#hearLDSwomen: My Bishop Asked Me Sexually Explicit Questions I Didn’t Understand, so I Researched Them. I Was Eleven

I was eleven years old. I had been called in for a pre-YW/Primary graduation interview. Towards the end of the interview, the bishopric member asked me if I obeyed the law of chastity. When I responded in the affirmative, he asked if I knew what it meant. I responded in an age-appropriate way, something along the lines of “You shouldn’t go too far before you get married.” He chuckled and said, “Yes, but it’s that definition of ‘too far’ where people get stuck.” He then asked me the following questions:

– Have you masturbated?

– Have you let a boy touch your breasts?

– Have you let a boy touch your genitals?

– Have you touched a boy’s genitals?

– Have you had vaginal sex?

– Have you had oral sex?

– Have you had anal sex?

Again, I was *eleven.* I was a child. I hadn’t so much as held a boy’s hand, and my sexual knowledge was limited to the biological basics of reproduction. I didn’t know what most of the terms meant. I was deeply (and, I’m sure, visibly) uncomfortable. When I didn’t understand something, the bishopric member explained it to me – clinically, but explicitly. I had no way of knowing this was not normal. I had been raised to trust my church leaders implicitly.

I was humiliated by the experience, both because I was uncomfortable with what he was explaining and because he’d “needed” to explain it at all. At the time, a lot of my sense of self-worth came from feeling like I was smart and knowledgeable. I was ashamed of my ignorance. I thought I should have known what all of that meant. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in an interview again, so I decided I needed to thoroughly research human sexuality. So I went to the library and I did. I threw myself into the research project as thoroughly as any I’d ever attacked before. At eleven, though, I was not psychologically mature enough for the level of detail and explicitness I was reading. I knew everything I could find information on about sexual practices, techniques, and fetishes long before I had any sexual interest of my own. I do not doubt that this deeply affected my own sexual development.

Several years later, I had a temple recommend interview with another counselor for an upcoming youth temple trip. During the part of the interview about chastity, he informed me that I had an “immodest body type.” I had developed fairly young, and at 14 was already very busty. He told me that I would need to be particularly careful with how I dressed and moved. He called me naturally provocative. He said that others would need to be protected from me. The shame lasted for years.

I recently told my parents about my childhood experiences when talking to them about the Protect LDS Children movement and about my concerns for my teenage siblings. They were understandably shocked and wanted to know why I hadn’t told them at the time. I explained to them that at that age I had no concept of what was supposed to happen during worthiness interviews. I had no way of knowing that explicit descriptions of sexual acts or commentary on the physical sexual development of minors was not normal or appropriate. I was taught that church leaders were trustworthy, that they were stand-ins for God. I assumed any discomfort must be my own fault. Sex was a taboo in my home, as is true for many Mormon families, and so it never would have occurred to me to talk to my parents about the chastity portions of my interviews. I would have been very uncomfortable doing so.

If I had been given the option of having a parent in the interviews with me, I never would have requested it. At that age, I did not know enough to understand what I needed to be protected from. That is why the current policy of allowing a parent to sit in on request is insufficient. By making interviews one-on-one except on request, children are put in the position of being made responsible for their own protection before they have the maturity to understand what is and is not appropriate, and are then blamed for failing to protect themselves if they get hurt. One-on-one interviews facilitate abuse. They are dangerous and need to stop.
– N. Christensen


Pro Tip: Do not ask sexually explicit questions, comment on or objectify women’s bodies, or have one-on-one interviews with youth.

Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

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18 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    I’m so sorry about these unbelievably out-of-line things that were asked of you and told you by bishopric members. I think you make an excellent point that as long as one-on-one interviews are effectively opt-out, most kids and teens won’t know enough or will be too embarrassed to even bring up the possibility of bringing a parent in.

    And oh my gosh but telling you that you have an “immodest body type” just makes me see red! You have the body you have. Holy hell! It’s not your responsibility to keep young men or men from thinking about sex. That’s just awful for him to tell you that you’re inherently *bad*.

  2. Katie says:

    I’m 100% with ziff. It’s all so horrifying.

  3. Steve LHJ says:

    Unacceptable that this happened to you, I’m also very sorry. Do you think if women/girls were interviewed by women and men/boys by men it could solve this kind of problem or make it better?

    • Violadiva says:

      Not as long as the women interviewing girls are still buttressing the patriarchy, projecting the male gaze onto the girls and guilt-tripping them into behaving or dressing a certain way. There is no way to make youth worthiness interviews “better” except by not having them.

