website about BDsM in the UK, defines BDsM as ‘a catch-all phrase’. I use ‘BDsM participant’ or ‘SMer’ to describe those who identify with BDsM as a lifestyle or as an activity, and ‘kink’ and ‘kinky’ to describe both BDsM practices and practitioners.

BDsM – Bondage and Discipline (B/D), Domination and Submission (D/s) and Sadism and Masochism (S/M) – is a term used to describe a range of practices or a lifestyle that is characterised by the consensual exchange of power, role play and often intense sensory stimulation (or deprivation). It is a kind of umbrella term for forms of sexuality that include restraint, pressure, sensation, and elements of power exchange between people.

“Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors” so also in BDsM. It should though be noted that not all BDsM/Kink is sexually based. Some practices / scenes do not engage in sex at all.

The body is involved in the physical aspects, as are the emotions with relationships. For some, participation brings greater sexual desire, as interplay of relationships are managed, along with power and control. Amongst everything communication skills are vital. BDsM/Kink can also help in recovering from shame, which is where the brain comes in. Plus the mind can be caught up with the challenge BDsM/Kink brings to social, cultural and religious beliefs, sexual preferences, desires, attractions, tastes, along with the impact of societal censure, not being seen as a “normal” pastime.

A distinction can be made between the sexual and the erotic. There are many practices and activities that are not sexual, though may be experienced as highly erotic. An example, being restrained and put on display need not involve anyone’s genitals or any actual bodily contact, but can result in an intensely pleasurable and exciting experience. For those who do engage sexually with BDsM/Kink, the following quote on sexual health is relevant:

Sexual health: “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

In 2005, Margie Nichols wrote, “in many ways the BDSM community of the early 21st century resembles the gay community of the 1970s, and individuals who struggle with BDSM desires experience a similar internalized shame about their sexuality” (2005, p. 292). Similarly, the limited research done, as that of early LGBTQ research, has been based on single troubled individuals in a specific situation, unrelated to being LGBTQ, that are then, unfortunately, applied across the board.

Although recently de-pathologised in the DSM V, and is now viewed less critically in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) ICD-11, BDsM/Kink continued to be pathologised in the WHO’s ICD-10, so unfortunately myths still continue concerning the BDsM/Kink practice/lifestyle within society and even parts of the therapy community, as it can take a while for new approaches to be accepted. Here I hope to further break down some of the myths.

Much of society and culture sees the world in a binary way. Right and wrong. Good and bad. Female and male. Likewise gender and sex can fall into this viewpoint. So that many see BDsM/Kink as wrong, as being bad. Questions come as to who decides this? However, if we can move away from a binary view, towards a much less restrictive view of human sexuality, we are more able to embrace a diversity of the sexual and erotic. It is my hope readers will gain encouragement toward reflecting and exploring their own belief systems around BDsM. I examine some of the BDsM and kink practices and consider the meanings these may have for people. I concentrate more on the principles, than the specific practices. Before getting into what BDsM/Kink is about, I want to clarify guiding principles that underpin BDsM/Kink.

Safe, Sane and Consensual


Safe, Sane and Consensual – title of a wonderful book, also a crucial strap line for the values of BDsM and kink. I look at each separately, though like a lot of things when looked at individually something is often lost, as they overlap considerably. As well as values and actions being focused on behaving in ways that are “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” (SSC), an alternate phrase is “Risk-Aware Consensual Kink” (RACK) and more recently, “Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution” (4Cs).

Safe

This is about the safety of all involved. Physical safety. Emotional safety. Psychological safety.

Some may wonder about safety, when aspects of BDsM/Kink can be about pain. The type and degree of any pain is though consensual. It is sought after, rather than being imposed on someone. I recognise that may seem bizarre to anyone not familiar with BDsM/Kink. Some may also worry, not only about pain, but about bondage or restrictions on breathing, breath play and asphyxia.

Safety though is a relative concept, as even what is termed, vanilla sex carries risks. Penises can get damaged through vigorous thrusting and then ‘snapping’ if one hits the pubic bone rather than entering the vagina, resulting in Peyronies, and people often have injuries from falling over or off the bed, or bruised throats or tired jaw muscles from vigorous oral sex. Any sex poses risk.

People need to consider risks and consent. Which is perhaps why SSC has fallen out of favour for some, with more people talking now about RACK or 4Cs.

