In Depth

‘Do you masturbate?’ and other questions Mormon bishops urged to stop asking children

Campaigners call for end to ‘worthiness interview’ questions about sex

The Mormon Church is facing growing pressure to end a practice that has allowed adult male bishops to ask children explicit questions about sex and masturbation.

All practising members of the Church - officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) - are required to attend an annual “worthiness interview”, in which they are quizzed on their adherence to the tenets of the faith. These interviews are expected to have commenced by the age of 12, but sometimes begin as young as eight.

Sample questions include “Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?” and “Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men?”

Believers are also asked about their sexual behaviour - a practice that campaigners, including both current and former Mormons, argue is inappropriate and damaging for child participants.

David Sheppard, from London, told the BBC that during an interview in his late teens, he confessed to having sexual relations with girlfriends, in conflict with the Church’s prohibition of extramarital sex.

“I decided to confess to what I had been doing and it resulted in six hours of interrogation,” said Sheppard, who is no longer a Mormon.

“They asked questions like, ‘Did you touch her?’ and ‘Did you make her orgasm?’”

Other past and current members of the Church have shared disturbing accounts of worthiness interviews in posts on the website of campaign group Protect LDS Children, established by practising Mormon Sam Young in 2017.

One man writes that, as a 12-year-old, “my bishop proceeded to explain to me, in detail, what masturbation was”, while another respondent describes feeling “terrible shame” after confessing that she had been molested at the age of nine.

Many say that these feelings of shame, guilt and disgust surrounding sexuality have left permanent psychological scars, including depression, self-loathing and intimacy problems.

In March, Church leaders responded to the growing internal pressure by amending guidelines to allow a parent or other adult to accompany children to worthiness interviews, and advising that questions regarding chastity should not be excessive or explicit.

However, campaigners are demanding that the Church go further and bar bishops from asking under-18s any questions of a sexual nature.

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