Omit the Sexual Details

The first time I heard the word “masturbation,”  I was 12 years old and sitting in my bishop’s office.

I believe we were discussing a limited use recommend for an upcoming temple trip.  I remember the bishop walking through the 1990 version of For the Strength of Youth, which used a lot of large, sexual words I did not know — like “petting” and “perversion” and “pornography.”

My bishop defined them for me.  When he realized I had no idea what he was talking about, he apologized.  He explained how due to the evils of the world, children were getting exposed to sex and having their innocence corrupted by Satan younger and younger.  As much as he hated the topic, he felt like it was his pastoral duty to make sure the youth knew what constituted sin.

For the next 13 years, I don’t remember any other interview sex question except “Do you keep the law of chastity?”  “Yes.”

Until, at age 25, I met with my Single’s Ward Bishop for an endowment / sealing recommend.  My wedding had been scheduled for almost a year; it was now a month away.  I was graduating, leaving town, getting married in another state, moving across the country, and starting my career.  All my future plans hinged upon “passing” the interview.  But I wasn’t worried — I’d never had any temple recommend problems before.  Until the interview veered off course.

* * *

BISHOP: Do you keep the law of chastity?

ME: Yes.

BISHOP: *leading* You know, you’ve been engaged for a very long time…

ME: …and I have kept the law of chastity.

BISHOP: Are you sure? I’m just really surprised you’ve never confessed anything to me, given your long engagement. Most couples in your circumstances struggle.

ME: We’re in a long-distance relationship! We have kept the law of chastity.

BISHOP:  Carolyn, this is serious.  Failure to confess is grounds to deny you a temple recommend.

ME:  *trying to diffuse situation*  Look, there was once nine months ago I felt like we went a little too far while making out, and we promptly discussed it with my boyfriend’s bishop, who laughed at us it was so minor.  As a couple we adjusted a boundary, and it hasn’t happened again.

BISHOP: We’ll I’m your bishop.  Confessing to your boyfriend’s bishop doesn’t count. You have to confess the same thing to me.

ME: *flustered*  But it was nine months ago, it hasn’t recurred, and I feel at peace with God.

BISHOP:  I am the Priesthood leader with stewardship over you.  You need to confess it to me.

ME:  Seriously, it wasn’t that big of a deal.  *Provides high level description.*

BISHOP:  That’s not good enough.  Were you in a bedroom? Were you laying down? Was it late at night?  Were you in a dress, or pants?  Were your clothes on, or off?  Where were his hands?  Under or over your shirt? Below or above the waist?

ME: *Getting increasingly agitated with line of questions, but answering them out of deference.*

BISHOP:  That’s it?  Ok, I agree with your boyfriend’s bishop, that was minor.  Here’s your temple recommend.

* * *

In retrospect, both interactions were abjectly horrifying.  No 50-year old man should be privately teaching a 12-year-old girl sexual terms, or questioning a 25-year-old woman about the exact positioning of her shirt when she kissed her fiance.  From conversations with others, I know my experiences are not uncommon; many friends have sat through far worse interrogations.

Yet at the time, I assumed the problem was me.  I felt uncomfortable, but I was sitting before a Priesthood leader — a “Judge in Israel.”  I knew the Church cared deeply about standards of moral behavior, so I assumed these were normal pastoral discussions of weighty spiritual matters.  The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet discusses sexual purity at length, including the necessity for confession to a Bishop — in my mind these awkward confession-prompting questions logically followed.  I even felt a little bad for my Bishops, that they had to assume such an uncomfortable burden of asking and listening.

I didn’t realize the problem was inherent to the entire structure of worthiness interviews until well after I was married, when I started reading the Bloggernacle.  Someone, somewhere, in a post circa 2013, mentioned the impropriety of sexually explicit youth interviews.  I don’t remember the post — maybe Neylan McBaine? — but I remember the reality of it hitting me like a ton of bricks.  In any other setting — school, work, retail — my Bishop’s questions would have constituted sexual harassment.

These lines of questioning must stop.  The power dynamic is inherently coercive; the topic of discussion inherently ripe for abuse, damaging counsel, and re-traumatization.  I’m pleased the Church recently changed its policy in order to invite second adults into Bishop interviews.  But more needs to be done to eradicate all of the terrible ideas that lay, untrained clergy exhibit surrounding chastity, sex, worthiness, and confession.

The first toxic idea to raze?  The crazy notion so many Bishops (and members) have, that detailed sexual discussion is spiritually necessary to repentance or healing.


  1. Single Sister says:

    Where the heck are you people getting your Bishops? Perverts R Us? I am a 60 year old woman and I’ve had plenty of Bishop’s interviews from the time I joined the church at 16. Never, ever have I been asked questions even remotely like these ones. Never. Ever. I’m sorry you went through both of those interviews. At the age I am now, I would (and will, if it ever happens to me) walk out and call the Stake President. I like the changes made to the policy, but you are right, more needs to be done if things like this continue to happen.

  2. There just aren’t any resources to tell them otherwise, that I am aware.

  3. In my late teens, I engaged with my girlfriend in what I later learned was called “petting.” I knew what FTSOY said about “petting” but had no idea what it meant. All the same, I felt like the way my hands touched my girlfriend had crossed a line, and so I went to confess. I was more than a little surprised when the bishop probed for weird details, like whether she had an orgasm and other things too explicit to write here.

    It’s been decades since then, but I still can’t for the life of me work out why the bishop wanted such explicit details and how it affected my confession.

  4. Michael Austin says:

    Walter Kirn has a wonderful short story in _My Hard Bargain_ called “Planetarium” that deals (kind of) with bishop’s interviews. In the story, a young man’s bishop is also a basketball coach. He has all of the young men use a yellow, glow-in-the-dark pen to record each time the masturbate, and then he brings them together and turns off the lights so that they can all see, anonymously, each other’s stars, which are mysterious and eerily beautiful. Somehow, the bishop/coach thinks this will help them not masturbate, but all he does is create a thing of beauty and wonder.

    Kirn’s point, as I read it, is that adults who treat childhood sexual exploration as a deep, profound sin end up making kinds more interested in sex by turning it from a natural biological process into a thing of scary, dark wonder. Here, and elsewhere (“Thumbsucker,” for example), Kirn gets the practices of Mormonism very wrong, but captures something profound and essential about the effect that our obsession with sex and sin has on young people trying to have normal childhoods.

    Great post. Thanks!

  5. Thanks, Carolyn, for writing this. I’ve had a similar experience that did not sit well with me then, and even less so now. My personal discussions of this topic with other members have been very difficult, as most seem too happy to assume that good bishops would never do such a thing.

    The trouble is, good bishops would never steal tithing funds either, but we’ve had enough experience with that to require two men present when handling finances. We need a sea change in what is generally understood as appropriate content for a bishop’s interview, which would then make it relatively easy to include a mandatory rule for no one-on-one interviews.

    I think we need a hard look at the necessity for and depth of confession of sins to a single individual, especially the concept of receiving forgiveness from the church in addition to forgiveness from God, a la Spencer Kimball in “The Miracle of Forgiveness.”