As mentioned, BDsM/Kink is not necessarily sexual. Sometimes it can be about power. Though not power over, in the way power is often viewed, as that would be abusive. Whilst from the outside BDsM/Kink may be thought of and viewed as abusive, the BDsM/Kink community are very keen to protect participants from any kind of abuse. BDsM/Kink is where one participant submits willingly to another. They are not submitting because another wants them to, but rather because they wish to be submissive (often referred to as being a submissive or slave), having sought someone who is willing to dominate (often referred to as being a Dominant or Master) them for a specific activity and time period, commonly known as a scene, wherein a particular type of “play” occurs. Power is exchanged. The submissive hands over some control and yet can take it back at any time. Trust is crucial here. Safe words are crucial in this.

A submissive needs to be careful when choosing a BDsM Dominant. They need to be sufficiently educated, trained and aware to notice if a submissive has some unresolved trauma that may be behind the desire to be dominated or be caused pain. They would then not start the scene, signposting the person to an understanding counsellor / therapist. If this does not happen then the possibility of abuse is present. There are though times where abuse survivors find BDsM/Kink extremely helpful in processing their emotions. An example shown later.

A Dominant should not be out to inflict pain on others for their own satisfaction, more as a service, only as wanted, having deep concern present for their submissive, there being what might be termed genuine or perhaps great empathy and compassion between all participants.

Whilst you may not see any pleasure in pain being administered to yourself, it is certain, that for some there is pleasure, even ecstasy from receiving pain. It should be noted that because a person delights in pain received in a DBsM scene does not mean they appreciate all types of pain. Like many the pain often experienced having a root filling at the dentist is not enjoyed!!

Three quotes from submissive practitioners, show differing perspectives on the pain received:

I use the word ‘intense sensation,’ it’s more than pain, it’s the energy in the sensations. It has always been an amazing spiritual connection with myself, blissful. It’s beyond pain. There is a ritualistic aspect which is very spiritually charged. (Interview, slave L, 2016)

The pain is there, but, within a short time it morphs into an embodied meditation. But it is not like a mental meditation, it’s both out of and in the body. I am flying, free, ecstatic, but fully in the body. (Interview, slave C, 2014)

I came across an online group who called themselves ‘The healthy self-masochist.’ Seeing the spin on the use of words healthy with masochism gave me an insight to affirming my experiences in a positive way. I was able to affirm for myself, yes I enjoy these things, these things come from a healthy place. (Interview, slave L, 2016)

A comparison, that works for some people, is the marathon runner. There comes a point in the running, breaking through an initial pain barrier, when things can start to turn blissful.

Abuse Prevention

To Check against possible abuse there are questionnaires to aid in this, such as the Shahbaz-Chirinos Healthy BDSM Checklist, where there is a set of questions that can be used to help determine if abuse is present. BDsM and abuse are not the same. It is unfortunate that books and films such as the “Fifty Shades” series imply that it was Christian Grey’s youthful abuse that contributed to his desire to be a BDsM Dominant, which he doesn’t do well at.

It can be difficult to detect when BDsM is being used in an abusive fashion, particularly if the activities involved are ones that ‘squick’ a therapist.” This being where another person feels discomfort from hearing about another’s pleasure. This is why it’s helpful to see a BDsM/ kink aware therapist.

Two sayings:

  • Don’t Yuk someone else’s Yum
  • Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is ok”.

Part of staying safe is being aware of the equipment being used. Is it in good condition? Is it well designed and constructed to fulfill its purpose? Also, an awareness of surroundings. Is anything likely to get in the way? Plus, an avoidance of alcohol and drugs that would inhibit a person’s awareness of everything. This applies to both the Dominant, so they are in control of themselves and the submissive so they know if things do go too far for them, so they can appropriately use the agreed safe words.

Sane

This is where fantasy and reality are kept separate. People ideally will not confuse any exercise of power exchange negotiated within a BDsM/Kink relationship outside of that context. Part of recognition of this difference is what can make a play scene transformative. This may not work for everyone. Quoting from Safe, Sane and Consensual, to show the possibilities of BDsM:

We can script a scene so we get to be child, parent, brat, hero, bully, betrayer, cops, criminals, prisoners, interrogators, priests – the possibilities are endless. We can also get to feel a particular emotion: rage, pathos, grief, shame, cunning, predatory, helpless, hapless, omnipotent. A friend of mine once set up a scene with four gay men she knew. She asked them to tie her firmly to a padded table so she could struggle as hard as she could while they flogged her and shouted every insult they could think of that men have shouted to women – cunt, bitch, on the rag and so on. What she wanted to experience fully was her rage, and so she did, screaming and struggling, yelling back, a burning ball of fury safely tied to the safely padded table. They played it through till they were all exhausted, and my friend felt she had accomplished her purpose to completely express her rage at the sexism she had been subjected to all her life. Note that she specifically chose gay men as her tormentors – hetrosexual men might have been a little too threatening.”

