The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

 - The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

“What Did You Just Ask Me, Bishop?”

Hand Job

I remember my first interview with my branch president after entering the Young Women program in the Church.  We were going to the Arizona temple to do baptisms for the dead, and I had to pass a “worthiness interview” in order to participate.   I remember walking into the branch president’s office, my bony knees trembling.  I sat in the chair, across from his desk, afraid to look at him.  I was sure he could see all of the horrible things I had done.  I was quite an accomplished liar; I stole from time to time, sneaking candy when nobody was looking.  I fought with my siblings, and a thousand other things that kids do wrong.  I was, however, also a very naïve, chaste, and pure twelve years old.

I remember my branch president asking me if I live the law of chastity.  I answered, yes.  Then he asked me if I knew what that meant.  I said, sure, it means that I wear modest clothing.  He chuckled a bit and told me that it had more to do with kissing and stuff like that.  I think he could tell from the horrified look on my face that I had done no such thing.  Ewww, kissing boys!

I have come to realize since then, that I had a pretty good branch president.  I’ve since heard stories of young girls, the same age as I was hearing the word masturbation for the first time ever, coming out of the mouth of a bishop.  It wasn’t until after I left the church about 10 months ago, that I was even aware that youth are questioned about masturbation.  Nobody ever even told me masturbation was wrong as a youth, nor asked me specifically about it. My parents certainly never brought it up.  I guess my church leaders assumed that girls don’t masturbate, and luckily for me, I was spared that particular humiliation.

I am a mother of five sons.  After leaving the church, and realizing for the first time that my older (now adult) boys were likely asked these kinds of probing questions, I started to get angry.  I thought of my sons, sitting in the bishop’s office being asked very personal questions.  It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling real, seething anger at that monstrous corporation that they call a church.  My boys were either likely introduced to the concept, or humiliatingly grilled about their own private business.  It never occurred to me that because masturbation is “wrong,” that a bishop would actually ask my kids about it.

I intend to ask my boys about it, when the time is right.  Adult sons aren’t all that eager to have conversations with their mothers about masturbation.  I was an uptight Mormon mom and left all of the sex talk to my husband, since we have all boys.  I’m getting quite good at talking openly about things like masturbation, sex, and other “hush-hush” topics.

I interviewed many ex-Mormon friends about this practice in preparation for writing this article, and I promised to keep identities a secret.  Not having been exposed to such questions as a teen, I was shocked at the depth of the harm caused by the church.

One man I spoke with joined the church in his teens.  He was well down the masturbation path as a familiar pastime by the time he joined the church.  He wished to serve a mission, but unfortunately, he was honest with his bishop and confessed about his masturbation habits. His mission was delayed six months as he struggled to control the urge to masturbate. He was required to report every week to his bishop whether he had been successful in conquering his “sin” that week or not.  Finally, he was allowed to serve a mission, and served honorably.

He slipped up once or twice on his mission.  He felt horrible guilt, and turned to his mission president for help.  I’m certain that mission presidents must get masturbators lining up at their office doors.  Maybe they should get one of those “take a number” machines like they have in ice cream shops.

Most women I spoke with were never asked about masturbation, by anyone.  Not by parents, church leaders, bishopric members, or anyone else.  Most men were grilled, with some of the innocent confessing because they were called liars when they denied masturbating.

One particularly heartbreaking story came from a man who began masturbating at the age of 14 after learning from a sex-ed book that it was no big deal.  He then read some things by Spencer W. Kimball, and the “To Young Men Only” pamphlet (filthy piece of disgusting trash) by Boyd K. Packer.  “I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of embarrassment and shame,” he confided. “I felt like I was evil and filthy. But I was also too ashamed to tell the bishop. I knew I was unworthy to be passing and taking the sacrament but I did it anyways because I felt so ashamed.”

