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Saint Valentine’s Pleasures

Adam Park 

The season of romance is upon us. Or, at least, a day of romance. And by some accounts, Christians romance best.

So, what’s their secret? Well, it can be found in their rich material culture. Since the early 2000s, Christian marital aid and lingerie websites have been providing the adventurous faithful a wide range of romantic accessories. From nipple clamps, sex swings, and penis rings to edible underwear, prostate massagers, and beads (that you don’t wear around your neck), these online marital aid ministries offer many earthly delights for holy matrimony. A most fleshly doxa, indeed.

The raison d’être for online Christian marital aid ministries, however, is not merely to aid in the enhancement of romance. Such ministries exist to provide, in the words of one website, “a safe, non-pornographic place to shop for all your Christian sex toy and romance needs, while keeping Christ at the center of your marriage.” When it comes to Christian marriage, pleasure is the solution. But when it comes to shopping for pleasure-inducing goods, pornography is the problem. Packaging, product imagery, foul descriptions and vulgar toy names, and seductively-posed lingerie models have besmirched the market. The overly-sensuous agora is simply too titillating. Understanding marriage as between a husband and a wife, such ministries hold that any sexual stimuli that occurs outside of that closed relationship is misplaced and ill-gotten. To channel Douglas, pornography is erotica out of place. Christian marital aid ministries therefore whitewash. And here’s how.

Technologies of censorship. Lingerie displays are particularly problematic, and require manipulation. Christian marital aid ministries diligently alter their product promotions. Image frames are manipulated and cropped, limiting the field of view. Bellybuttons, cleavage, nipples, and muscle tone are airbrushed, ridding the depicted models of their erogenous zones. And skin tone is discolored, graphically reducing human-likeness. To combat pornography, Christian marital aid ministries dismember humans.

Sex toy packaging poses its own set of problems. Some airbrush. Some depict the accessories devoid of their secular packaging. One forward-thinking website offers a service called “polybagging,” where it will “apply a sticker or remove packaging” on any “inappropriate” package content. Another website hopes to produce its own product “with its own non-offensive packaging,” it said, “but at this time it isn’t cost affective [sic].” Religious censorship is the marketable service here. Paying for non-pornography.

Curiously, though, Christian marital aid ministries censor male bodies differently. Less, to be precise. Bellybuttons, abs, knees, necks, and even heads–so long as they belong to a male–are non-pornographic, so it goes. Perhaps male bodies are less titillating. Or, perhaps females bodies are less visually titillated. Either way, it’s still a celebration of pleasure within the appropriate context.

So, if you’re wondering, there are current holiday specials to satiate a variety of personal desires. And the satiation of personal/coupled desire is key, is orthodoxy. Pleasure is a gift. As Amy DeRogatis has found, so too here, sex is praise.

In Christian marital aid ministries, the holiday, the romance, the consummation, the marital bed or even the kitchen floor, is conceived as the retrieval of a feeling, an emotion, the reclamation of the body, of humanity. That which is given, so it goes, should be had. It is pleasure that guides us, marks truth, and leads us to salvation. It is the Word in the flesh.

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