The movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey is now available, and the media frenzy and opinions of bloggers-pundits-and talk show hosts has increased exponentially. Briefly, Fifty Shades of Grey tells the story of a handsome, wealthy, successful businessman who meets and enters into a relationship with a much younger innocent, pure, beautiful, female college literature student. It basically follows the classic protagonist/antagonist story line.
However, in addition to the emerging “romantic” relationship between the main characters, the book describes in graphic, highly-sexualized details things that take place in the “red room of pain”. This is a secret chamber where bondage, domination-discipline, submission-sadism, masochism (BDSM) becomes the main character in the story. The success of this book is epic—Fifty Shades draws its readers into the fantasy world of pseudo-romance, and the amped-up passion that erotica and graphically described sex scenes can stimulate. In a twisted sort of way, a person can read the book or watch the movie and temporarily escape the reality of problems in their own life—including marriage problems, stress, boredom, intimacy, and sexual issues.
God designed men and women to respond emotionally, physically, and chemically to both pain and pleasure. An interesting phenomenon for some people is when they experience pain the chemicals their body releases can provide a temporary high. BDSM proponents describe how they are sexually energized and experience a measure of pleasure when they are: dominated, bound, tied-up, gagged, called names, spanked, pinched, flogged, scratched, bitten—almost anything goes—as long as there is consensual agreement.
After over thirty-eight years of marriage, having children, grandchildren, and counseling couples for decades, we’d like to offer a few thoughts for you to consider as the Fifty Shades discussion continues:
+ God is pro-sex and pro-intimacy. That’s right—God is pro-sex. In fact, He not only created sex, but no one is more “for” a great sex life than God. He was the One who designed men and women as sexual beings with longings, passions, and the ability to experience intense physical pleasure through sexual intimacy and orgasm.
+ Sex is a gift to be freely celebrated and stewarded. The Bible gives Christ followers lots of permissions, but they come with warnings. “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial…”1. Every person has freedom to make choices, and the truth is the Bible does not give specific instructions for every situation or behavior. But remember that decisions have consequences. That’s why we encourage couples to soberly evaluate the potential costs before inviting BDSM—or any form of violence—into their marriage.
+ Sex involves a person’s spirit, soul, and body. Every woman and man is made in the image of God. Sexual activity is more than just physical and impacts a husband and wife’s spirit-soul-body and marriage.
+ Every marriage will experience trouble. The Bible says “those who marry will face troubles”2. Every married couple deals with sexual difficulties at some point in their marriage. But, rather than focusing on Fifty Shades fictional expressions of sex associated with domination and physical violence, we encourage couples to contrast these behaviors with God’s purposes for marriage. In a Christ-centered marriage a man and woman enter into an exclusive life-long one flesh covenant relationship. Together they are created to reflect and reveal the plurality and goodness of the Trinitarian God—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—in whose image and likeness they are made3; they are invited to rule together4; and to reproduce5.
+ Love is foundational in a Christ centered marriage. This includes: “loving God and loving others as you love yourself”6. Husbands and wives are invited to model a type of love the Bible describes as being “patient—kind—does not act unbecomingly—and does not seek its own…”7. In addition, couples are invited to live a Spirit filled life that includes: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”8.
+ Who is the best person to ask for wisdom and guidance? It seems everyone has an opinion about everything these days. And no matter what you say—or position you take—it will offend someone. Before a person or couple makes decisions, we encourage them to begin with I.O.T.L. (inquiring of the Lord) as they invite God into their process. The Bible says; “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking”9. Thankfully God gives wisdom to those who ask10.
The Bible’s counsel can be an invaluable asset in helping a person/couple make decisions. For example, “marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled…”11. Another passage is; “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”12. Furthermore, God is all about freedom, the Bible says; “God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.”13
As a follower of Christ, God the Holy Spirit lives in you—“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you”14. If you believe that, then doesn’t it make sense to invite the Holy Spirit into your discussions and decisions? Are you up for a challenge? The Bible says; “you do not have because you do not ask”15. Pause for a moment … ask the Holy Spirit if bondage, domination-discipline, submission-sadism, masochism (BDSM) is something He wants to be a part of.
