I don’t remember the first time that sexual questions were asked by my bishop, but I remember that just before my 12th birthday I was racked with shame, embarrassment, and dread because of an upcoming interview with my bishop.
I had held a secret for the last two years, and now I was about to have an interview to determine my worthiness to receive the priesthood and attend the upcoming youth temple trip. And in order to pass the interview, I was going to either have to hide my secret, or reveal the embarrassing thing to the bishop that I admired and looked up to. What was my big secret? On a random day, a couple of years before, in a few seconds of childhood exploration, I had rubbed my penis on a pillow.
Gasp! As a ten year old boy, I realize now that this was a perfectly normal thing to have done. But for a young man raised by an active and orthodox Mormon family, this was a serious transgression. And I had been feeling the guilt on and off since the day that I had done it. I thought that I was a bad person and that Jesus was going to come back any day now and I was going to be separated from my family forever. But now that I was 12, the dilemma was more urgent. Jesus hadn’t come back yet, but I was about to be asked by his representative if I had sinned (Which logically means that I had been asked questions regarding sexuality before then, even though I can’t remember the exact details). In my case, I had a dad who believed that sins should also be confessed to him, since the church teaches that he is “the patriarch of the family” and “the priesthood leader in the home” . So after a half hour of crying, I told him what I had done, and that I was nervous to tell the bishop. He said that it wasn’t a big deal and that the bishop didn’t need to know that. So I was off the hook! Except for the fact that I had to tell my Dad something that I otherwise wouldn’t have shared with anyone. I begged him not to tell my mom, I felt so disgusting.
The years moved on and the interviews became more explicit and more regular, and each time I had an interview scheduled or I was nearing another landmark in my priesthood progression I would still go into panic mode. The weird thing is that I had not done anything wrong, but being constantly lectured and preached at in young men’s about the terrors of anything sexual and then vetted in at least semiannual interviews gave me a sort of complex, I was beginning to feel guilt every time I was in church or participated in any church activity. I always felt that there was something I was hiding, and that’s why the bishops of my youth needed to dig so deep. And feeling guilt reinforced in my mind that I MUST be guilty. Then when I was 14 or 15, the strangest thing happened, and it would change my mind forever. I ejaculated during a workout for Track and Field. It was very strange but satisfying. It is commonly referred to as a “coregasm” because it occurs usually during intense exercise of the “core” or abdominal muscles. At the time of course I didn’t know that, I just felt a strange sensation and after going to the restroom realized that something had come out of my penis that wasn’t pee, and it had felt good, so this must be sexual. After that day, this would become frequent and regular as I worked out at home. The shame and guilt that I had felt before was nothing compared to what I was about to experience.
I spent the remaining years of my youth constantly feeling worthless and guilty, because I would ejaculate during intense exercise. I actually never masturbated at all while growing up, because I didn’t need to. Staying in shape never felt so good! And while I jest now, at the time I was in serious anguish. I now felt that I DID have something wrong with me and that I was hiding a serious sin. There was no way that I was going to tell my bishop that I liked working out because it would bring me to orgasm, but every time that I was asked by my bishop if I masturbated or “have you had any sexual relations? That includes having sex with yourself. Have you had sex with yourself?” (which is exactly how my bishop worded it) I would freak out inside and think that I was doomed for deceiving my ecclesiastical authority.
This guilt and shame carried on every day at seminary, every Sunday, every Wednesday at Mutual activities, every General Conference (basically every day of my formative years from the first time that it happened at around 14 or 15). Do you know what it’s like to think in the back of your head that you are lost, doomed, or damned for your entire childhood and teenage years?? Unfortunately, if you are raised LDS, the answer is probably yes.
The problems caused by bishops of the Mormon faith asking piercing and intrusive sexual questions of children and youth is a huge problem. But it is not the only one. The Church’s attitude on sexuality in general is the larger issue, the worthiness interviews are just a side effect.
The artificial guilt imposed on me by a church that claims to be “a hospital” for the spiritually broken caused me depression while growing up and on my mission while I was trying my absolute best to serve and love God and do what I thought he wanted me to do. It has provided a huge obstacle to my normal development. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve been on a date with a girl in my life. I was always too afraid of being tempted to do something sexual, and I always felt dirty and guilty and not worthy of affection.
I remember the first time I interviewed for a temple recommend after my mission, I was still so guilty, even though nothing had changed and I had done nothing wrong. I left that meeting shaking and told myself that it would be the last time that I went through a worthiness interview again. I continued to attend church but after two years, when it was time again to renew my recommend, I let it lapse and I will not renew it. In all honesty I don’t believe in the Church anymore or attend meetings. I don’t believe that God’s one “true and living church” would ever put children and young adults into these situations. Jesus never did anything like this. Worthiness interviews were honestly one of the biggest reasons I began to mentally leave the church. I understand that this petition is not to attack the church or condemn its leadership, but for me, I’m done and I’m out. I know that these men are not led by God, they merely maintain the status quo. And they will change doctrine, policy, and procedure if they feel the pressure from membership. I still have family in the church and a younger brother who is 15 years old. The other day he sighed and said, “The bishop wants to see me this Sunday.” I know from experience what he must be going through and it’s not ok. I hope that you can grab the attention of leadership in Salt Lake for my brother’s sake (and for all the other kids) and cause some real change. Thanks for the time.