  6. If the Church would simply follow its own doctrine on confession, there would be no problem. First, if your sin affects no one else, you confess it to God and ask for forgiveness. Think about this. It covers a lot of what bishops discuss in interviews, even temple recommend interviews. That random cup of coffee? None of the bishop’s business. Not if you repented and asked God’s forgiveness. Second, if your sin harms another person, you confess to God and to the other person and ask forgiveness. Third, some really big sins reflect poorly on the Church as an institution. It has the obligation to make sure its name isn’t sullied by gross acts of immorality (broad definition here). These sins are few and are specifically mentioned in Handbook 1 (which, by the way, should be available to all members, not just hierarchical leaders). These sins generally warrant disfellowshipping or excommunication. But, again, these are few and very serious. Most of the stuff bishops are worried about should really be up to the people involved and the Lord. The best discussion of this doctrine is a talk by Marion G. Romney titled “Repentance.” It can be found in the November 1980 Ensign (

  7. OftenPerplexed says:

    Twenty four years ago I had a bishop who thoroughly traumatized me by asking me exactly what was happening on dates with my boyfriend who was getting ready for a mission. It was a fishing expedition for information to quiz my boyfriend about. I explained that I felt okay with our behavior but he kept pressing for details. He asked if we ever made out. I told him that we enjoyed kissing. This bishop then traumatized me by telling me that french kissing my boyfriend was oral sex and he told me I was putting my membership at risk by engaging in such acts. He threatened me with a whole range of punishments. It led to a few weeks of pure craziness in follow up interviews with him, until I became so distressed that I went to my parents. My boyfriend was furious with me. The stake president then told us that “no, french kissing wasn’t oral sex and to just stop making out because it could lead to sex.” The whole experience and the shame messed with my head for a very long time. It had a profoundly negative impact on how I felt about intimacy with my husband. I wasn’t sexually abused, but I was abused–I just didn’t realize it until I was an adult. My daughters will not be having these one on one interviews and I am grateful that there are others who feel the same way.

  8. The rub, I think, is in the second-to-last paragraph of the OP, which says that “these lines of questioning must stop.” Assuming you’re talking about your very harsh example, sure, I agree with that. But I’m not particularly comfortable with what I’ve read in the bloggernacle over the last few months, which seems to be that the bishop should never be allowed to ask *anything* beyond, “Do you live the law of chastity?” I think we’ll get to a place where people will interpret it to mean nothing at all or whatever they want it to be, which on a macro-level is far more deleterious to my mind than an occasional over-zealous bishop. So where’s the middle ground? How does a bishop act as a good steward and gatekeeper without running afoul of impropriety? That’s the post I want to see.

  9. One thing that’s weird about the Bishop’s reaction in the second story (other than the obvious) is that it sets up two different levels of confession. Not only do you have to confess serious sins so you can be forgiven, you also have to confess non-serious sins so the Bishop can determine whether you need to confess them.

    I’m curious to know where this idea comes from that this kind of detailed discussion is necessary–and not just necessary for a person to confess, but necessary for a bishop to initiate. Some small number of bishops, I guess, are just being creepy, but I suspect that most who ask these questions genuinely think it’s something they’re supposed to do. Why? What is the principle that they think they’re advancing?

  10. jimbob: What question beyond “Do you live the law of chastity” would you consider appropriate, assuming that the interviewee did not initiate the deeper discussion?

  11. Exactly what Wally said. I don’t know where or when we began to get the notion that every little thing w?’be done wrong must be confessed to the bishop. We’re not catholic. We don’t need to tell him so we can perform an arbitrary action to absolve ourself of the sin. “Say three articles of faith and one prayer and go free.” That isn’t how we operate.

    I had a relationship where my boyfriend and I definitely took things too far. When it ended after a couple of months I felt like I had to tell my bishop, and so badly did not want to that I avoided him at all costs. Then I realized– I don’t have to tell him anything. I prayed and prayed and begged for forgiveness and after a little while, I felt at peace with the lord. Boom. I’m forgiven. I and you and no one else needs to ask forgiveness of a bishop. These kinds of questions are completely inappropriate, and also far beyond the bounds of our own beliefs about confession.

  12. So many threads!

    Of course it shouldn’t happen. At 12 or 25 or 65. Men or women. It is worse, more offensive, more headline catching, when it’s a middle age man asking and educating a young woman/girl. But I think that’s a matter of degree, not a category.

    Bishops need education and change. It isn’t easy, for all of the following reasons:

    >They probably had it done to them. They probably cannot learn by experience or modeling, but have to learn to break old patterns. That’s the hardest kind of learning.

    >We need a comprehensive overhaul of the way we talk about sex and consider and treat sexual sin. I’ve got ideas, but everything I think about would probably sound like starting a new religion, in comparison with standard Mormon rhetoric. On the other hand, things as they have been is not working. Mormon culture is permeated with fear about sex. So long as the environment is fear-based I despair of making progress on any of these concerns.

    >There’s no way to shut down the conversations completely. Even if the bishop asks no questions, people get ideas and need/want/ask to talk about them. A woman came to me after talking to her mother who was alarmed and said “you better confess.” I didn’t think so (as bishop in that setting) but I couldn’t not have the conversation. Another young man “confessed” something that (to me) was a nothing, but I happened to know that his father (then a member of the Stake Presidency(, thought differently, thought it was serious. So that was a complicated conversation. The point being that “don’t talk about it” is not the whole answer.

  13. Question for the lawyers here. If an adult sat down one-on-one with a minor and initiated a conversation in which he explained exactly what masturbation and petting are, would he risk any legal liability? We require sex ed teachers at school to get parental consent before covering far less graphic subjects. Outside of the pastoral context, this would look unambiguously like grooming. (It can look that way within the pastoral context also.)

    tldr: What I’m wondering is whether grooming crosses a legal line.

  14. In our weekly Family Home Evening group this week…this exact topic came up. My group consists of elderly widows and the majority of them were shocked that a Bishop would do such things or ‘be accused’ of doing such things. I told them my story – at 19 experiencing one of the ‘explicit’ interviews which led to my becoming inactive for the next 32 years. I had done nothing at 19, was a virgin, and the way the man kept asking for ‘details’ makes me think, in retrospect, that HE was a pervert. One wearing a holy disguise. I concluded my remarks saying that I felt any priesthood holder who does such things will be judged for them, not by us, but by God. The elderly ladies were aghast to think men that should be above reproach would be so base and unworthy. Our FHE discussion stemmed from an earlier Relief Society discussion about giving Priesthood holders proper respect from women. The most forward thinking in my group of old dears said “Well we’re all human and no one is perfect.” That summed it up.

  15. Lawyer here, but I don’t know the answer to adano’s question at 8:38am. I just want to open the discussion to the idea that “grooming” has a sexual predator connotation (and I’m sure that’s the way it was asked), but there is also a grooming going on to make people dependent on authority, on the bishop’s or Church’s approval and permission. Sometimes for a lifetime. I think that’s a counterfeit religion. Not the Plan, not the Way.

  16. OftenPerplexed says:

    In my personal inappropriate experience with my bishop, I am not sure if he was ignorant and didn’t know what oral sex actually was or if he was a pervert who just wanted to have a lot of detailed conversations about how I kissed my boyfriend. Oral sex was not something I had discussed with my parents nor had I heard about it in my sex ed class at school so for all I knew oral sex and French kissing were the same thing. I believed him when he said I had put my membership at risk. The shame was overwhelming.

  17. OftenPerplexed: you’re not alone. See this BCC post on similar confusion!

  18. adano, it depends a lot on state law and the exact facts. I can’t really speak to it. But speaking from my experience in employment law, if that kind of conversation were to take place between a supervisor and a subordinate you’d be looking at a serious risk of liability for the employer. Even more so if the employee is a teenager and the supervisor is an older person.

