Youth, Bishop’s Interviews, and Self-Exploration: Shepherding Our Youth to a Healthy Sexuality
My oldest child is less than one year away from going into Young Men’s. I’m concerned about the interviews with the bishop that will be forthcoming.
My worry is that the bishop will ask him about masturbation. I don’t know if my son has done it or if he will be doing it in his teen years, but I lean towards viewing the practice as a natural part of human development. Not that I want him to be doing it five times a day. And I definitely don’t want him looking at porn. But my intuition is that it’s normal and not unhealthy for a teen to have some sense of how his/her body works sexually.
I recently learned from LDS therapist Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, in fact, that girls who self-explored and understood how arousal happened – and who viewed their sexuality as their own and not their future husband’s – were more likely to have healthier and happier sex lives once they were married. As she says, what we want to do as parents is to shepherd our kids into having healthy, committed, loving partnerships someday. Things that are likely to not lead to that – like porn use – should be discouraged. Also discouraged should be messages that associate sexuality with dirtiness, shame, badness, etc., since people who have internalized those messages often have a difficult time embracing their sexuality in marriage.
I’m not sure if self-exploration among adolescent boys is correlated with a future healthy partnered sex life, but I think some curiosity and self-exploration is fine, and I hate the idea of my child being eaten up by feelings of guilt or shame because of it. I also am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that my child might feel he has to have a humiliating talk about something so personal and so private with a man who is virtually a stranger. The whole setup raises red flags for me.
So I’m in the midst of mapping out strategies for how to deal with this situation when the time comes. I’m thinking this will be my plan of attack:
- Talk to the bishop privately and ask him about his interview practices. What wording does he use when he asks about the law of chastity? Does he ask youth about masturbation? If so, I will ask him to not ask my son about that. If the bishop insists on asking that question, I’ll suggest that my son tell him, “My mom has told me that I do not need to discuss that with you.”
- Talk to my son and tell him that I believe the law of chastity to be referring to two people engaging in sexual acts – not self-exploration.
- Talk to my son about how he feels doing these interviews. Does he want to be interviewed? Would he like a parent to be there? I’m happy to accompany him – and happy to talk to the bishop beforehand about what exactly he’ll be asking so he’ll go in knowing what to expect.
- With my daughter, I plan to be in the room during interviews. It’s uncomfortable to think of stranger men talking to my son about chastity stuff, but even more red flags come up for me when I think of my teenage daughter being exposed to questions about sex from a forty-year-old man behind a closed door.
I’m hoping these precautions will help protect my kids from unnecessary guilt and intrusion into their personal lives. To be clear, I’m pretty confident that our bishop is an upstanding and non-creepy guy. But the very setup, which I know in times past has involved direct questions about masturbation, seems very problematic. I’d like my children to learn in their youth that there are boundaries they should feel free to draw with their church leaders — and that there are issues that they should determine the morality of for themselves.
What have been your experiences with this issue? Are you concerned about bishops talking to youth about this? Why or why not?