  4. Violadiva says:

    oh, my heart is crushed by this agonizing story. So much needless shame, so much stupidity on part of the man who harmed you with words you weren’t ready for. And what an awful way to start your experience in YW. The only thing good about what you wrote is that by being able to write about it, I can tell that you’ve also been able to process it and begin to heal from it. God bless you for that.

  5. madmaxdc says:

    As a male I was asked sexually explicit questions at age 14-15. At that point I’d never even heard the term “masturbation.” I’d grown up in a small, predominantly LDS community. This occurred in 1976-77 time frame. Of course, like any other normal teenage boy I was engaging in this “sinful, next to murder in its seriousness” activity.

    This set me up for 30 years of daily suicidal ideation, culminating in a near brush with suicide at age 45. Although there were other factors at the time, including my loss of faith, divorce, serious and debilitating surgery) it was this fundamental sexual shaming that had me on the edge.

    Sexual shame exists regardless of the gender asking the questions. Spencer W. Kimball, in his book “The Miracle of Forgiveness” was a catalyst for the attempted and successful attempts at suicide. As the church continues holding “worthiness interviews” ever increasing numbers of children are groomed for sexual shame and acceptance of boundary crossing behavior.

    Too many of us have lived with sexual repression, and inhibited marital intimacy because of these interviews. This practice is not in any way beneficial and in fact has debilitating, lifelong consequences.

    • A random Mike says:

      Your experience is very similar to my own. Same time frame (I was about the same age when I was asked these questions in the 1970s), same kind of shame, same kind of suicidal thoughts. It is far past time for this awful and abusive practice to end. I don’t care if it is intended to be helpful or done out of concern for our souls. It contributed to my daughter and son leaving the church. It is harmful, regardless of what was intended when it began. It needs to stop.

  6. Steve LHJ says:

    Yeah, it does seem these types of mistakes are very costly, and I like the idea of erring on the side of protecting youth.

    At the same time, I see the merits and purpose of having a worthiness interview. If there are rules / boundaries around what qualifies a person to enter into a sacred place, let’s say the temple in particular, those boundaries / rules teach us about the value of the sacred thing, and the personal responsibility we have in relation to the divine associated with it. And with responsibility, and knowing you are lining up with that responsibility, a sense of aim, purpose, and accomplishment. These are extraordinarily powerful ideas and motivators, especially for growing youth, and I think reflects some of fundamental place of organized religion at all in our lives. In my mind we want our children to adopt responsibility, have an aim toward the divine and goodness, and to find purpose and discover their innate worth in such pursuits. I’m not sure throwing that out altogether is a great idea.

    And yet this kind of experience/story is devastating, it clearly outlines the risk on the other hand. Two other ideas come to mind:

    1) A more clear rubric of what a worthiness interview should and should not include (like the temple interview questions for adults).

    And 2) What do you think about delegating the questions / interviews for underage children who desire to attend the temple, to parents themselves?

    • madmaxdc says:

      I agree that we “want our children to adopt responsibility…” This is fundamentally our responsibility as parents, to teach our children healthy boundaries, responsible behavior, good decision making, and accountability.

      You also are absolutely correct that these are powerful ideas. They are, unfortunately imposed and cemented through the use of sexual shame. We (and our children) are indoctrinated to believe that an external entity (in this case an untrained representative purported to be an intermediary with God) has the right…nay the responsibility to tell us what and how we are to think, act, and utilize our sexual organs. Sex is simply the most personal and private act of every individual’s life. In indoctrinating our children that our genitals are not “ours” we have stolen control of the most fundamental aspects of “self.” Our very identity is tied up and expressed in our sexuality.

      Fundamentally, a worthiness interview is a place of interrogation. A child is called in, cross examined and held to standards of which in many cases they don’t yet even comprehend. Further, they are shamed if they have thought about sex, touched themselves, or are a victim of abuse. They receive messages all through their adolescence that sex is the “sin next to murder,” that even thinking about sex is sinful (“as ye think so are ye”) even told to try to sing a hymn if sex crosses our mind. An adult has made covenants in the temple regarding the “law of chastity.” A child has not. So why is a child being held to the standards of a grown responsible adult, and punished for bedroom behavior as though they were an adult?

      You also said, “…to find purpose and discover their innate worth in such pursuits.”

      In all of the stories which are flooding the Internet, on PLDSC.org and in many Facebook forums, the one startling fact is that children are having their “inate worth” destroyed by the sexual shame indoctrinated in Mormonism. I’ve read numerous articles by therapists which have reported that Mormon sexual teachings are resulting in a host of problems, ranging from sexual abuse in children, to inhibited marital relations, to damaged marital intimacy, even to divorce and worse.