  19. “jimbob: What question beyond ‘Do you live the law of chastity’ would you consider appropriate, assuming that the interviewee did not initiate the deeper discussion?”

    That’s the exact question I’m asking, adano. Let me give you a (really common) hypothetical that demonstrates the issue I’m driving at: member wants to get married in the temple, and comes in to see the bishop. Bishop asks if member has been living the law of chastity. Member says s/he has had sex with significant other.

    Does the bishop now stop asking questions? The member has answered the chastity question, so maybe that should be full stop. But every bishop will tell you that they deal with a one-time indiscretion much differently than they do months and months of indiscretion, so there would probably need to be questions about frequency and circumstances. Other things that might be relevant: Was the other person married? Was the other person married in the temple? When the member says s/he had sex, does s/he really mean sex, or was it just a really inappropriate make-out session? Does the person admitting to breaking the law of chastity have a firm understanding of what that really means?

    All these–and more still–are questions that to my mind a bishop should be asking just so he know where he needs to start from in terms of aiding the repentance process. But under the rubric I’m seeing advanced lately (not necessarily in the OP), it seems like people are saying that the bishop should get one question and one question only: do you live the law of chastity?

  20. Jack Hughes says:

    “Not only do you have to confess serious sins so you can be forgiven, you also have to confess non-serious sins so the Bishop can determine whether you need to confess them.”

    Even worse, the bishop is the sole arbiter of where that line is drawn. We used to trumpet the fact that we are not a confessional church. These practices say otherwise.

  21. Every single one of my YSA bishops at BYU asked interrogating questions like the OP described. Details about time of day, location, the position of our bodies, clothing, orgasm, all of it. It always made me extremely uncomfortable and made me feel extremely guilty for things that I now realize were totally normal and pretty harmless.

    I had friends in a neighboring BYU ward who specifically held off getting engaged so they wouldn’t have to regularly meet with their bishop who was known for asking for details and accusing engaged couples of sins they had not done.

    It wasn’t until the last YSA bishop before I got married who made it clear to the ward that he wasn’t there to listen to details about sin. He was just there to minister. He was there to love. It was a completely different tone.

  22. jimbob: That clarifies where you’re coming from. I don’t think the recent concerns over bishop’s interviews precludes asking the questions you list in your third paragraph, for the most part. I think the main concerns are these:

    1. Bishops who bring up explicit subjects when the interviewee answered “yes” when asked whether they keep the law of chastity.

    2. Bishops receiving a confession (or following up on a “no” answer) who have already learned what the relationship was between the two participants and have already received a general sense of what the act was, but then start pressing for play-by-play details that seem unnecessarily probing.

  23. I’m going to second adano here. I heard the story once of a single adult who had been inactive for years, and lived with people they dated. When they decided to repent and return to Church, the Bishop didn’t take “I went to parties and lived with and slept with my partners for the last three years, but I want to change and repent.” for an answer. The Bishop set up months upon months of appointments and insisted that each and every sexual experience needed to be confessed in detail in order for repentance to be complete.

  24. Why would a bishop ever have to ask more than “Do you live the law of chastity?”

    I strongly suspect most or all bishops who venture beyond this do so out of their own prurient interest. Very sad.

  25. I still go back to the single line in BYU’s “Report of the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault” from October 2016 that said:

    “3. Share with officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the findings of the advisory
    council regarding ecclesiastical leaders’ varied responses to sexual-assault reports.”

    And then nothing, no clarification or explanation why this was needed, because the advisory council knew that the church’s system itself is the problem. They could offer no further instruction because it has to come from general church leaders who are willing to overhaul the system. That has not happened yet.

  26. Adding to Carolyn’s comment (9:19), I’ll add this:

    Not only do probing questions make the interview unnecessarily awkward and difficult for the interviewee, but it seems they would work *against* repentance by requiring the interviewee to relive, in graphic detail, past actions that they are trying to remove from the top of their mind as they try to change.

    We wouldn’t ask somebody approaching the bishop about a pornography habit to bring in the actual pornography and view it together with the bishop, after all.

  27. jimbob, look closely at Carolyn’s comment (9:19am) and you’ll see why such probing is so damaging and problematic. If someone confesses to the bishop they’ve had sex outside of marriage, are remorseful, and want to repent and be clean, that should be enough for repentance.

  28. Thomas Eastmond says:

    Jimbob, there’s a simple solution to that:

    1. Produce the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet.
    2. Pause to allow the interviewee to read its discussion on chastity.
    3. “Consistent with what you just read — do you obey the law of chastity?”

  29. “I’m curious to know where this idea comes from that this kind of detailed discussion is necessary–and not just necessary for a person to confess, but necessary for a bishop to initiate.”

    I think the answer to JKC’s question may come from a term I have seen repeatedly in instructions given to bishops about interviews. For missions and marriages instructions about interviews frequently instruct leaders that they should do a ‘searching’ interview. When put into those terms it almost guarantees the kind of questions shared here. That term demands an active rather than a passive bishop. Yet it’s almost like the classic admonition about ‘petting’ what does searching mean? I don’t know, but I do know that it almost invites the kinds of abuses shared here.

  30. OftenPerplexed says:

    Carolyn, thank you for pointing me to that post! While presented in a humorous manner, I think that post and its comments validate some of the craziness I experienced. It actually helps me to chuckle a bit. Here is the quote my bishop used to bludgeon me. “Too often, young people dismiss their petting with a shrug of their shoulders as a little indiscretion, while admitting that fornication is a base transgression. Too many of them are shocked, or feign to be, when told that what they have done in the name of petting was in reality fornication.” (Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), pp. 65–66.) I had to read scriptures about how God feels about fornicators and had to return and report my deep sorrow and shame. Again, my bishop may have truly thought that making out and engaging in some french kissing was fornicating/oral sex, but as an adult looking back I have my doubts.

  31. @OftenPerplexed: I used to have this crazy idea that if I started making out too much, lust was like getting black-out drunk. That my hormones would go crazy, and I’d wake up naked and tingling, not remembering anything.

    Nothing like actually being married to demonstrate sex IN NO WAY works like that. In retrospect, what I “confessed” to my bishop as “going to far” and “losing control” is so hysterically, hilariously minor that I just want to pat my former self on the head and tell her to lighten up.

    We’d do a lot of good in the community if in broader discussions about chastity we actually used clinically accurate terms and thoroughly taught consent, rather than horrific euphemisms virgins don’t understand.

  32. Also, in re Oral Sex. You would THINK the Church would have learned from its 3 month disastrous stint in the 1980s of requiring Bishops to force married couples to confess any “impure” sexual act including (actual) oral sex.

  33. the Other Brother Jones says:

    Thomas Eastmond. That’s it exactly. If any detail in the pamphlet is not clear enough, then that person needs to have an uncomfortable conversation with his parents.

    If he is confessing to crossing the line somewhere, some more detailed questions may be in order. but only very few. I had an experience in my youth where I needed to confess and the one remotely detailed question was ” above or below the belt?”. Although I did not go in for this purpose, I came out of that interview with a recommend to be ordained an elder.

