The bishop I had from age 12 to mission departure was seemingly obsessed with the sexual purity of the youth in our ward. My biannual youth interviews with my bishop consisted of a long battery of questions deeply probing my activities. The most invasive and lengthy part of the interviews was a series of questions regarding sexual topics. I was asked if I had engaged in lustful thoughts, necking, petting, masturbation, homosexuality, pornography, etc.
I didn’t know what most of those words even meant when I was hearing them at age 12. I knew by the tone that they were bad. I denied everything, assuming that if I didn’t know what it was then I hadn’t done it. I spent some time after that first interview looking various things up in our family dictionary. (We didn’t quite have internet access yet.) I had actually engaged in what I’d call self-exploration quite a bit at this point in my life and felt incredibly guilty to realize I had been sinning for years apparently. I kept it my dark little secret. The interviews continued every six months on the dot.
Special lessons about the evil of masturbation and/or pornography were peppered throughout my tenure in the Aaronic priesthood quorums adding to the guilt and shame I felt. At around age sixteen, my bishop called me in for a spontaneous interview after such a lesson in priests quorum. He had been the instructor and he told me that he had been inspired during the lesson to call me in because he felt I was struggling in this area. This prompted my first real confession and gave me a real belief in the power of discernment because he was right. I had seen some playboy magazines a few times at school and had indulged in what he called self-abuse.
My confession prompted what I consider to be inappropriate inquiry into the frequency, duration, time, and location of my masturbation experiences. He also asked about what I thought about when doing it, whether I looked at and lusted over girls in the ward or at school. He asked if I was obsessed with breasts. Did I look at porn, was it softcore, hardcore, child porn, gay porn, bestiality, etc.? Did I have impure thoughts at church or at the temple during baptisms for the dead? Such attention to detail was painful to talk about. I was counseled to turn the shower water to cold, to wear pants with a belt to bed, sleep on my back and other silly preventive measures. I was given the assignment to read the Miracle of Forgiveness.
I dealt with the punishment on that offense which was incredibly shaming. My probation only lasted a few weeks but I felt like I was wearing a scarlet letter as I had to tell fellow priests I couldn’t bless the sacrament and had to sit with my parents as I abstained from taking the sacrament. From that point to my mission I lied to the bishop. I couldn’t handle the inquisition or the public shame.
This same bishop later taught me in euphemism that getting an erection was breaking the law of chastity because it meant I was going too far. According to him, it was like an alarm system in my body that would let me know the limits of the law of chastity. This was disconcerting because I would get aroused from just holding hands with or hugging my girlfriend briefly so I came to believe I was some kind of out-of-control sexual monster and started avoiding dating entirely.
I know my experience was super tame compared to the experience of many but it affected me greatly and still does to this day. I had other negative bishop experiences as a single adult but those are less relevant to this cause. Due to these experiences I spent years suffering in silence and thinking the worst of myself needlessly. I was shocked to find out as an adult that many friends of mine had not had similar bishop’s interviews at all. Few of them had to give the excruciating level of detail that was demanded of me.
By going to therapy with an actual professional I have since learned that I was actually a normal kid and had healthy sexual feelings and expressions. I didn’t know that until my mid-30’s.