50 Shades of God: The Evangelical Christians into Kinky Sex
Although the religion is well known to require modesty, some evangelicals are starting to wonder why God would have created the prostate if He didn't want us to use it.
Photo by Kelly Knox via Stocksy
According to the sociologist Kelsy Burke, evangelical Christian couples describe their marital beds as "crowded." In addition to husband and wife, there's God, who revels in sexual pleasure for married Christians, and Satan, who attempts to thwart it.
This intimidating audience might explain why, for much of Christian history, the menu of appropriate sex positions has been more akin to that of a burger joint than the Cheesecake Factory. But today, Burke says, some evangelicals have begun to expand their understanding of carnal pleasures, borrowing ideas and concepts from the secular, sex-positive world in pursuit of marital bliss, something supported and encouraged in the Bible.
Christian sex toy shops are leading the way. On sites like Covenant Spice, all orifices are welcome; perhaps most notably, evangelicals have found a way to frame anal play as straight-friendly. For backdoor pleasures, the site sells regal "bendy beads"; an anal chain cutely named "Fun Factory Felix"; and even a sizable prostate massager that vibrates with a specially angled tip.
There's also some cautious but nevertheless evident support for pegging. "Some of the men justify it by saying, 'Well, God wouldn't create this pleasure gland if he didn't want me to use it,'" Burke said. Women, meanwhile, tell themselves that their wardrobe choices transform the act into something more palatably heterosexual. "One woman told me that when she's wearing fishnet stockings, stilettos, and a strap-on, no one is mistaking her for a man."
According to a poll of Christian sex site users that Burke conducted for her recent book, Christians Under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet, more than 35 percent of Christian men rated the idea of being penetrated "somewhat or very appealing," signaling that, at least among a self-selecting group of sexually curious individuals, prostate pleasure isn't totally stigmatized in the religion.
With conservative Christians exploring the joys of anal sex, Burke wonders if they'll always be able to justify straightness as the natural state God intended. "An optimistic reading of evangelicals' sense of permissible sex might suggest that they are on a trajectory toward acceptance of multiple kinds of sexual expressions and identities," Burke said.
I think God likes it when I show off some cleavage and wear red lipstick.
Burke first became interested in how Christians navigate their sexuality when she was in a women's Bible study meeting and overheard a woman express her irritation with the modest dress she was supposed to wear. "She told all of us, 'I think God likes it when I show off some cleavage and wear red lipstick.'" Later at home, Burke Googled "Christian sexy dressing," and was surprised to find a whole genre of non-pornographic websites devoted to Christian sex toys and outfits.
"I was really interested in how their descriptions were neutral and non-sexualized," she said. "The sites were also very explicit about who their intended customers were supposed to be—if you weren't straight or married, it was assumed that you shouldn't even be on their site."
As she dug deeper, she uncovered message boards like Christian Forums and Christian-Marriage-Today, where worried straight men would write in for advice on broaching the topic of being pegged with their wives. (A post from 2008 on Christian Forums is titled "my sinful urge.")
On perhaps one of the most kink-friendly sites, Christian Nymphos, a husband's desire to be pegged by his wife is seen as healthy and normal, not a sign that he's secretly gay. "That is just pure rubbish," an admin named "Cumingirl" writes. "The most basic fact is that men do indeed have a prostate that, when stimulated, can give wonderful sexual feelings and even orgasm."
Cumingirl urges respect for the decent Christian men who like a good prostate massage. "Whether you do or don't engage in this practice, we all need to remember to be respectful to each other and to refrain from judgment, because we each have our own personal convictions and walk with our Heavenly Father," she writes.
Jay Dee*, who runs the website Sex Within Marriage, is similarly nonjudgmental about pegging within a heterosexual relationship, but he worries about sex toys becoming the "focus" of sex, at which point a partner would be "having an affair with the toy, not a healthy relationship." (For similar reasons, he's also against blow-up dolls and realistic vaginas.)
Dee hints that indulging kinks like strap-on sex could prevent embarrassing moral lapses among couples. Sex, he told me, is "extremely important" to a Christian marriage because when spouses are deprived of a sexual relationship, Scripture says they're more likely to fall for temptations outside the marriage. Without it, he says, "Suddenly, a Christian couple, which should be showing how healthy Christian relationships are, turns into a poster child for the hypocrisy of Christianity."
The sanctity of heterosexual marriage continues to be important to evangelicals. According to Pew Research, support for gay marriage among evangelicals has risen in the past five years, from 16 percent to 27 percent, but is still stubbornly far below the 55 percent of adult Americans overall.
George*, who runs the site "Bedroom Blessings," isn't as comfortable as Dee with the idea of pegging. "I don't want to judge people, but I don't sell any anal-type products," he told me. But he, too, stressed the importance of indulging in kinks in order to stay married. "Marriage is a great thing for anyone, but for Christians it's a covenant between us and God. It's just different for us. We have different responsibilities," he said.
God also comes into play during penetration, according to Burke. When being penetrated by a wife, she explains, Christian men are able to maintain their heterosexual masculinity through their strong relationship with God, a presence with a unique ability to know a man's "true" sexuality and gender identity. "This renders even non-normative sex quintessentially heterosexual and gender normal," she writes in her book.
There's something obviously absurd about evangelical Christians obsessing over their hetero identity even when getting pegged. Still, Burke is somewhat optimistic that a movement towards sex positivity within Christianity could challenge the church's idea about what "normal" sexuality looks like. "A guy can be into pegging and a woman is learning how to orgasm on her own. The sexual possibilities are opening up, so it's like, what's next?"