  34. There is a subtle but distinct difference between “searching” and “fishing”.

  35. As a bishop, I have puzzled over how best to handle these interviews. After what were surely some awkward missteps when I was first called (and didn’t really know how I was “supposed to” do this), I have settled on this approach:
    1. I encourage parents to read For the Strength of Youth with their children. That setting is much more appropriate for discussing “standards” anyway, and it creates opportunities for kids to ask questions. It’s awkward when a kid arrives in my office for a temple recommend and doesn’t know what the Law of Chastity is. Parents know what questions are coming, and they should prepare their kids for it.
    2. For recommends, Bishops should stick to the questions as written without freelancing. Rather than digging for dirt, I suggest simply providing an opportunity for kids (and adults, for that matter) to talk about things they feel the need to discuss. Two of the current questions seem to be designed to do that: a) “Is there anything in your conduct . . . that is not in keeping with the teachings of the Church?” b) “Have there been any sins or misdeeds in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood leaders but have not been?”
    3. In a broader context, you can cover a lot of ground without getting creepy by simply saying something like this: “Have you read FTSOY? Are there any standards outlined there that you disagree with or have trouble living?” That opens the door for teaching and encouragement without turning it into a fishing expedition (or the Inquisition).
    4. If kids aren’t sure what is and isn’t appropriate, I refer them back to FTSOY. Better for the pamphlet to describe these things than for me to do it. And again, better for that to happen at home with mom and dad than alone with me in the bishop’s office.

  36. jimbob, if the bishop says “Do you live the law of chastity?”, and the person says no or in some other way indicates he or she has failed to do so, it seems appropriate for the bishop to ask some limited follow-up questions like “what happened?” and possibly some others to find out what the person is wanting to repent of (i.e. whether pornography use or fornication, etc.) But to ask about details of a sexual encounter? That just can’t be necessary or right.

  37. your food allergy is fake says:

    I had a bishop ask who the partner was and then made a comment about her attractiveness.

  38. Again, I think Carolyn’s comment to mine (9:19) speaks to what I’m trying to get away from: worst case examples where bishops are clearly acting outside the realm of their callings. What asking where the middle ground is, based on examples bishops see all the time. Unless we want our bishops to treat an engaged couple who inadvertently messed up one night the exact same as two married-in-the-temple-to-other-people members who have been engaging in a secret affair for the last three years, the bishop will *have* to ask clarifying questions. Or do we not agree to that fundamental premise?

    And as for John F.’s comments, that any question a bishop asks beyond “do you live the law of chastity” is solely for the bishop’s prurient interest, I guess I’m appalled. That’s as disturbing an over-generalization as I can think of. It takes the worst motives of the outliers and imputes it to the best motives of the average bishop.

  39. I think a couple questions surrounding length of time and scope, and to make sure it wasn’t actually abuse, are appropriate. But the bulk of the questions should focus on the heart. Why did you choose to come in today, what do you feel like God is telling you, I don’t need to know the full details why don’t you give me a high level description of what happened, do you think you would benefit from talking about this to a therapist, please know that god loves you and through his love we can be made clean, what help can I offer you to experience God’s forgiveness?

  40. In Defense of Sam Young and Protect LDS Children from the scriptures

  41. Anon for this says:

    Thank you for all of this. When we were dating/engaged, my husband and I had radically different experiences with our YSA bishops. My bishop was younger and relatively new to his job (~2-3 years), whereas my husband’s bishop had been bishop of that YSA ward for something like 9 years. At one point, we thought we had gone too far and needed to tone things down. My then-boyfriend-now-husband’s guilt complex built up over years of ‘struggling’ with masturbation and confessing it to church leaders made him feel like we also had to confess to our bishops. I would have preferred to just repent between me and God. While I had previously had that confessional impulse as a teenager, I had a great bishop in those years who did not get into details and basically responded to my confessions with an articulation of principles and statement of confidence in my judgment. So I basically felt that below a certain threshold, repentance of sexual sin was something I could just keep between me and God.

    However, I wanted to support my then-boyfriend, who felt he could not get absolution without confession, and so we both went to our bishops and confessed. Ironically, my bishop was the one who pressed for detail and asked horrifyingly embarrassing and scarring questions. My husband’s bishop was much more uncomfortable with getting into any details, even though my husband felt he needed to based on his past experiences of confession. The bishops even had somewhat different recommendations for whether or not we needed to forgo the sacrament for a few weeks (mine said I needed to, but as I remember it, I think my husband may have only done so out of solidarity with me, or may have himself suggested it to his bishop). I found the entire experience deeply traumatizing, unhelpful, and anguishing. It damaged my self-esteem, my confidence in my ability to receive direct personal revelation, my ability to exercise impulse control, my relationship with my fiance/husband, my understanding of healthy sexuality, and my trust in church teachings and leadership.

    Fast forward several months later (we had a long engagement), and we felt we maybe needed to confess something again. This time, I insisted we only talk to my fiance’s bishop. My bishop was a nice guy and well-meaning, but no way was I going to go through that humiliating experience again. So we met with my fiance’s bishop, and this time his bishop was like, look, don’t give me details. You know what the law of chastity is and you can exercise your own judgment. That bishop’s guidance was so relieving and empowering and enabled us to get past a lot of the baggage we had picked up over years of harmful teachings about sexual sin and confession in the church. However, it would still take me several years to completely get past the consequences of the guilt and shame and self-loathing induced by the counterfeit ‘repentance’ process I felt obligated to undergo in those preceding months.

    A decade down the line, and my husband now recognizes that the ways the Church taught about sexuality greatly exacerbated his challenges with depression, anxiety, and OCD. He also feels terrible that he made me feel like we both had to go in and confess to our bishops. I don’t at all blame him — he was responding to the way he had been socialized and coached through years of IMO ridiculous confessional experiences related to his masturbation. But I do feel a strong conviction that the way the Church teaches about sex and the nature and purpose of bishop’s interviews need to change. My husband is on his way out of the Church, and Sam Young’s excommunication is in many ways the final straw for him. I want to and plan to stay in the Church, but I support my husband and his need to distance himself from the institution for healing. I also have no intention of exposing our children to this bizarre and damaging culture around sex, and so we’ve decided that my husband will take our children to a different denomination that has a much less damaging culture around these issues (among others).

  42. OftenPerplexed says:

    I’ve got to get back to work, but one final thought for now. My husband and I each met/interviewed with our stake president before getting married. We were in the same YSA ward. He met with us separately and together. He felt it necessary and inspired (yes, he used the word inspired) to give us some counseling about intimacy. He told us to refrain from engaging in unholy and impure sexual practices in our marriage. My husband flat out asked him what he meant, and he counseled us that masturbation was still forbidden and any act that would not be procreative. We weren’t confessing anything and we weren’t asking for sexual counseling. We believed he was giving us what were essentially commandments from God. We were naïve and inexperienced. I know that the Stake President probably gave that advice to 100 couples. It wasn’t abusive, but it was misguided and it stunted a healthy sex life. So, no, I don’t think our church leaders need to be asking about or sharing details about specific sex acts, especially in interactions with children/teens. They aren’t trained counselors. I posted this somewhere else, but in my close circle of 10 sisters in the church, five of us had probing questions asked of us about our chastity by bishops, and several of us had sexual information or sex counseling offered to us by church leaders prior to getting married. I have no idea if this still happens, but it shouldn’t.

  43. Unlike any other situation involving confession, the law of chastity seems to trigger a process (for many but not all bishops) of inflicting pain on the person who is confessing. Our inordinate fear of sex leads us to treat the law of chastity with a kind of paranoia. A bishop wants to feel assured that a person is remorseful. This is very difficult, since we can’t get inside another person’s head to know how they feel. So suffering becomes a proxy for remorse. The bishop can’t guarantee that a person is remorseful, but he sure can make the repentance process hurt. This is twisted and harmful thinking, but I think it’s pretty common, even among otherwise good-hearted bishops.