After years of cycling through trying to stop, being successful for a few months, confessing to a bishop, slipping up again, and then trying to stop again, he eventually felt worthless.  In his words again: “I wished to kill myself– a lot – largely because of this. But I knew I couldn’t because I would go to hell – so I just felt horrible about myself.”

No young man should feel that kind of crushing guilt, and over masturbating, of all things.  It makes me angry, it makes me want to smash things, and it makes me want to sob. This is a natural activity that provides a psychological and physical release so necessary for teenage boys with raging hormones and sexual urges.  I think of the innocent boys, doing what comes naturally, and by most of the world is considered healthy, being served a platter of guilt sandwiches.  I think of those boys, who, like my friend, hide their remorse and shame.  I think of the other boys who tell the truth, only to suffer public shaming through not being allowed to pass or partake of the sacrament because of their sins.

It makes me wish I could take every one of these suffering boys in my mother’s arms and hold them tight.  I wish I could tell them that God doesn’t care.  They need to know that there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s not shameful, dirty, sinful, disgusting, or is it filthy, vile, and evil. How many are led to the doorstep of suicide, like my friend? These poor young men, with so much to offer, so much to accomplish, so much promise.

Category: Ex Mormon
  • The Flannel Harlot says:

    I’m a girl and I was asked by my bishop when I was sixteen years old if I masturbated. I really had no idea what that meant. (I actually didnt know what sex was until I was 18.) To make things even creepier the bishop was my best friend’s dad.

    May 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm
    • pinkhedgehog says:

      I realized, as I questioned friends, in preparation for writing this article that I was very lucky to have never been asked about this. Most girls are not, but some are, and everyone I spoke to who was felt humiliated. One of my friends things only the pervy bishops ask girls about masturbation.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:10 pm
      • The Flannel Harlot says:

        I agree. Super pervy bishops. And I know of a friend’s friend who was often kissed by her bishop during those interviews. This went on for years, and when the parents found out, they blamed the girl.

        May 21, 2013 at 5:21 pm
  • Lorraine says:

    Wow….. this topic makes me sad for Mormon boys and men. My oldest son was probably asked this question, but I don’t know. I won’t ever ask him because he has enough bad experiences associated with the church.

    Nobody owns our sexuality and that is where the teaching needs to start. Healthy, progressive conversations about normal sexual practices.

    May 21, 2013 at 5:21 pm
  • pinkhedgy's buddy says:

    Good one. Good post. It’s ain’t bad, it’s a great sleep aid. It is important to learn one’s body and not be afraid of it. :) Happy Masturbation, youth. Just keep it in your private bedroom, and it’s all good.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:15 pm
  • CanuckAussie says:

    The best friend of my ex was asked the question in her early teens. The bishop, a pillar of the community and descendant of pioneers, then took the humility further by asking her HOW she did it. Some may blame the individual and not the church but it is church that forces these interviews with no safeguards in place and tells bishops and members that whatever comes into their minds is from God. The church is fully aware this leads to abuse but does nothing to prevent it. Indirectly they encourage it. And negligent parents allow it to continue.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:18 pm
  • Jill Searle says:

    While I was still active, but a long time marginalized feminist, I was called to serve as the church librarian. I think my bishop thought I could do no harm there. Hah, fooled him; one Sunday I took all of the BKP pamphlets on masturbation and threw them away. I was in charge of ordering materials so I simply didn’t order any more. When the young men advisors asked for the pamphlet for their lessons I apologized and said there were none and they were on back order. :o)

    Not a single masturbation pamphlet went out on my watch.

    May 22, 2013 at 6:19 am
    • Victoria says:

      Wonderful, Jill! Good work! BKP tops my list of least favorite church officials – his “work” has caused so much suffering and pain. (For his own sake, he had better hope the atheists are right.)

