I would like to preface this with I am still an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I do not think my bishop was a bad person, and I would like to see a change in policy. In my case, no sexually explicit questions is very important.
When I was 16 my boyfriend fingered me. My parents were very conservative and very uncomfortable talking about sex with me (and I believe that is partly due to the Mormon culture surrounding sex) so I wasn’t really sure what happened to me until after it already happened. I felt dirty, ashamed, and scared to tell anyone.
I kept this secret for 2 years. When I was 18 I had entered the singles ward. I felt I was older and ready to move on from this mistake, so I made an appointment with my bishop. When I went to the appointment I spoke to him in general terms, basically I got into some trouble with a boy a few years ago and I broke the law of chastity. I’d like help to repent. My bishop told me in order to help me fully repent he would need to know exactly what had happened. He began with asking a sexually explicit question about “necking and petting” and if it was over or under the clothes. I was mortified. I knew that he would continue to go deeper and more explicit until I told him that’s as far as it had gone. So I lied. I stopped him on the first question so I wouldn’t have to talk in any more detail about it. He helped me with my repentance but I still felt guilty because I lied and hadn’t told him what really happened. I felt two huge black marks were now on my soul. Plus, God knew what I had done and I was sure he was upset with me too.
These feelings contributed to some of these decisions I made in the next two years of my life regarding sexual relations I had with boys. I will admit that I knew I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing, maybe a part of it was rebellion, some of it was low self esteem from my childhood, but religion was a major part of my life. And since I hadn’t fully repented in the first place, a big part of me still felt like a piece of trash. So with each interaction with a boy I always let it go a little farther because I already felt so bad about myself.
I had heard many people say “breaking the law of chastity was the worst thing you could do besides killing someone”. I had done the worst thing. And if I didn’t repent I wasn’t going to the Celestial Kingdom, that’s for sure. I kept having the thought that I just need to talk to my bishop and fully repent and become clean again. But I didn’t want to answer any sexually explicit questions. This caused a great amount of anxiety and depression.
When I met my now husband, he was determined to be married in the temple. I loved this guy! If I wanted to be sealed to him forever I needed to repent. I was honest with my husband and told him what I had done but just in general terms. I told him I needed to repent before we got married. He went with me to the bishop to confess. I was terrified about the questions I was anticipating. Again, I was asked many sexually explicit questions but this time it was also in front of the guy I was going to marry.
This experience was hard for me. I was in tears and nauseated the entire time because my soon-to-be husband was hearing what I had done in this way, in my head I was reliving each experience so I could remember what I had done and it hurt, and I was so embarrassed to have to talk this way. I couldn’t then and now still don’t understand why I had to explain in detail what I had done. I was also angry. Why wasn’t speaking generally enough?
For the next year I kept the law of chastity and met with my bishop weekly to make sure I was keeping on the straight and narrow. I was then able to be married in the temple. I did start to feel better about myself and feel God’s love for me again.
I have struggled sexually because of these experiences and have had to go to therapy to help me. I’ve had to learn how to enjoy sex and realize that it’s something wonderful and beautiful for a couple. For so long my thinking has been sex is wrong, dirty and bad. So just like before I was married, when I had sex with my husband I still felt guilty and ashamed like God was disappointed in me.
I honestly feel like if I had been able to repent correctly the first time I went to see my bishop, my story would be very different. I wish I was able to just say I had broken the law of chastity and I would like to repent and then given the tools I needed to repent. But I didn’t happen that way. Instead, I was ashamed of myself and had such deep feelings of worthlessness that I kept on the same path because I was worthy to be on another.
I don’t think my bishop asked me these question because he liked hearing the details. I truly believe he thought he was doing what he was supposed to be doing as a bishop. Bishops should be trained to facilitate repentance and not shame and embarrass members. They are not certified counselors and therapists and no handbook or hour long video training will ever make them one. But they can help us feel God’s love and show us how to repent. And I think that’s what this movement is all about.