Sins of impure thought

My grandsons stayed overnight during the past couple of
days.  At bath time – a bath time
of sorts, a puddle of water in the base of the bath on which the two paddled mechanized
ducks – I noticed how reluctant the older boy was to take off his clothes.  This compared to his younger brother of
two years, who has no shame or modesty.
I put those words together effortlessly, shame and
Why be ashamed of your body?  What drives my grandson as a six-year-old, and not even into
the hormonal stirrings of pre-adolescence, to want to hide his penis from
I remember the sensation as a thirteen-year-old; my
mortification when my older sister insisted I should not try to change my
clothes in private.  My desperation
when all the cubicles at the swimming pool change rooms were occupied and I was
forced to change out of my bathers in public.
Others did not mind. 
Others were okay with standing there naked to towel themselves dry.  Others bent over to pick up clothes,
unabashed by their nakedness, but I had decided early on that it was shameful,
my body was shameful and needed to be kept hidden.
There are those who might suggest my shame comes out of
some sort of desire frustrated, to use a technical term, out of ‘repressed
libido’.  The excitement of looking
at naked bodies,  as I did so
often in those days when I was a child .
I scanned the pages of my father’s art books under cover,
hidden beneath layers of blankets so that no one else, none of my siblings,
might see what I was up to.
What was I up to? 
Looking at naked men and women in old fashioned settings with bits of
material draped over strategic bits, the occasional fig leaf, but enough
nakedness revealed to send shivers of excitement through me. 
I did not understand my excited pleasure but I recognised
it as wrong. 
By the time I was my older grandson’s age I had begun
preparations for my first confession and first communion.  The nuns took us to the priest who
taught us about the nature of sin. 
Sins like stealing and telling lies.
Such tame and obvious sins did not trouble me, but the
priest gave a name to my excitement under the blankets with my father’s
borrowed art books.  
He called mine
the sin of impure thoughts.  And impure
thoughts were worse even than stealing ten pounds.  They were worse even than even the biggest of lies.
Whether it is true or not, in terms of Catholic doctrine,
in my mind it became true: impure thoughts constituted mortal sins, and mortal
sins were dangerous indeed.  
with a mortal sin on your soul and you will be banished to hell forever.  Die with a mortal sin and you can never
enter the kingdom of heaven. 
By the time I was eight years old I agonized over these
incessant sins to the point where I imagined God’s pointed finger burning red
at the tip in my direction, but I could not bring myself to tell the priest
about my impure thoughts in the confessional. 
I could not bear to tell the priest things that I feared
might not only cause him to despise me, but might also stir him up. 
Somehow, I knew about that strange contagion of desire; the
way looking and being seen, listening and telling could evoke powerful
responses in the others. 
What could I do?  My sins of impure thought weighed me down as if I were carrying lead,
like the silver grey lump that rested on a bench in my father’s workshop; a
lump of lead, poisonous my brothers told me, and too heavy for us to
How could I be rid of this sin? 
Then I heard about novenas, and relief from sin, of all
kinds and degrees of severity, when a person goes to mass on the first Friday
of every month for nine months. 
How I managed to get to the first Friday of every month Mass
as a ten year old, I cannot fathom, but in my memory I managed it.  I most likely went along with my
sister. She was busy getting up early most mornings by then to avoid our
father’s visits in the night. 
She and I went to early Mass together. In those days daily
seven o’clock Mass was commonplace. 
She and I walked together to mass to cleanse our souls; she for what was
done to her, and me, for what I might do to others.  

9 thoughts on “Sins of impure thought”

  1. I really couldn’t say when I became conscious of myself in that way. Last year I digitised some old reel-to-reel tapes which my dad had recorded in the sixties and there’s one brief aside where he says (in an exasperated tone), “Jimmy! For goodness sake, put some pants on.” So I guess I must’ve been running around without any underwear on. I would imagine I would’ve been around six at the time. I have no recollection of running around like that. The tapes did dislodge a few memories but nothing much. It really is depressing knowing that these memories are probably still buried in there but I have no way to access them.

    My earliest memory of nakedness was once when on the beach—I would guess I’d’ve been about nine at the time—getting changed with my best friend. He was slow for some reason and I was completely dressed and noticing this I snatched the towel from him so that he was standing there starkers and I remember commenting on the difference between a dressed and a naked person. He wasn’t nearly as intrigued as me and grabbed the towel back embarrassed. There was nothing sexual in it. I was simply struck for the first time that everyone’s naked under their clothes, something that to this day amuses me and I really couldn’t tell you why. A few years back I discovered the photographer Greg Friedler who had published a book called Naked New York in which he published photos of New York residents, one clothed, one naked (there are plenty of examples on his website) and I was fascinated by this book. Still am.

    I wasn’t brought up a Catholic but that doesn’t mean that I was unaware of sin. I don’t mind things being wrong. I get why murder is wrong. Explain to me the whys and the wherefores and I can be perfectly reasonable about it. So why is nakedness wrong? I was never really convinced by any of the explanations I was given. I got the need for privacy and privacy is a right but it’s also a choice and can be waived and if someone feels like walking around in the scud then what’s wrong about it? That others choose not to is their prerogative.

    Of course being told that it was wrong made me curious and for years I became quite obsessed with seeing stuff I wasn’t supposed to see, most of which wasn’t worth seeing. It was a while before I got to see stuff that excited me but it also disappointed me because it’s all variations on a theme. I seem to recall my dad saying to me one time, “Once you’ve seen one naked woman you’ve seen them all.” He was right but that’s no reason to try to see them all. If a link appeared on a website saying there were naked (even topless) photos of some actress I can guarantee I would find it hard not to click on it and the reason I probably wouldn’t would be fear of viruses more than anything. But if I did I know I’d be disappointed. Not seeing, not knowing can give you a buzz that lasts for years. Seeing takes a few seconds and then you know; then you’ve seen; then the illusion’s shattered; then you’re disappointed because what were you expecting to see?