      I often wonder how many are “still active,” still trying to make the church work for them whatever reason, and yet find themselves doing things in an effort to make small changes from within. For my own part, I spent my last year of activity teaching Sunday School (a class of 16-year old boys I’d had for three years running), and every lesson was about Integrity. Didn’t matter what the assigned subject was – I taught about Integrity. Which is why I had to leave.

      May 22, 2013 at 7:11 am
    • pinkhedgehog says:

      That’s really awesome, Jill! I never got a chance to be a subversive, and I almost (almost) wish I had. I went from Molly to exmo in three weeks, so I didn’t get to have any fun pulling stunts like that.

      May 22, 2013 at 8:24 am
    • Lorraine says:

      Bravo! I refused to teach some of the church mandated stuff from the primary manuals when I was the president.

      May 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm
  • NoLongerAshamed says:

    My best friend growing up was the bishop’s son. Every time he was caught masturbating his father took the door to his room away for a week or two. It was humiliating for him, because it is impossible to not notice a door is missing.

    The thing I remember most is answering all of the really detailed sexual questions. How do I do it, do I look at pornography, what kind, and on and on. I didn’t think much about it back then, because he was just doing god’s work, but now I realize it was really pervy. In fact a lot of the things I tried hadn’t occurred to me until the bishop asked if I had done them.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm
  • M. Zimmerman says:

    My bishop would keep bringing it up in the interview. Of course I lied, I mean, I was a twelve-year-old boy. Did I masturbate? Did I breath? I just didn’t want to admit it. It was this thing I had discovered, was told by my dad not to do -in the most awkward, confusing, and guilt-driven way he could manage- and I didn’t want anyone to know about it. I thought if I told the truth the whole ward, town even, would become aware of it. But he kept asking, “Are you sure Michael? Because this is a problem for some of our youth.” Gross. It was like he wanted to hear all the details.

    May 22, 2013 at 10:44 pm
  • Kristen S says:

    It hurts my heart to think of how many young men and young women have been damaged in countless ways by the church’s attitudes towards masturbation, and sex in general. I was one of the young women who was asked a few times by my bishops if I masturbated. I always lied/played dumb. I had figured out that little trick by the time I was ten, and enjoyed it as often as I could. Fortunately, I never really felt guilty about it, and I now realize how lucky I am that I had some sort of disconnect there.

    Fast forward thirty years, and now I’m raising teens of my own. They know they own their bodies, and I will never shame them over masturbation (OK, sometimes I make masturbatory jokes, just to embarrass them, because where’s the fun in having teens if you can’t embarrass them occasionally ;) ). But it really is a non-issue in our family, and sexual matters are discussed openly.

    I just finished perusing the Sons of Helaman and Mother’s of the Sons of Helaman sites, and found them repulsive. I’m reminded yet again of how grateful I am my children are no longer being raised in the LDS church.

    June 14, 2013 at 11:09 am
  • PSC9586 says:

    So when I moved to Utah as a teenager, I had one of those godawful interviews. The bishop asked me if I engaged in petting. I had NEVER heard that term before so my response was “Listen here Mister, I don’t know what kind of freak you think I am but I don’t do anything with animals!” He was so shocked by my response that he was at a complete loss for words. Later someone tried to explain to me what that term really meant (still not positive on that one) but seriously, that is a grossly inappropriate question to ask!!

    July 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm
  • Knut Holt says:

    People that early have learned how much pleasure they can get from their own bodies, are not so easily available to authorities as objects for exploitation and proffit. Therefore authorities have allwais hunted children and teens that masturbate. But be sure that most of these authorities masturbate themselves.

    August 20, 2013 at 4:42 pm
  • Heather Duncan says:

    you should of told that Mormon fuck to shut the fuck up, and called the cops. If I have a kid I would never allow them to join the Mormon church. I was born a Mormon and was asked the same thing. I didn’t know what the fuck he meant when he said masturbation. I went to my junior high school library and looked it up, I was really horrified and embarrassed this happened to me.

    March 30, 2014 at 6:11 pm