Spiritual SM

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April 1997

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1997 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I've heard about some so-called "spiritual" groups that claim to practice SM, and while I understand there are some very hot players involved with those groups, I'm afraid to approach any of them because I suspect their SM is just a cover for some form of cult abuse. Do you know anything about them?

<A> Short answer: I do not know of any spiritual group that functions as a cover for any form of cult abuse and whose members practice SM.

Longer answer: The erotic activity I know as SM is consensual adult behavior, and while many players including me find a spiritual component in it, the fact that it is consensual makes it inimical to abuse in its very definition. I don't mean, of course, that I don't know about abuse in the SM community or among SM players, and I don't mean that such abuse doesn't sometimes masquerade as erotic play: I do and it does. But a spiritual group that functions as a cover for any form of cult abuse and whose members practice SM is a very particular quest for an unusually organized collection of interests containing other words that beg for definition, such as "spiritual" and "cult," even if we agree on a definition for "abuse." While there may be such groups around, I've read enough bad porn – both fiction and "non-fiction" – to suspect that what you've heard is rumor and gossip spread by people who also have heard rumor and gossip, and who also have no personal knowledge of any such groups. As ever, therefore, I suggest that you do some personal research rather than rely on other people's word of mouth, including mine. While I don't have knowledge of any organized abuse cults regardless of definitions, and I cannot possibly know all the local spiritual or SM groups – for example, I know of no lesbian SM group with a spiritual basis currently meeting in the Bay Area, but I'd bet a fine flogger that there are some – here are some leads.

I'm leaving sects like the Christian flagellants out of my answer because I do not think they believe they are practicing SM, but among those groups I have heard of that combine SM with expressed spirituality, Service of Mankind Church (SMC) is a female dominant, largely heterosexual organization that claims a basis in the spirituality of goddess worship. BLW is an offshoot or a derivation of Black Leather Wings, which itself is an offshoot of the Radical Faeries: while many Radical Faeries do not practice SM, the gay Black Leather Wings and the pansexual BLW do. To the best of my knowledge, however, all three groups base their activities in a Pagan-oriented, nature-based spirituality. The Church of St. Priapus is a gay male group that worships the phallus and phallic power; I understand that some but not all of its members, like some but not all members of the old Catharsissies, practice SM. Many small groups in the Modern Primitive movement use SM practices to raise erotic energy as part of their ecstatic rites; these rites are explicitly spiritual in nature, and often partake of an eclectic blend of traditions including some ceremonies with Buddhist roots and some based in Native American customs, as well as some originating in Pagan nature worship.

In addition to several SM-oriented Wiccan covens I've heard of several SM party groups that also invoke spirituality of different sorts, but since these are private groups I am not at liberty to disclose their names. If SM spirituality with very hot players is what you're looking for, take your fear in hand and go exploring. I think you'll find that at least some of the "so-called ‘spiritual' groups that claim to practice SM" are far gentler, less imposing, and more approachable than rumor may have made them sound. Good luck.

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