Sinful or Saintly? Christians Navigate Sex Online

By Krissy Eliot

One might not think the subject of kink figures much into Christian intercourse (verbal or otherwise). But apparently, evangelical marriage is actually “spicy,” and that’s “the way God intended it to be.” Or at least, that’s what some are preaching as gospel on Christian sex websites, information hubs and support groups for “Jesus-is-love”-makers who want keep their freaky sex nice ‘n holy.

“A lot of Christian couples have triangular relationships,” said Kelsy Burke, author of Christians Under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet and assistant sociology professor at University of Nebraska–Lincoln, in her recent talk at UC Berkeley. The husband and wife each has his and her place in the bedroom, she explains, and then there’s God—hanging around in his corner of the love triangle, watching over them.

Evangelicals read and interact on these websites with the goal of reclaiming sexual pleasure as something that God would encourage and be down for, says Burke, who analyzed the content of 12 websites (around 15,000 comments), 12 books, 768 online survey respondents, and three Christian sexuality conferences. She also conducted interviews with 50 Christian sex website creators and users.

The sites she studied have hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors with a range of fantasies that may or may not be explicitly addressed in the Bible. Users like to confirm with their community that their desires are God-approved, and these sites assure readers that they’re not picking up information from the sinful. You know, like demons. Or liberal Californians.

“There’s an endless supply of information about sex on the Internet, but most of that information is filled with vulgar language, images/video, and unethical practices,” reads the about page of MarriageBed.com, a site that describes how evangelicals can get it on in a “moral way” that’s “Christian-friendly” and “marriage-centered.”

And from the evangelical perspective, you really wouldn’t want to be having Christian-unfriendly sex. As Hebrews 13:4 says: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

The sticky issue here is that the definition of sexual immorality isn’t hard and fast, as evidenced in Burke’s survey analyses. Of those she surveyed, 64 percent say porn is wrong within marriage, 88 percent say homosexual is always wrong, and 78 percent say unmarried sex is always wrong. When it comes to oral, 96 percent say it’s not at all wrong, 88 percent are game for vibrators, and 57 percent are pro-anal. Masturbation is a touchy subject, with only 25 percent saying it isn’t at all wrong, and the majority saying it is wrong only sometimes.

Despite fluctuating opinions, general consensuses emerge. Conservative Protestant evangelicals make up about 25 percent of the U.S. population, and the general beliefs they share include repentance, salvation through Jesus Christ, and Biblical inerrancy, says Burke. For them, sex should be respectful, loving… and pretty damn hetero. As is stated by Focus on The Family, a global Christian ministry: “Her parts and his parts each have their own order and function.” In others words: Ps go into Vs.

Anything a man desires that even tips into the realm of the “gay” or “feminine” is met with trepidation if not downright condemnation. 

In her talk, Burke cited a quote from a website user about pegging, the act of a woman penetrating a man with a strap-on: “It would seem a potential danger for a man to take on a receptive role,” the user wrote. “One which would be contrary to the parameters of which God created men to inhabit.”

This perspective comes from what Burke calls gender omniscience, “the knowledge of one’s ‘true’ gender that is based on the triangulated relationship between the self, spouse, and God, in order to prove one’s gender normalcy.”

So basically, a man being dominated by a woman could endanger the established patriarchal order of things. Oh, no! Plus, some think that a man who is interested in such activities might be interested in sex with an actual penis, an act often labeled as un-Christian by most if not all of the sects of Christianity represented in Burke’s study.

“Generally, people were weary of practices like pegging just because it does challenge the general order, but people who were interested in it felt confident that it was something that they wanted as part of their marriages,” Burke says. “They would come to the site and they’d want validation, but they would almost demand the validation, like, ‘Who are you to say that this is sinful because I’m praying to God about it. My wife is on it and totally supportive, so isn’t this a good thing?’”

Burke says that website users are less likely to automatically condemn questionable behaviors that are defended and supported by both spouses. “Why assume a straight man having sex with his straight wife is doing something gay?” one user writes.

Religion maintains markers of heterosexuality, like marriage and gender normativity, when other attributes fail, says Burke.

Potentially feminine or gay proclivities are often considered okay, Burke says, if the DW (dear wife) affirms the DH’s (dear husband’s) masculinity, e.g. “My DH [dear husband] is 100% man throughout, but he loves when I peg him.”

A wife’s affirmation functions like the “no-homo” postface— when (often homophobic) guys follow statements that may be perceived as gay, like “His ass is mine” or “I like the way your chest fills out that tank,” with the phrase, “No homo”—a statement meant to assure listeners that he’s straight as an arrow.   

“My DW [dear wife] knows that what I wanted was my prostate massaged,” writes one user. “And that had NOTHING to do with being homosexual.” 

In general, Burke says, men seem to be the ones who are more interested in how to incorporate kink, whereas women just want to figure out how to orgasm, which doesn’t always pan out.

“[Users] would not generally be supportive if somebody came to the site to disclose an interest in kinky sex and made that sound deceptive or devious in some way.”

“Women, even though a lot of them talked about how to orgasm, also tried to figure out how they could have pleasure in ways other than just through orgasm. If they weren’t able to achieve orgasm, in some ways having conversations on these websites helped them re-frame what sex was all about, so they tried to find purpose in it and pleasure in it in other ways.” Burke says. “They would talk about the closeness with their husband, or maybe they could get a back rub before or after and that would be a physical and sensual process that could make them feel better.”

Communication between partners seems to be one of the most important pillars of matrimonial purity.

For instance, some men express interest in erotic cross-dressing, mostly wearing their wives’ underwear, says Burke, and if they’re doing that in private, it’s considered a red flag—and users tell them they need to tell their wives about it or stop all together.

“[Users] would not generally be supportive if somebody came to the site to disclose an interest in kinky sex and made that sound deceptive or devious in some way,” Burke says. “Like if a guy wanted to do something that he wasn’t telling his wife about, and was thinking about it in private, not including it in his marital relationship—then people would almost always respond with, ‘Oh yeah, you’ve gotta stop that. You’ve gotta be open with your wife; you can’t do that.’”

Even though these sites indicate that Christians are becoming more liberal with what’s permissible in the bedroom, it’s hardly a free-for-all, says Burke. They have to “deal with 2,000 years of history that they just can’t pretend doesn’t exist,” and even if they challenge old ideas, they have to provide explanations grounded in Biblical teachings for why certain sex acts are okay.

“Change happens, but it’s not just a change for whatever any individual person deems to be sexually desirable,” says Burke. “I think that we still see these boundaries sort of expanding in some ways, becoming a little bit blurrier as the world becomes more sexually diverse and people are more open in talking about that.”

As evidenced by Burke’s research, these sites have gradations of openness to sexual variety and can only really function as loose guides for evangelical couples. Ultimately, Christians hope that God herself will reveal what kinks are kosher.

“They really see God as this friend, this person who is always present, always able to talk to them,” Burke says. “If Christian couples are having sex out of God’s design, they believe they’ll be able to sense it.”

But sometimes this sense doesn’t tingle as much as their loins, and that’s where the web comes in. God bless the Internet.

Share this article:
Google+ Reddit

Add new comment