“Sagarin and his associates (2009) also reported findings that BDSM practices contribute to health benefits related to stress management, evidenced in decreased cortisol levels. They suggest the “flow” described by BDSM practitioners is similar psychobiologically to the “high” described by athletes and spiritual “peaks” meditators experience. In attempts to further explain these results, Sagarin and his team propose that BDSM may be transformative.”

Consensual

People talk about consent being a crucial part in all relationships. However, within BDsM it is treated with a level of seriousness and detail not always present in many other places.

If consent is not present, it’s not BDsM, it’s abuse. Without full consensual understanding, by all participants in a scene, it’s either abuse of another or self-abuse.

On her Sexplanations YouTube channel, Dr Lindsay Doe interviews Midori regarding sexual negotiations that take place within BDsM/Kink relationships. See the video below. A 17 minute introduction on the topic, outlining communication skills applicable in all sexual relationships.

Another help towards consent is the Yes-No-Maybe list. The link opens a four page PDF of things to consider. This list is specifically for BDsM/Kink.

Mentioned here, Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent website is another wonderful place to learn about and further develop ways of consent in relationships.

For some BDsM/Kink practitioners this discussion of consent is very arousing, along with anticipation of what’s to come. Compared to, what might be termed regular sexual consent, which is often a yes or no to having sex in general, without much specifics, Kink consent is vastly different. As portrayed in the video above, not only what is going to happen is talked about, there is also the how, where, when, plus length of time.

Take flogging, for example. What type of whip. Soft, gentle, hard strokes. Where, as in which part of the body, buttocks, back, front. When, as in the first part of the scene or later. Length of time, 1 minute, 2 minutes, longer or perhaps how many strokes. Also, there are safe words chosen, which when used the Dominant will immediately slow down or stop whatever they are doing. Often yellow and red.

Such discussions are had about every aspect of a play scene, continuing throughout. If they are not then I’d have concern as to whether the participants are experienced or trained enough. If a client mentioned not having such consensual discussion prior and during a scene I’d offer a caution toward looking for a different Dominant or submissive or getting further BDsM/Kink education.

After care

Following a scene after care is crucial, for both the submissive and the Dominant. Physical care may be needed. Also emotional and psychological support. Perhaps just a hug is needed. Sometimes greater support is required. Water, food are helpful.

Kink – what exactly happens?

Here are a couple of non graphic SFW (Safe For Work) introductions. A 5 minute 44 seconds video, BDSM 101 by lacigreen, interviewing and displaying some BDSM/Kink equipment.

And a slightly longer, 17 minute 38 seconds video from Dr Lindsay Doe, with Amp from Watts The Safeword:

Counselling/Therapy

Many studies suggest that counsellors who have negative misconceptions about people involved or interested in BDsM/kink, are largely unfamiliar with key research findings on BDsM/kink relationships and practices, plus there can also be a lack of basic clinical skills needed to provide adequate care for people involved or interested in BDsM/kink. Unfortunately this can result in unethical clinical practices and ineffective or harmful therapeutic outcomes.

In an article Y. Gavriel Ansara identified five essential clinical skills for trauma psychotherapy with people interested or involved in BDsM/kink:

  1. understanding and identifying BDsM/kink relational roles and headspaces
  2. distinguishing BDsM/kink from abuse
  3. understanding and identifying key components of non-abusive BDsM/kink relationships
  4. determining the clinical salience of BDsM/kink
  5. and identifying and managing freefall

There isn’t space here to detail this. If your interest is sparked here’s the article.

When someone comes to see a counsellor regarding BDsM/Kink one thing to determine is are they BDsM/Kink aware or perhaps a practitioner themselves.

As a client are you the partner of someone involved in or who wishes to be involved in BDsM/Kink. Are they hoping you’ll perform some kind of reparative therapy for the partner who wants to or is engaged in BDSM/Kink? We, of course, do not engage in reparative therapy.

The book When Someone you Love is Kinky can be helpful in helping the partners to understand each other more.

Something to take into the counselling room, is that if a client/s comes to see us regarding their experiences with BDsM/Kink, we must not make assumptions about their motivation or be dismissive and try to “fix” them, by implying that what they may have experienced or desire is wrong. We do though need to be thoroughly aware of the possibility of abuse and check that is not occurring. See above for a checklist to assist in this.

As counsellors/therapists we need to decide early on if a client comes to us about some aspect of BDsM, do we or do we not feel able to work directly with the BDSM/Kink community? If not we need to be aware of counsellors who are experienced working with the BDsM community who we can signpost a client to.

