BDSM stands for “bondage/discipline/sadism/masochism.” BDSM is sexual activity that uses physical restraints, grants or surrenders physical or psychological control, or inflicts pain in the pursuit of pleasure. The term can refer to the whole subculture that participates in sexual dominance/submission and sadomasochism. People who role-play in a dominant/submissive sexual dynamic, seek to receive or administer pain during sex, or incorporate some type of bondage are engaging in BDSM. The Bible does not mention BDSM, but the practices associated with BDSM are becoming better known—and more accepted—due to the Fifty Shades of Gray books and movies.
The Bible presents marriage as “honorable” and the “marriage bed” as something to keep “pure” (Hebrews 13:4), but it does not restrict what a married couple can do sexually with each other. Adultery (threesomes, swapping, etc.) and pornography are clearly wrong, and the Bible explicitly identifies those things as sinful. Beyond that, as long as a married couple’s sexual practices are God-honoring, exclusive, loving, other-oriented, unifying, and mutually agreed upon, they carry God’s blessing. If a husband and his wife are in full agreement, with neither being forced or coerced, God has given married couples freedom in regards to what takes place in bed. Could this freedom include black leather costumes, non-violent bondage, sex toys, and role-play? There is nothing in the Bible that explicitly restricts the use of such things.
With that said, there are dark aspects to BDSM in which a Christian should have no part. Receiving sexual pleasure through the giving or receiving of pain is not in agreement with what the Bible says about sex. Sex is to be an expression of love, affection, passion, gentleness, selflessness, and commitment. Sex is to be the literal expression of a married couple being “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). To bring pain, degradation, or humiliation into the sexual relationship distorts what it is supposed to be, even when such actions are consensual.
In the BDSM subculture, the “top/bottom dynamic,” or the need to dominate or be dominated, may reveal a psyche in need of redemption. Even if the domination is not sexual, the desire to control or exert power over another person is ungodly. Jesus Christ demonstrated servant leadership, not dominance, in His relationships with others (see John 13), and He died to set us free from sin and its consequences (Luke 4:18; Galatians 5:1). Yearning to dominate—or acquiescing to domination—is spiritually unhealthy. Even if some aspects of BDSM are allowable within the context of marriage, believers must be cautious and discerning and guard their marriages from any corrupting influence.