At some indistinct point before the arrival of my teenage years, the Jehovah’s Witness society released a book designed to assist every young witness in all matters of their faltering salvation. The creative writing department had proudly and originally named it “The Youth Book” and typical of the society’s literature, it was unnecessarily thick and stuffed to the hilt with boredom. Thus, having met the required criteria, it became the natural study choice for our Tuesday evening meeting.
It was released during one of our large assemblies where thousands of eager witnesses gathered to hear the latest revised date for the end of the world from the society. In a moment of perverse generosity Dad bought us all a copy and as I thumbed through the pages I noted that for the most part they exhorted young people to be good Christians, to preach the good news rather than to marry, to preach the good news rather than to go to university (1) along with many other practical suggestions aimed solely at swelling the rank and file of the faith. There was one chapter, however, that particularly caught my eye. Its theme was that of sex and self-abuse, and was filled with many practical ways in which the witness youth could avoid partaking of those evil practices.
“That’s going to be an interesting evening.” I thought to myself, as undoubtedly did every other witness the world out. As it turned out, I wasn’t at all wrong.
I have to admit that before the release of the ‘Youth Book’ I wasn’t really interested in sex and was completely oblivious of what masturbation was all about. I had heard people calling one another ‘a wanker’, but hadn’t really understood its meaning. For me it was just another one of those prohibited words that people used in public and the witnesses used out of earshot of everyone except, of course, God.
So it came as quite a revelation to me when, during the Tuesday book study and with all ages present, we began to plumb the murky and distinctly icky depths of just how the society viewed self-abuse. Of course, much of the language used in the book was deliberately cryptic, for example, when they needed to mention the penis or, heaven forbid, the vagina, they would use their favourite biblical expression which was to call them ‘the bodily members’. Although the majority of us had an idea of what they were referring to, it did tend to confuse the very youngest amongst us who would immediately start to examine their fingers in a new and guilt ridden way.
This none descript wording was brutally clarified, however, through the subsequent references made to some of the most sexually graphic scriptures contained in the bible. Leviticus described, for example, the undeniably colourful yet gruesome activities performed by those who would certainly not inherit the kingdom. To list them in brief, there were the adulterers, (2) the fornicators, (3) the men who lay with men, (4) the men who lay with beasts, (5) along with a plethora of other repugnant yet, I suppose to us all, quite intriguing sexual pastimes. As a group, I think we were pretty much confident that none of us engaged in any of those activities, and breathing a sigh of relief, we all looked ahead to a full inheritance of the kingdom thingy. Unfortunately, our momentary complacency was shattered to pieces when the publication went on to warn us of a worrying catch 22 situation. It seemed that we could be equally guilty of all of these unspeakable acts without actually having done them, a shocking discovery that was a cause of great consternation within our little group present that particular evening.
“How could that be?” we all wondered as we watched our beloved paradise earth and everlasting life slip through our fingers like K.Y. jelly. According to the book, the sexual act itself was merely the physical manifestation of our own filthy premeditated thoughts. To help clear up any doubt about this, we were counselled to consider the famous scripture that admonishes, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Apparently, this meant that the very act of thinking about what it might be like to do bad stuff was just as bad as actually doing it!
If this was the case, I thought, then the lot of us were buggered and right up to the hilt at that! I certainly had been thinking about men in all kinds of positions, as I was sure, had everyone else. We were, after all, studying it in profundity! What on earth did they expect to happen? In today’s modern world it’s widely recognised that telling someone not to think about something makes them automatically think about it. For example, if you say to someone, “Don’t think about a black man’s penis.” the first thing that will pop into their mind is that very image. Try it out on your friends; it’s a lot of fun. Knowing that now, however, makes me realise that we were all on a hiding to nowhere. We were being forced to first learn all about the terrible things that we couldn’t take part in and then we were being told not think about them.
As the meeting progressed we moved on to the chapter about self-abuse and the ramifications of the wanton spilling of seed. A quick look around the group told me that all of us were beginning to feel quite uncomfortable about the direction in which things were going. Many of the older children were noticeably squirming in their seats, cheeks aflame and heads bowed down expressly avoiding any possible eye contact with the elder leading the meeting. This, one would suppose, had to do with either the acute guilt they felt for already having abused themselves, or the acute excitement at the thought of giving it a bash as soon as they got home.
As we waded through the chapter we were given lots of practical advice on how to avoid putting ourselves in situations in which we were more likely than not to masturbate. It was recommended that we didn’t sleep on our back, for example, as the position could possibly encourage uncontrollable hand wandering. Then the totally ineffective use of cold showers was also suggested as well as having your parents strap boxing gloves to your hands before going to bed. It was rumoured that although this was common practice, many of us, in desperation, had learned to do it with our feet.
Sharing a room was a further recommendation, allowing us the opportunity to engage in some uplifting Christian conversation if ever the mood to crack one off the wrist were to come upon us in the night. One other suggestion was that, if we really couldn’t control our urges, then it would be best for us to get married! In essence, then, the advice to us youngsters was that if we were so desperate for a shag that we had become a persistent willy wanker, then all we had to do was throw ourselves headlong into wedlock. Sound advice, don’t you think?
1. When I asked my Dad if I could go to university he said, “No way son, you’re going to get a proper job.” I was so upset by that that, just to spite him, I became a civil servant.
2. Adulterers were those who shagged around whilst being married.
3. Fornicators were unmarried people who just shagged in general.
4. These were men who laid men.
5. This was a mutual agreement where chickens laid eggs and men laid chickens.