Until my worthiness interview prior to becoming a priest at age 16, my father had never so much as mentioned the word “masturbation” to me. But then my father became the bishop of our ward and took on new responsibilities and duties which apparently included teaching his son about sinful sexuality.
“Do you know what masturbation means?” he asked.
“No, I’ve never heard of it,” I lied. I probably knew more about it than he did. I’d been masturbating since I stumbled across pornography at age 9. My face felt hot with embarrassment and shame as I sat there forcing myself to make eye contact. I could see my dad was unconvinced. He went on explaining what it was in fairly general and euphemistic terms. I shook my head to confirm to him none of what he described sounded the least bit familiar to me. He paused as if considering another approach. “Do you know what sinning in ignorance means?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t.” But of course, I did. Or at least I knew his definition. But I wasn’t ignorant. I’d racked myself with guilt for the last 7 years of my childhood every time I’d so much as conjured a sexual thought or lingered on one that happened to be passing by. I’d listened to my dad’s sermons about sexual thoughts being equally as grievous of a sin as physical adultery and second only to murder. I listened as he described again in detail how everything I’d been doing for the last few years maybe wasn’t so bad if I didn’t know it was a sin. It would at least be easier to repent. Of course, now was my chance to fess up, now having the greater light and knowledge that what I was doing was evil and wrong. I shook my head. “Nope, never done any of that.”
My dad never brought it up again. The next time I was asked about my masturbation habits, it was by our new bishop– a good family friend and neighbor since I was a kid. The same guy who took us on hikes as our young men leader and told us funny stories around the campfire at scout camp. Another man who’d never worried about my private sexual life until it became his job.
Yes, the children are absolutely the victims of these lines of questioning. No two ways about it. But sometimes we’re not always the only victims. Awkward, well-meaning, and sometimes idiotic dads have been caught up in this too. Kind, regular dad’s who wouldn’t even broach these subjects with their own kids feel obligated by God to do so with every kid in the neighborhood. This is so incredibly wrong. And it MUST stop.