Communities and finding one

The sites below are BDsM/Kink communities, some in the UK, others elsewhere. They are NSFW (Not Safe For Work). There are also educational and enlightening.

If you want to get invloved in BDsM / Kink take your time. Maybe see a BDsM / kink aware therapist, to explore your whys and wherefores. If looking for a Dominant here are a couple of articles to help – How Do I Find a Dominant? and How Do I Find a Dominant Partner (in a Nice Way)?

Conclusion

BDsM/Kink is hugely complex. This blog post is but an introduction. If this has sparked an interest in any aspect of BDsM/Kink, or you feel a personal desire to be involved, I’d recommend further study. The books listed in the references will be helpful, plus courses, such as those from Pink Therapy. Don’t rush. Take your time. Enjoy yourself 😊

References:

  • Rewriting the Rules, Meg-John Barker, Routledge; 2 edition; Mar. 2018
  • Becoming a Kink Aware Therapist, by Caroline Shahbaz and Peter Chirinos, Routledge; Oct. 2016
  • Life Isn’t Binary, Meg-John Barker and Alex iantaffi, Jessica Kingsley Publishers; Mar. 2020
  • Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism, D. Langdridge (Editor), Meg Barker (Series Editor), Palgrave Macmillan; 2007
  • Williams et al., 2014
  • squick – combination of the words ‘squeamish’ and ‘icky’.
  • Margie Nichols, 2005
  • https://pinktherapy.org/product/bdsm-kink/
  • Life Isn’t Binary, Meg-John Barker and Alex iantaffi, Jessica Kingsley Publishers; Mar. 2020
  • Sexual Outsiders: Understanding BDSM Sexualities and Communities, David M. Ortmann and Richard A. Sprott, Rowman & Littlefield; 2013
  • Trauma psychotherapy with people involved in BDSM/kink: Five common misconceptions and five essential clinical skills, Y. Gavriel Ansara, PhD Psychol, MSc Soc Psychol, MCouns, BA Intl & Cross-Cultural Health with African Studies, Dip Adv Clin Family Therapy, CCTP-II, CFTP, Ansara Psychotherapy & Imanadari Counselling Melbourne Branch;
  • When Someone you Love is Kinky, Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt, Greenery Press; 2000

Diploma in Psychosexual therapy

Recently completed a diploma in Integrative Psychosexual therapy, further enabling me to work with clients’ psychosexual health issues, doing so in an integrative, holistic way, appreciative of diverse sexualities.

On Saturday, 14th June this year, completed a diploma in Integrative Psychosexual therapy at The Centre for Psychosexual Health. For me, a wonderful two years of learning and development. This has further enabled me to work with clients’ psychosexual health issues, doing so in an integrative, holistic way, appreciative of diverse sexualities.

The diploma espoused a new model for the understanding of human sexuality and psychosexual health which encompasses the body, mind, brain and heart, as well as the social and cultural environment.

Over the two years we explored clients sexual issues in terms of their therapeutic meaning and potential, rather than as ‘dysfunction’. It included sexual education, information and self help tools.

It included supporting clients within a therapeutic relationship to rediscover themselves sexually and to develop a more conscious sexual self-esteem.

If you have concerns about any aspect of sex or sexuality either for yourself or within any relationship please get in contact.

Two out of three ain’t bad? Isn’t it?

I find it interesting how my mind link things that remind me of experiences had. The other day I was thinking, I now have two out of three main Apple products – an iPod, plus an MacBook Air. Will the iPhone come later, completing the set? This led me to the song by Meat Loaf, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”. This led me to an occasion where a friend likened this song to a relationship he had with a girlfriend.

Back in the early 1990s I was working as a computer operator in Glasgow for an oil company. For several night shifts this friend would talk to me while I listened, as he laid out his confused feelings for this lady. He said he felt his relationship with her was like the song, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”. Not sure why he choose me to talk to so openly, being quite vulnerable. Perhaps knowing I was near completing an OU degree in psychology was a prompt? He later expressed appreciation for the time spent sharing. This experience, along with coming to the end of the degree in psychology was one of several that led me evetually to further train and work as counsellor/therapist, as I am today. So thanks to that friend.

The song is below for anyone who may not have ever heard it. Or perhaps you may want to listen again 😎.

iPods and therapy sessions

With the recent lockdown due to the Coronavirus all my counselling sessions are currently online using Zoom. I’ve been using my iPad with a pair of headphones. All works well. Though recently purchased a pair of iPods, to use in counselling/therapy sessions instead of the headphones. I am amazed at the difference they make. The quality of sound is wonderful. So much clearer, plus with the noise cancellation on there are no distractions. It feels more like being in a room with a client.