Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.
When I married 17 years ago, I was a True Believing Mormon. Since coming out atheist to my wife several years ago, she has only become more fervent in her Mormonism, and consequently there is an understandably heightening of tension when it comes to issues regarding our children. Our oldest is 15, and occasionally is requested to undergo what Mormons call a “Temple Interview” where members of the church are asked a series of questions to determine their moral worthiness in preparation for a trip to the temple. Among these questions is one in particular that I find problematic, and that is regarding masturbation. Masturbation is supposedly forbidden in the church, (so obviously everyone is forced to lie about it) and I believe that this belief and its enforcement is detrimental to both physical and mental health and wellbeing of all. Am I wrong in having issues with some arbitrary religious authority, alone in a room with my son, asking questions about what he may or may not be doing with his penis in private?
I have previously asked my son to not answer that question, and refer the asker to me. This he was unable to do, as it puts him in an awkward position. So now I am inclined to write the Bishop of my ward informing him that he is under no circumstance to question, or authorize anyone under his authority to question my kids regarding sexual issues. My dilemma is how that will go over with my wife. In order to enforce this restriction I feel that there must be some repercussion against it, such as withdrawing my kids from church attendance for some duration. This would necessitate a discussion with her that she would be unable to comprehend.
Should I find some way to ignore this issue? Or is this worth addressing? Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
I have read that the actual question that might lead to a discussion with your son about masturbation is “Do you live the law of chastity?” How deeply that discussion goes with a 15 year-old boy might be at the discretion of the interviewer. If the things you actually know about the interviews he has attended rise to the level of emotional abuse, then that is a matter for immediate intervention, but I can’t tell enough from your letter to have a strong impression that that is warranted.
It sounds as though your son has gone through this charade before, and he has somehow found a way to do it, since you have not mentioned his ever having been barred from the temple.
Rather than intervening on his behalf without consulting him, it might be more helpful for you to ask him if he has any problem with these interviews and that particular question. Giving him as safe an opportunity to talk to you about it as you can is probably the better place to start.
Just to make sure that he has no misconceptions about masturbation being a bad thing, or about it being uncommon, you might briefly tell him that there’s nothing wrong with it, that it’s natural, and that there is a good chance that the man who will be interviewing him does it too. The point would be to discredit the destructive curse of inappropriate guilt that the prohibition carries.
Gently encourage him to be truthful in the interview, but leave it up to him. Let him know that however he answers and whatever the outcome, you will be completely supportive of him. You love him regardless. This will compare you very favorably in contrast to the Church. You accept him just as he is, but they only accept him if he either denies a natural and harmless urge, or he lies.
If your son says he’s okay with these interviews, then tell him that you’ll be happy to advise him or come to his assistance if he asks you, and then set the issue aside. In this way you will be empowering him to have confidence to deal with this, rather than reinforcing a self image of being a helpless victim.
The consequences of an unnecessary rescue could be worse than whatever he actually experiences in the interview. This is because he is in a delicate position of divided loyalties.
Caught between you and his mother, your son is always vulnerable to becoming a rope in a tug-of-war. If you increase the tension between you and your wife over this, or if he feels pressure from both of you to agree with your differing opinions about the Mormon Church, then the strain on your son from trying to somehow please both his father and his mother may be much worse than his having to brood over telling the lie that everyone knows is a lie, but they pretend to believe.
I can certainly understand your resentment at the sham of pious pretenders asking him about his private sex life. The injunction against masturbation is based on ridiculous superstition. But be careful not to misplace your disdain and anger at the LDS and end up inadvertently using your son as a weapon against the Church or your wife. Your actions must be carefully thought out, and strictly for his overall well being, rather than for expressing your personal disagreement with their absurd taboos.
Barry, as his father, be for him a refuge of reason and a resource of high esteem. Give him accurate information and reassurance that his humanity is completely acceptable. Always be watchful for signs of distress, but if he doesn’t really need rescuing, then in ways appropriate for his age, let him work his own way through things, and show your admiration for him as he solves problems that come his way.
You’ll be proud of each other.