+ Does Fifty Shades of Grey have an underlying theme based in misogyny?16 As Christians who align with egalitarian17 principles of functional equality, full inclusion of women, and who reject male privileges—and as a couple who believe in mutuality and co-leadership in marriage–our opinion is when one spouse is dominant and exercises power and control over their spouse in any ways, this violates the fundamental principles of love and mutuality in the one flesh relationship that is exclusive to marriage. Makes us wonder … if it was a “man” who was blindfolded, bound, tied-up, pinched, spanked, manipulated, controlled, and dominated in Fifty Shades of Grey instead of a “woman”—would it generate as much media-hype? Is it difficult for even a casual observer to see the connection between the man’s domination over the woman in Fifty Shades with centuries of misogyny, patriarchy, hierarchy, and male rulership?
We believe public opinions should always align with private values and behaviors. Therefore, we cannot imagine encouraging any of our children, grandchildren, spiritual children, or young couples we counsel to invite BDSM into their lives or marriage. BDSM behaviors that include domination, violence, being tide-up, called names, spanked, pinched, flogged, scratched, bitten, controlled, or pain purposely inflicted on another person do not align with our understanding of God’s design for any relationship—especially marriage. And after working with couples for decades, if these types of behaviors bring excitement and pleasure, there may be deeper issues we’d encourage couples to explore.
+ Might Fifty Shades of Grey be an opportunity for positive change? Statistics suggest, and years of counseling confirm, that a majority of Christian men and an increasing number of Christian women engage with pornographic material that would make Fifty Shades seem mild. Could the discussion and media hype surrounding a book and a film be an opportunity for the church to get serious about training and equipping men and women about God’s design for intimacy and sexuality?
+ Where do we go from here? God created marriage, intimacy, and sexuality and called it very good. Our ongoing prayer is for God to birth a marriage reformation. Rather than experimenting with BDSM, we believe any lasting reformation must involve revisiting marriage in the beginning. Transforming change must begin with Christian leaders as they make it a top priority to teach God’s original co-leadership—mutual equality and mutual authority—marriage design18. Leaders must deal with any shame or uncomfortableness surrounding sensitive sexual issues and teach both children and adults about God’s design for intimacy and sexuality. Married leaders must model healthy marriages, get their own healing, step into their true identity—who God says they are—and encourage couples to reclaim the miracle and mystery of “two becoming one”.
We wonder … wouldn’t it be just like God to use all the Fifty Shades hype to wake up His followers, invite them to return to His original marriage design, and reclaim His amazing description of the first married couple—“and the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed”19.
- 1 Corinthians 6:12
- 1 Corinthians 7:28
- Genesis 1:26
- Genesis 1:26a; 28b
- Genesis 1:28a Reproducing includes biological children, adopting, foster parenting, and spiritual children.
- Matthew 22:37-40
- 1 Corinthians 13
- Galatians 5:22
- Hebrews 12:25
- James 1:5
- Hebrews 13:4
- Philippians 4:8
- Galatians 5:13 (Message)
- 1 Corinthians 6:19; Romans 8:9
- James 4:2b
- Misogyny- “a hatred of women” Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- Egalitarian- “of, relating to, or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities” Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- In our book; “TOGETHER Reclaiming Co-Leadership in Marriage” we explain “co-leadership” in marriage. In the beginning before sin the man and women celebrated mutuality. This included mutual equality—they were both made in the image of God. And mutual authority—they were both given the dominion and procreation mandates (Genesis 1:16-27). In the beginning there was no hierarchy, headship, male leadership, female subordination, or the man designated the wife’s leader or spiritual cover. In the beginning the man and woman were intrinsically and functionally equal.
- Genesis 2:25