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Catholicism and Kink
Part 1: Case Studies
Eros studies are part educational series, part munch, part oral history but mainly a series of mostly horizontal conversations that invite collective exploration into the realms of ecology, sexuality, kink, and BDSM. They’re a new form that I’m still learning and developing, but it’s been quite sweet to experiment with something new alongside other friends, artists, and folks that inspire me.
The second / most recent iteration of eros studies was led by Gabriella Garcia and was on Catholicism and Kink. Gabriella took us into the land of perverted religion systems and erotic reconfiguration through the format of an experimental sermon that has still been replaying in my mind in the best way.
Honestly, the hardest part of leaving NYC for the rest of the summer was putting this series on pause after gathering momentum, but I’ve found that being away has given me the space to go a bit deeper into some of the ideas and themes that intrigue me. As such, I wanted to offer up a first introduction into the webs of religious eroticism with this orientation towards catholicism and kink. There will be more to come, but to begin:
It is important to clarify a few things. Namely that in the Christian and Catholic church, practices of discipline, obedience, and power dynamics have often been matters of abuse. Thinking of the late Sinnead O’Conner who so courageously called out the abuse through multiple forms of public protesting and all the many other people who have come forward to out the many abusers in the church since the 90s.
Religion has become a tool of the state. Additionally, the home and often the school and our educational environments have become an extension of the state. With the logic of the state, the noble “heads” of these households have the “responsibility,” of interpreting both the laws of the state and that of the church (and by extension the desires of God) in order to raise good productive religious citizens.
This extension of the religion domain into every avenue of our lives has had consequences. Many of us are healing from religious trauma because we were inducted into systems and forced to correspond to its manipulative interpretations. This is not to say that religion as individuals practice it are 100% of the time coercive, but it is to say that when religions like Catholicism and Christianity have become core tools of domination within large systems that govern every aspect of our lives, its interpretation very quickly can be founded upon dynamics of coercion and lack of consent. How could you question a disciplinary figure if they are in direct correspondence with God or carrying out his desires?
And even if your family was not Catholic or Christian, the influence of the church still runs deeps and guides so much of the ideology of morality and law here in the US. I wonder how this influence finds its way into the deep underbelly of a collective unconscious. I wonder how we have come to digest and compost systems and all that needs to shift, all of which makes it an interesting case study to see if and how it shows up within the realm of the erotic.
BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism) differs fundamentally from the abuse and violence of the church. Namely, because it is consensual orientation towards eroticism and therefore life. There are long legacies of consent practices (clear agreements, safe words, check ins, after care) that have been shared amongst those within community to allow for people to be able to move towards the depths of our desires with an awareness of risk and capacity to increase safety. Which doesn’t mean that harm and abuse do not happen within community, but more so that consent is a fundamental part of the framework, which provides clear checkpoints into understanding when a scene and experience is out of bounds.
The movement of power exchange within BDSM is also fundamentally different. When playing with power exchange in BDSM, we are establishing an agreement and exchanging from individual(s) to individual(s).
The movement of power from a system (ie the church + the state) towards an individual is vastly uneven, even in so called democratic government structures. We do not have assess to the same types of consent and agreement making structures. The state does not provide after-care, safe words, or check-ins. It does not provide love or true care. Maybe the church provides access to care, but in my experience it is complicated in its conditionality. You are access to care is predicated on your ability to be disciplined and follow clear moral channels. Sometimes I wonder though if all care as it is currently practiced, is conditional? I’m not sure.
A Convent School Spanking
Welcome to our first case study. Now we are moving into the realms of Catholicism and Kink. This is a photocopy of an old letter sent to an editor of the fetish magazine, Obey, I believe from the year 1984. This person is speaking about their experience in Convent School (space of intense religious education usually led by nuns and male clerics). There is an interesting switch that happens here, where someones wife is recounting their experience of being disciplined with a cane and finding pleasure in the experience as a kid, to the point of missing the sensation as an adult. Here we see the erotic shift: the movement of an action or experience that was once a sight of harm into that of pleasure. My favorite part is the sweetness of this man going out to get a cane so that it could be used in consensual play. BDSM often serves as a reminder, that maybe just maybe you can have the things you miss and desire.
“I would love to feel the cane again.”
Saint Andrews Cross
Saint Andrew (Andrew the Apostle) was an Apostle of Jesus who was martyred by crucifixion. One of the stories goes: that he had been bound and crucified on a crux decussata (x-shaped cross) via his own request because he did not believe himself worthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus. This devotion to Jesus even after the big ole death feels like the epitome of the erotic to me!
Now, this same type of cross is a staple within BDSM dungeons and communities. There is a practicality to it: it is easy to manufacture, it can affix to a wall, it provides support for a body that is bound over time, it offers access to sensitive areas of the body (inner thighs, genitals, armpits) by having someone spread open, and provides a sort of signifying position / stance (different from our everyday posture) that could signal to someone’s brain to shift into the mindset of a scene. Plus Andrew the Apostle already demonstrated for us, its bondage potentials.
Häxan, or, Witchcraft Through The Ages (1922)
Film still from Häxan (1922), a silent dramatized documentary-style film that critiqued and offered a controversial take on the witchcraft scare and witch hunts. It is set in the Medieval Ages and vehemently critiques the Catholic Church’s role in murdering many people, mostly women, queer, and sick folks. The film takes the position that what was called “hysteria” or “witchcraft” actually was “mental illness.” I do not take that position but alas what is fascinating here is the films depiction of how the Catholic Church used tools of torture. What we see here is a nun holding a flogger and on the wall are other “torture devices.” These devices were used to conjure up testimonies (often false) from so-called witnesses. If you are into kink and BDSM, some of these objects might look a bit familiar....
I’ll leave you with these snippets for now. Things to think about. I love these three examples because they show how our erotic subconscious makes its way into design, aesthetics, and the tools we use. I’ll do a part two soon <3