      Finally, even if the only question is “do you keep the law of chastity” the Bishop has just asked a sexual question of a minor. If the child doesn’t answer, answers incorrectly, or has been abused, the bishop is then free to explore in explicit nature the depths of the child’s “depravity” and assign public punishment for private behavior, putting the child at risk for bullying behavior, shame, depression and suicide.

      The very idea that “sex is the sin next to murder” is absurd. Our very humanness is intricately tied to our sexuality. It is the act in which we express our deepest emotions. It is so deeply tied to our emotional well being that shame can completely warp our purest self. There is literally nothing about sex that is shameful. The shame that is imposed is about controlling another person, making them feel worthless, getting them to surrender their most innate self into mental bondage. The “worthiness interview’s” sole purpose is to inculcate shame and offer church leaders boundary crossing access to controlling members.

    • madmaxdc says:

      One other consideration. This pervasive idea that sexual activity has anything to do with “worth” just doesn’t hold up in examination. A person is “worthy” just by virtue of their existence. I’m really confused with the perception that a person regardless of age is somehow “lessened” for having sexual experience, especially when we are at our most fundamental, basic, humanness…sexual beings.

      While a person can be “irresponsible” in sexual activity, I am unable to be convinced that they are either damaged, or are damaging others, or are somehow less worthy through consensual sexual activity. The “worthiness” demanded by Mormonism is simply an arbitrary standard that is literally unenforceable if a person chooses not to reveal their sexual activity in these interviews. Some have attended the temple anyway. I personally wouldn’t, but there are those who have told me that they did.

      Is the proxy work for the dead invalidated because these people weren’t worthy? Would God be that petty?

  7. Risa says:

    Why are bishops asking any child under the age of consent if they obey the law of chastity. They are incapable of breaking the law of chastity. If something sexual is happening to a child under the age of consent, that’s called sexual abuse.

    Not that I trust bishops to be able to a child who is being sexually abused properly.

    • SC says:

      Exactly. Only licensed, credentialed professionals who received training at accredited institutions of higher learning should even approach these topics with our children! LDS primary and YW/YM manuals are full of lessons that discuss sexual topics (law of chastity lessons), giving all sorts of untrained, unskilled adults with questionable backgrounds and zero credentials free reign to discuss sexual topics with our children, which is morally wrong. Even the government does not let non-family adults discuss these things with youth unless parents first sign a permission slip so that we can first review the materials being presented and the qualifications of the of person presenting them. So, so much emotional and ecclesiastical abuse going on in the CojColds that I was subjected to as a youth. Problem is: my husband doesn’t see it s such and wants me to keep subjecting our own children to it. I might need to put in an anonymous call to CPS againsty ward in order to spare my marriage…

  8. Anon says:

    I can’t think of a YW leader in my ward in over a decade who would be qualified in any way to interview the YW or provide them with serious practical help. Sad but true. Also true of a number of bishops.

  9. M says:

    I found out recently that my sister was subject to interviews like this, but worse, and now I understand completely why she stopped seeing the church as useful in her life.

  10. Angela C says:

    These stories are horrifying, and as we are coming to find out, all too common.

  11. Dani Addante says:

    An “immodest body type”? I’m horrified he said that to you.

  12. Mike H. says:

    What happened to you was genuinely traumatizing.

    Back in the October 1978, President N. E. Tanner had spoke about Bishop’s Interviews should not be pornographic, and, how cross examining every possible sexual sins is not right. I don’t here him being quoted about this, but, hear all of President Benson’s quotes on Politics.

    Pres. Tanner went on to talk about one young man had these kinds of sexually graphic Interviews, then, decide to try them out. Later on, it was determined he couldn’t go on a Mission at that time, and, when he was asked where he got the idea to do some of those acts, he said “My Bishop”.

    This is not isolated in the OP, or, Pres. Tanner’s story. One woman I know of went to see her Bishop as a Beehive, to get a Temple Baptisms for the Dead recommend. Her Bishop asked if she masturbated, and, she didn’t know what that was, so, he explained what it was. After the Interview, she went how & tried out masturbation for the first time!

    Another sister ranted online how her 13 year old daughter was asked if she ever had anal sex. That was too far past the line, IMHO, unless there was independent info from someone else, that this YW had done that.

    The “immodest body type” comment is also way out of line. So, women are supposed to be ashamed about anything active about their bodies? Yet, we also have had promises made to Missionaries, that “the harder your work, the hotter your wife will be”. YW are not supposed to look hot, then, magically become hot for a “good” RM?

    Someone please start making some sense about these issues.

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