    A similar way of thinking infects worthiness interviews. Some bishops, being terrified of sex, assume that a person either is trying to get away with something or is too naïve to avoid stepping over the line. Either assumption can lead to the kind of inappropriate questioning that Carolyn writes about here.

    In this comment, I’m just thinking about the good bishops. There are undoubtedly some bishops who take satisfaction in using these interviews to abuse their authority, and those bishops do an inordinate amount of harm. Damn them. A system that can’t identify even these abusers needs to be fixed.

  44. It seems that useful follow-up questions could be limited to:
    -Was this encounter abusive? By that I mean did someone have power over you or coerce you into this action? That could mean someone older than you or someone threatening you. Were you coercive or threatening in any way? Those circumstances are very very serious and we need to know if you need further help.
    -Have you considered what led to this behavior? Do you believe you’ve had a chance to think about how to avoid it in the future? Do you have a plan to do that?
    -Have you prayed about this? How are you feeling now? Do you need me to help you make some action steps that can help you as you get back on track?

  45. Loursat, that’s probably the most helpful comment I’ve read towards answering my question about why bishops that aren’t just bad guys engage in this kind of thing. A desire to ensure remorse, combined with concern that somebody is trying to get away with something or needs to be educated on the details. There’s got to be a way to address these concerns and issues with bishops and train them to see that a detailed cross-examination on the details of sexual encounters is both harmful and unnecessary to address these concerns.

  46. Years, ok, decades ago, I was being interviewed by my SP for my mission. He asked about the law of chastity and me. I had been a pretty good boy. But that was not enough. He started through a long list:
    * had I had sex with animals?
    * had I touched a woman’s breast over clothes? Under clothes? No clothes?
    * repeat with reference to vaginas
    * etc
    When we were done with the chastity part, there was a long pause, and the SP then said, “So, are you a fag?”
    It was years before I figured out that this was just wrong wrong wrong

  47. When I went in for my interview to be a deacon, the bishop asked about masturbation and then spend a good 10-15 minutes outlining different ways to do it. I later learned he did that with all the YM.

  48. Anon this time says:

    When I had my pre-mission interview, circumstances found me moving to in a new ward. The bishop of this ward just refused to take “yes” for an answer–I’d been a reasonably good kid and was a recent convert besides. At one point, he said, “Are you SURE you have nothing to confess? The spirit at the MTC and in the mission field is SO THICK that you won’t be able to handle it without a clear conscience.” I had two thoughts: 1) What in the world is your problem? 2) Have you *met* some of the elders out there? This was before the “raising the bar” change, and I’m pretty sure there were a lot of goofy, uninterested, and even unworthy elders who were somehow surviving the thickness of the spirit just fine.

    I think Loursat is correct: as part of the just-world fallacy we (and our leaders) often fall victim to, we can’t accept that someone is in a stage of repentance where they can try to move forward calmly and peacefully. As someone who has made bad choices, they simply *have to* suffer godly sorrow to preserve the notion that the righteous are blessed and the wicked are cursed. Godly sorrow may certainly be a valid or even necessary point in a person’s individual path, but depending on when that path intersects church leadership, a person might well be past that stage.

    And that just can’t be allowed to stand!

  49. jimbob, my comment at 10:08am addresses the concern you raise in your 10:24am comment. It’s a real problem culturally and doctrinally if a bishop thinks details of a sexual encounter make a difference in the repentance process. The person wants to repent, states she has had a sexual relationship but it’s over now, and so what additional benefit could either the bishop or the penitent person receive by answering more questions about the “circumstances” and “frequency” of the transgression?

  50. See m’s comment at 11:22am. How wonderful if that were truly how bishops handled confessions of sexual sins!

  51. My last missionary companion told me that detailed questioning by his bishop gave him a lead on several things that he’d never tried before. It may surprise no one that he later went home early from his mission.
    On the other hand, the law of chastity was revised a bit a few years ago from “sexual intercourse” to “sexual relations” because, I suspect, there were people who stopped just short of intercourse while claiming they kept their covenants. So, sometimes a clarifying question or two may be in order.

  52. STW: hah. When I recently taught an EQ lesson on chastity, I said “This is the part where a lot of teachers would say, ‘Why, I was horrified to read in the news about XYZ happening, and that’s just a testimony of how corrupt this world is!’ There’s inevitably someone in the room who hasn’t heard of XYZ, and who will promptly go and Google it thinking ‘Wow, that’s kind of hot! I never knew XYZ was even a possibility!’ We’re gonna keep things at a very general level of discussion so your sins aren’t on my head, thank you.”

    Also in line with john f’s comment: the details of transgression aren’t nearly as important as issues of consent or abuse. There isn’t more repentance required if more clothes were shed, but if someone was coercing sexual behavior out of the other party, that’s a lot more troubling.

  53. Why do we immediately release Sunday school teachers for not following the correlated lesson plan, yet Bishops get a pass for the same thing? They have a script; why can’t they just stick to it?

    My kids will not ever be alone with a bishop. I’m fine if they want another teacher or leader present in place if my attendance. But Sam Young is correct; no more one on one interviews.

  54. Thomas Eastmond and Pedro… I respect that you are trying to find a path toward minimizing the bishop’s asking of detailed and inappropriate questions, but I feel that the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet is in many ways the source of the problem rather than the solution to it. It goes in to a fair amount of detail itself, which opens the door wide open for such detailed discussion. In fact, I think the details in that pamphlet are a major reason why many bishops feel the need to ask about those issues.

    Moreover, I think the For Strength of Youth’s discussion of sexual ethics and morality is in many ways damaging or flawed. For example, that phrase “Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings” is completely unrealistic and unhelpful. As a teenager I would get aroused just holding a guy’s hand. Not to mention modestly kissing my fiance. That kind of all-or-nothing mentality promotes excessive guilt and compulsive behavior.

    Bottom line is, I think we really shouldn’t be stressing so much about the details of sexual activity, not just in interviews but even in our teaching of youth. Yes, it’s important to teach sexual ethics and general principles of consent and fidelity, and it’s fine to ask in temple recommend interviews if the interviewee is adhering to the law of chastity. But investigating their interpretation of that is as unhelpful as it would be to ask someone to bring in their tax returns to tithing settlement and do a line-by-line analysis of whether or not they are really paying a full tithing.

  55. (In contrast, I do think that parents should be open with their children in discussing details about sex, managing sexual desire, and engaging in healthy and age-appropriate physical relationships. I just don’t think that should be the role of youth leaders and bishops.)

  56. In the temple, when you covenant to keep the law of chastity they literally define it. Why can’t they do that and let it go? “Do you keep the law of chastity, which is no sexual relations except with your spouse to whom you are legally and lawfully married.” Yes or no. That’s it.

  57. “Why do we immediately release Sunday school teachers for not following the correlated lesson plan, yet Bishops get a pass for the same thing?”

    This seems like an overstatement. I know there’s variation in the church and there may be some wards where “not following the correlated lesson plan” results in immediate release, but in my experience in the church, in wards in upstate NY, Minnesota, Utah, and Arizona, teachers frequently depart from the manual with no adverse consequences. And I know of some bishops and branch presidents that have been specifically and directly asked to not add additional questions to the temple recommend interview.

  58. As a former Branch Prez, I NEVER asked details. The question is simple. Do you obey the law of chastity. Short of cheating on your spouse, the answer you give should be between you and the Lord. Where are these Bishops coming from?

  59. I am responding to the individual that said that bishops ask probing questions because of their own sexual interests.

    While some few may, I believe the vast majority are asking these more probing questions because they believe that they are 1) protecting the sanctity of the temple and 2) protecting the young people on a slippery slope to being unchaste.

    I believe that “Protector” is a pastoral role that many can identify with (and can be easy to get carried away with).

  60. OftenPerplexed says:

    I was just sitting here chatting with my co-workers of other faiths about Sam Young because his excommunication made national news. They asked me what scriptural basis or justification there is for having these youth worthiness interviews where chastity is discussed with our children. I actually don’t know. We lived far from a temple when I was a youth but I was still asked questions about chastity. I think probably to elicit anything I might need to confess. My mother in law says that the bishop’s questions and discussions about chastity and sex started in the 70s as she recalls, but she couldn’t give me a scriptural or doctrinal reference. Anyone know? She didn’t even have worthiness interviews as a youth going to the Salt Lake temple.

  61. Definitely no scriptural basis for this. Probably started as an initiative of President Kimball.

  62. Wait, are bishops out there doing worthiness interviews outside the context of issuing a temple recommend (or an eight-year old baptism)? That’s news to me.

  63. OftenPerplexed says:

    Yes, I know these questions are being asked outside temple recommend interviews. For my niece she was asked just five months ago about her chastity in her semiannual sit-down with her bishop and there was no planned temple trip. He reviewed the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet with each Young Woman and asked questions. As I said, same for me 30 years ago.

  64. wreddyornot says:

    As a toddler at bath time Mommy or Daddy would give me some play time with my rubber ducky or whatever. Before long, I turned on my tummy, exploring as one does, and I found out how good it felt to rub up and down, increasingly so until, you know, it didn’t anymore. Now, as an old man, a widower, if I have a tub and I turn over and rub up and down there, have I broken the law of chastity? If so, upon confession to the bishop, do I have to bring the tub into it? I don’t think it would be considered consensual.

  65. nobody, really says:

    JKC, yes. Annually, around a birthday, for youth 12-18. A counselor or the Bishop/Branch President also interviews halfway between birthdays. Executive Secretaries, Clerks, and Bishoprics have access to a “Bishop’s Action List” that has all the youth that should be interviewed, by month. The Bishop/BP does the half-year interviews for 16-18 year olds, 1st counselor covers half-year 14-15s, and 2nd counselor does the half-year 12-13s. In the past, having been through these interviews with no red flags was considered sufficient to be included on a group recommend for a temple baptism trip.

    Additional interviews are supposed to take place for young adults 18-30 annually.

    I’ve also heard from a Stake President that “the youth need a good scrubbing in these interviews, with a wire brush”.

    Luckily for me, I’ve got current leadership convinced that if a parent isn’t in the room, then a counselor or clerk needs to be. A recent recommend interview I had simply had the question “How would you define the Law of Chastity? Do you keep it?” I would hope that this is the pattern currently being used in the entire stake.

  66. About time that this subject is getting some attention at BCC. Thanks.

    To Thomas Eastmond, this is a silly idea. For a variety of reasons. One of those reasons being that For the Strength of Youth is an absurd if not despicable document, comparing sexual “sin” like masturbation with murder!

    It seems to me that we are at a crossroads with this subject just like we faced similar crossroads with things like evolution and racism in the past. The bottom line is that our attitudes about sexuality and human sexual development are wrong. As the most obvious example, there is nothing wrong or unhealthy about masturbation – at all. This attitude is so backwards from the science, it is itself highly abusive. Ironically, and sadly, so many of the problems we aim to solve could be addressed by de-stigmatizing masturbation and even encouraging it.

    Question. If the prophets have to look to historians for answers, like how Elder Cook repeatedly deferred to Kate Holbrook and Matt Grow during the recent Face to Face testimony meeting thingy, why don’t those same prophets also defer to experts when it comes to other subjects like sex?

  67. D Christian Harrison says:

    Priesthood advancement, JKC… and the semi-annual “youth interview”?

  68. To wreddyornot: I am laughing hysterically. I would love to see the look on a bishop’s face when you say “I’m having sex with my tub.”

  69. Guys, I’m familiar with semi-annual youth interviews. But I never understood that to be a worthiness interview. But good point, Christian, about priesthood ordination.

  70. While I’ve never had any experience with bishops asking sexually explicit questions in interviews, I’ve heard enough stories from others that I thought I could no longer be surprised by anything. Yet my jaw still dropped several times while reading the comments here.

    I appreciate the change that gives youth the option of having their parents present during an interview. At the same time, I wonder how many people forgo the option because they’re afraid of giving the impression that they’re mistrustful of the interview, or they don’t want to make their kid feel like they’re treating them like a baby (or whatever). When my 12yo and I were given the option of having me accompany her for her first temple recommend interview (with a bishopric counselor), I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew my daughter wouldn’t say one way or the other whether she wanted me to be there, and I also had no idea if she wanted me there or not. I did know that having a family member present sometimes increases her anxiety rather than alleviating it, so I wound up letting her do the interview alone. I still don’t know if that was the right call or not. I almost wished it was just mandatory to have a parent there so I wouldn’t have to be responsible for the decision. I still think it’s odd that as a Primary teacher, I always have to have another adult present in my classroom, but a bishop or bishop’s counselor can be alone with a youth and the church doesn’t see any potential for liability there. (Yet.)

    I don’t think having a second adult present is helpful if that adult is another adult male (such as a counselor or clerk). As a teenager, that would have made me even more anxious and uncomfortable.

    I also think that if our leaders can internalize all the detailed instructions about what sort of musical instruments are allowed in sacrament meetings and what you’re allowed to do at funerals, surely they can be trained to understand what sort of questions are inappropriate for interviews.

  71. OftenPerplexed says:

    JKC, the semi-annual interview isn’t a worthiness interview but is often used to make sure that the youth understand and are living church standards. The youth interviews are basically whatever the bishopric wants them to be. In my niece’s stake they asked the bishops to review the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet annually.

  72. Yes, JKC. A bishop in my stake boasted at a recent stake priesthood leadership meeting that he interviews all the YM in his ward monthly because the world is so bad he has to make sure they are confessing everything to him.

  73. Whenever I get the urge to confess to moments of occasional weakness I stop and think of these great lyrics by Miranda Lambert: “I bet (Jesus) would understand a heart like mine.”

  74. Yeah, I get that the youth interviews are pretty free-ranging, it just hadn’t occurred to me that bishops would use it to do full-scale worthiness interviews. My bishops never did when I was in the youth program, and my kids aren’t old enough yet for that, and it hasn’t come up in our stake leadership meetings that I can recall.

  75. So this is what BCC has come to . . . people advocating that our youth should be anxiously engaged in masturbation? That’s just loony.

  76. Mike, I dare you to ask my teen daughter if she engages in masturbation when you’re alone together behind closed doors. Does that feel like Christ-like to you? What about my son, who has such intense anxiety about even having an “impure” thought that his relationships suffer? You going to beat him up spiritually too until he hates himself even more? I’m pretty sure my children’s worth has little to do with what another grown adult male leader over them thinks, but they are priceless to deity regardless of the weaknesses they are learning to control, which are frankly none of your business.

  77. Laura Saben says:

    Your bishop is not the typical, sounds like he needed to seek counsel from his stake president. The stregth of use says nothing of confession as we dont use a modelmof confession. You are misrepresenting counsel with confession. Counsel with a bishop is simply a conversation; you go to God to repent of your wrong doings and use the atonement to make changes. If you have crossed lines; which unless you have made temple covenants usually results in cognative behavior therapy of how you living.

  78. Laura: I quote the Repentance section of For the Strength of Youth.

    “Serious sins, such as sexual transgression or use of pornography, need to be confessed to your bishop. Be completely honest with him. He will help you repent.”

  79. Geoff - Aus says:

    I think there is an element of abuse of power. When I was a bishops councillor we had a church court for a sister who confessed extra marrital sex. During the process the bishop asked very detailed questions that 35 years later i remember how inapropriate it was.
    I now have a bishop 35 years younger than myself. His father in law was a previous bishop, who refused me a TR. When I went for a TR, he questioned me for an hour but never got to the questions. Did the same thing again so I went to the SP. I interpreted this as a power play. I would be very concerned about how he would treat young people, from his position of power.

  80. OftenPerplexed says:

    I asked my niece about her Bishop’s review of the FTSOY pamphlet with her and the other youth in their semi-annual interviews. She tells me that during the chastity review, he counseled them that sexual thoughts and feelings can’t co-exist with goodness, purity and virtue. Preserve your virtue by repenting when sexual thoughts and feelings arise and you will be okay. That was her big take away from her interview. It doesn’t sound like he got into details too much other than mentioning masturbation and pornography use, and she did not confess anything; nevertheless, in my mind, his message was not a healthy message.

  81. What if the whole concept of worthiness is nonsense? What if repentance just requires changing the way you are living without needing to seek approval from some mortal authority? What if sex outside of marriage is not the sin next to murder? Alma could have meant that leading others not to have faith is the serious sin. I get why the church might want to take action in order to protect the members if abuse occurs or a crime has been committed . However, I don’t think God requires any of the crazy stuff that a lot of well-meaning bishops want in relation to sexual sin.

    In any case, worthiness interviews don’t accomplish the goal. Lots of “unworthy” people go to the temple, take the sacrament, and perform ordinances. They just don’t tell their bishops. The majority of people who confess to bishops are the honest ones who probably are doing pretty good. Yet, many of them are made to feel horrible and ashamed in ways that affect them for years. I do not believe that should ever be part of repentance.

    As an institute teacher pointed out to me long ago, Alma did not take three days of agony to repent. He only needed to accept Christ’s atonement. That took an instant.

  82. Adano wrote 9/19 at 9:26

    “We wouldn’t ask somebody approaching the bishop about a pornography habit to bring in the actual pornography and view it together with the bishop, after all.”

    Not exactly the same but close…

    I was briefly married to a gorgeous Japanese girl when I was in college back in the 1970’s. I knew she had a colorful past but not that many details. She told me her parents back in Japan were not married. Her mother was one of many mistresses and half Malaysian/half Japanese. Her father was in the security business. She always seemed to have plenty of cash in her purse but I couldn’t tell where it came from. I think her primary interest in a straight arrow like me was trying to get her life back in order. She had been baptized in Japan and gone inactive. She was remorseful, sincere and wanted a break from her past. However, she rather easily seduced me because of my inexperience. I was taught that if you slept with a girl you should marry her in order to keep the sin in one family. There was also the matter of her visa having expired. I proposed and we eloped. My parents were not amused.

    We attended the married student ward but we were not ready to go through the repentance process just yet. We prayed and read the scriptures together which she loved to do. We made plans for a future as a conventional Mormon family. The bishop could see on our membership records that I had served a mission to Japan but we had not married in the temple and he could surmise the rest.

    My new wife had an elaborate tattoo covering most of her back of a tiger stalking in the jungle with brilliant colors unlike any tattoo I had ever seen before and also a matching pair of abstract sunburst designs on her bottom. She sometimes liked to use this “herbal extract” called “hiropon” before getting wild and intimate but insisted I not take the extract. I didn’t know if it was against the Word of Wisdom or not. (I found out later it is sort of like a less potent form of meth).

    During Sunday school one fateful day the bishop took me into his office and pulled out a stack of girlie magazines from his desk. I noticed a number of paper clips marking certain pages as he flipped through them. They were all Asian girls in obscene poses but no men, animals or devices involved. He showed me several pictures of my new wife. He could not image that she had tattoos like that and he presumed they must have been cut and pasted. He wanted to know if I could tell if her body looked like that or whether someone had managed to get a picture of just her face and pasted it onto another girl’s body. The bishop explained that one of the men in the ward was struggling with an addiction to this material and was surprised to see a girl sitting there in church who was also featured in these magazines.

    The bishop also mentioned that even if innocent of being photographed naked, her clothing was immodest and several wives were complaining it distracted their husbands which I admitted her clothing was a bit edgy and not garment compatible. But not any worse than what one would see on campus every day.

    I refused to tell him if it was or was not by wife. I was so shocked I walked out of the interview. The bishop went and got my wife and I tried to tell her not to go in there. She was pretty independent and didn’t listen to me. She not only walked out of the interview but she walked out of the marriage, “to protect me.” I begged her to stay and tried to tell her I loved her more than this and forgiveness was always possible but she did not agree. I went inactive for a few years. I guess the bishop was just doing his job protecting the church from a repenting sinner who was dangerous but still trying to come back into the fold.

    Though the church pretends otherwise, bishops routinely mishandle simple common problems and are completely unequipped to deal with a person who might be trying to overcome really serious calamities- like multi-generational exploitation of women and organized crime. (“Security business” my ass).

  83. DoubtingTom says:

    No follow up detail questions need to be asked, even if the person answers “no” to the law of chastity question. Bishops are ministers, not interrogators. They are there to help the individual get to a place where they are at peace in their relationship with God. The concept of “judges in Israel” I think is actually damaging and needs to go away. There are way too many examples of “discernment” gone astray and variations in the way different Bishops judge for this concept to be a useful one. The only follow up questions should be about if the individual feels they have repented and feels at peace with God.

    Perhaps a Bishop could encourage that those God-given feelings and emotions are natural and beautiful but efforts should be made to save them for marriage. No shaming. No detailed probing. That accomplishes nothing helpful. Bishops minister and help individuals arrive at places of peace with themselves and God and their Savior. That’s all.

  84. @Mike, I would recommend you (or anyone) read The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian. This is a debate we should have. Not just now, in this moment, but continuously. It’s a shame these topics are taboo and cannot even be discussed. It’s a discussion that should be happening, openly, at church.

    It’s a strange thing though, the church stigmatizes sex as something dirty and off limits which should not be talked about. It’s as if talking about it will give people options that the church doesn’t want them to know they have, or something. And then you end up with 40 year old women who still don’t even know what an orgasm is after fifteen years of marriage and having half a dozen children. Some of you will laugh. I can introduce you to several women like this. Go talk to someone like Jennifer Finlayson-Fife or Natasha Helfer Park. Their offices are filled with LDS adults who have the sexual maturity of children.

    I would not use the phrase “anxiously engaged,” but short answer, yes, youth should masturbate. Adults should too. Before marriage, after marriage, within marriage. They all already do. The issue is whether we’re going to accept our biological realities or shame people and saddle them with issues they’ll carry around for the rest of their life.

    Happy to share my own experience and describe how it has impacted me. For sure what I can say is that I absolutely do not want my children going through the hell I was put through. And if I have to leave the church and get my children as far away from my blood tribe as possible to protect them, that’s sadly what I’ll do.

    It is an profound irony. I know to say so is confusing to many because for them the experience was different, so it comes across as offensive, but the truth of the matter is that we are systematically abusing children. It’s not a little problem, outliers who fall through the vetting cracks, the occasional wayward bishop. It is systemic, the rule, not the exception. How many on the roles are active? 25%? 20%? How many of those who are inactive had negative experiences with worthiness interviews?

    Challenge. I challenge you to lookup all the inactives on your directory and visit them. But don’t visit them in order to re-activate them. Instead visit them to take a survey. Go find out how many of them experienced uncomfortable worthiness interviews that they considered inappropriate. I will bet you cash money that a majority of the people will report having had such negative experiences. When I talk to people within my social circles, both active and inactive members, a large majority have reported such experiences. Especially among the men.

  85. To address the question of any follow up questions to the Law of Chastity question, my Stake President recently instructed all of the Bishopric’s to follow up with a question about pornography. I forget if it was “Are you looking at pornography” or “Are you having trouble with pornography”, but it was along those lines. I didn’t find it to be inappropriate or too probing.

  86. Here’s something that happened a couple of years ago in a neighboring stake that still has me gobsmacked: It turns out it’s not just bishops asking inappropriate questions.

    One of my best friend’s daughters reactivated herself in her early 20s after several years of being away. The daughter had been through the repentance process with her bishop and decided she wanted to serve a mission, with the full support of said bishop. However, the stake had formed a committee that would vet whether or not missionaries could go, and they wanted explicit details of anything this young woman had done while inactive. Had she had sex? How many partners? Had she ever engaged in oral sex? How many times? (Talk about out-of-touch. What young sexually active adult isn’t doing that?) Had she ever had anal sex? How many times?

    My friend’s daughter felt extremely embarrassed. These were not questions she wanted to answer. Her bishop was apologetic, because he felt she was worthy. Her mother was appalled. I’m still shaking my head. In the end, she decided not to put in her papers for a mission.

    Is this some weird one-off? I’m sure hoping no one else has heard of this practice in the church.

  87. A missionary vetting committee? That’s a new one. That sounds a little to me like an abdication of the bishop’s and stake president’s responsibility, and I’m not sure how it could be justified under our understanding of priesthood keys.

  88. To “also anon” (6:46pm): if that story is true, I am very alarmed. That needs to be urgently reported to higher authorities. That is unbelievably abusive and fundamentally denies the Atonement since she had gone through the repentance process and her Bishop had recommended her for a mission.

  89. Honestly, it sounds like somebody got a little carried away with the “raising the bar” thing a few years back and this grew out of it.

  90. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I remember being asked if I kept the law of chastity by the bishop around age 13. I knew what a law was and I knew that Chastity was the daughter of Sonny and Cher, but I had no idea what a law of chastity was. In my experience with doing TR interviews with the younger age group of the YM/YW, many of them are not clear what I was asking about either. So, I’m not sure that asking ‘do you keep the law of chastity’ is useful without going on to define it. That defining part of it would be reason enough for a parent to be there.

  91. I know someone who was a brand new bishop’s counselor. He interviewed one of the strongest smartest and sharpest young women in the ward for her temple recommend. When he asked her “do you live the law of chastity? “ she replied, “not always.”

    He said a brief moment of shock was quickly followed by panic as he thought, “What do I do now?” But then she quickly added, “sometimes I drink Coke.”

  92. Kevin Barney says:

    If someone complains about the vetting committee to Salt Lake, I would put it in terms that will have an impact: a group of people *without keys* were asking a woman very intrusive questions about sex. I bet they burn that practice down in a hurry…

  93. “These lines of questioning must stop. The power dynamic is inherently coercive; the topic of discussion inherently ripe for abuse, damaging counsel, and re-traumatization. But more needs to be done to eradicate all of the terrible ideas that lay, untrained clergy exhibit surrounding chastity, sex, worthiness, and confession.”

    Absolutely agree!

    My spouse told me about an experience in his ward some 45 yrs. ago. A guest speaker (some type of therapist?) was invited to speak to the YM about masturbation. The speaker started off with the question: “If you don’t masturbate raise your hand.” Stunned silence, nobody raised their hand. Speaker then said, “good, we don’t have any liars here today.”
    Then proceeded to tell them that masturbation was a natural, normal and okay. Needless to say the speaker was never invited back.

    At a minimum, I don’t think men should be interviewing female minors about the law of chastity.
    The church should focus on educating parents–mothers should talk to daughters, fathers should talk to sons–so that only one question needs an answer “do you live the law of chastity” and everybody clearly knows what that means ie sexual intercourse.

  94. “also anon, if that story is true, I am very alarmed”

    I rarely post here at BCC but I read regularly, and when I do post it’s typically with a different moniker, so yeah, I could be some random troll. There’s no way to vet myself other than becoming a regular commenter with a known identity, and even that’s not foolproof. My default nature is to trust, even to the point of gullibility, so sometimes I have to remind myself to bring a grain of salt to the comments here, especially with stories like this. It’s an interesting thing to be on the other side of the coin – this time I have the outrageous story, and no one has any way of knowing that I’m legit.

    Because, let’s be honest, this story is waaaay out there. It blew my mind when I heard it, but it came from an old friend of over 20 years and I have no reason to disbelieve her. But here’s a new question based on the responses I’ve received: how does SLC find out about something like this? How could you even let them know? We’ve talked here many times about the lack of a communication channel, and that complaints sent to authorities above the stake level get bounced right back. This didn’t happen in Utah, but Alberta isn’t THAT far away.

  95. I believe “worthiness” interviews have the potential to be so destructive. As I mentioned before here on BCC, as a teen I almost killed myself after being put by my bishop through the repentance process for being raped. Additionally, I have personally been asked by other bishops every one of the questions ‘also anon’ mentioned as well as other questions of whether I orgasmed, if I was wet, and more. Understandably, for many years I had a fear-based, shame-based relationship with God. Additionaly, I think the very notion that a 13-year old could be unworthy is grounded in a fundamental misunderstanding of where, and from Whom, our worthiness derives.

  96. Rigel wrote (12:42pm): “In my experience with doing TR interviews with the younger age group of the YM/YW, many of them are not clear what I was asking about either. So, I’m not sure that asking ‘do you keep the law of chastity’ is useful without going on to define it. That defining part of it would be reason enough for a parent to be there.”

    It would be great if the parent is there and the bishop only asks “do you keep the law of chastity” and then asks the parent to help the child understand what it is.

  97. Aussie Mormon says:

    Ideally the child would be taught before going into the interview what it is.

  98. Trying to recall one woman’s experience as a beehive: She had went to her Bishop for a Limited use Temple Recommend. She was asked if she masturbated. She had no idea what that was, so, the Bishop explained what it was, and not to do it. So, she went home right after that, and tried it for the first time.

    Too bad this story is not unique.

  99. I just learned my sister’s variation of this story a few months ago, once Sam Young hit the news and she opened up to me. Both my sister and I are in our 40s.

    She was 12 and had masturbation explained to her by our bishop, because she had no idea what it was. In her case, she didn’t go home and try it out; instead she was so terrified about doing the wrong thing that for months afterward she didn’t even feel comfortable cleaning herself in the shower.

    Still feeling mad about that.

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