    I resent my upbringing. It gave me a skewed vision of the world. Indoctrination, conditioning, call it what you will. I’m not saying that a society has no rights but I’ve also seen it change its mind even in my short lifetime. There are so many things that used to be deemed wrong when I was a kid that now only old fogeys and diehards get upset about that I can’t relish or fully embrace because there’s this wee nasty voice inside me telling me that it’s a sin. Mostly I do what I want to do anyway but I wish I could enjoy it more.

  2. I too was ashamed of my body when I was a kid. I was so skinny. As a young gay man, I used my 'drovers dog' build to full advantage and I was very desired by many. Now on the cusp of being a corpulent old man who no longer cares about body image, I tell myself I should care, but I don't.

    I shan't confess to liking pornography here, but I find the images of vital parts covered much more alluring.

    People of our age grew up in such a transitional time. Is it a wonder that we are a little screwed up and feel a bit caught in two camps? That is what was happening around us and what we did not do.

    We may think things were quite complicated for us as children growing into adults, but while very different, I think it is terribly hard for kids now, (slip into flippant mode) especially as they are all so fat.

  3. What was the reason for avoiding the nightly visit of your father? This obviously caused some fear for your older sister. Was there a paedophilia element here? Or am I completely wrong? I can't recall if you have written about your father in the past but I have a feeling that you have.

    When I was 4, 5 and 6-ish my mother would stand me in the scullery sink and sluice me down as we had no bathroom in those early days. It didn't bother me if there were one or two neighbours present when this 'bath-time' in the sink was happening. It WOULD bother me now to be seen naked by a neighbour!.especially if I were standing in the kitchen sink.

  4. All this has been done to death, shame about sex goes back to the earliest form of writing – no fingers pointing from the sky but reproach nonetheless. You reproach yourself. For being ignoble.
    Sin, Impure Thoughts….Good heavens, blame the bloody church for everything! Maybe if you'd never been catholic you wouldn't have peeked at rude mags?
    Give a thing its proper name: You're a PERV, we're all PERVS! The job is to hide it.
    There's always been morality, today it's whatever Brunswick street says it is.
    But there'll always be moral imperatives, behaviour that's always wrong; none of us would survive without a conscience (painful as it is) psychopaths don't get far.

  5. You are brave for writing this and surviving childhood. I remember gym class in junior high when we all showered together in one big room and didn't think anything of it. I don't know when I got so "modest" and conscious of my body, but the idea of that now mortifies me! I guess because I don't have the body I wish I had. Something stupid like that. Yes the mortal sin of so-called "impure thoughts" was hammered into us too, though maybe not so diligently. As if, as human beings, we could control that anymore than having to go to the bathroom.

  6. You use words like Sin and Impure, loaded words, to plead you've been knocked around by the church, I think you're just looking for a cross to carry, I don't think you know what your problem is at all. But I'm sure there is one. If your father molesting your sister haunts you maybe you should talk about it to her rather than put it up here, and that dirty old man under the bridge from many posts ago should have been reported to the police. "OH," you say, "How I've suffered!" No you haven't. Get practical. All this is bugger all. Try selling it and you won't make five bob.

  7. Apologies about R.H.'s comment. One doesn't get used to it.
    I have a theory your scrutinizing your father's art book was an early impulse to try and understand, to find reasons or motivation for what he was. You've been at unravelling this since then! Good for you. This is how good the church is in imposing sins when there were none. Being artistic yourself, you knew then answers might be found within the artmaking/writing process.

  8. Living Truthfully isn't an easy life to live, but it is necessary and this necessity is one that many people cannot live with. It's because they surround themselves with the wrong people

    Anytime you feel the urge to lie to somebody, 99.99% of the time that urge comes from one of only two reasons;

    either 1> The details you feel the urge to lie about are private information, and are not appropriate to share with the person requesting them

    or 2> The behavior you feel the urge to lie about is something you should not be doing

    If you experienced anything near typical childhood and adult life, more often than not, you were fooled into believing that situation #2 was what you were experiencing when the Truth was/is/and forever will be that you should have been taught who is and who is not your friend. The latter are just casual people whom you should be cordial to, but have no problem saying "I am sorry, but that is private information and I am not close enough with you to share those parts of my life"

    You should have been taught how to think for yourself as opposed to being taught the lie that you are inferior to anybody except those you choose to submit to, and even that does not equal they are superior.

    and the only way they can make you believe they are superior, is for you to believe their lies

    The next time you feel the urge to lie to somebody you consider a friend, I would advise you to figure out if the person you are lying to is someone you should maintain a friendship with. Healthy relationships of any sort do not include making you feel shame or guilt, esp when there is nothing wrong with your behavior.

    Friends are people you can trust, there is no need to spy on friends

    In regards to like religious beliefs and sexuality, or anything sacred, tradition was that inferior males decided where the lines are drawn between right and wrong and their control over IT is underserved and lies are necessary to maintain an undeserved control over others. Truthfully, these lines of right and wrong have have more to do with being among fully knowledgeable adults who desire and consent to the rituals and said behaviors taking place in private, amongst only fully knowledgeable, consenting adults, as that is what determines where the line is drawn. Because when minors or unconsenting, unknowledgeable adults are engaging in experiences they do not desire, what was right can now be construed as abuse

    as it should be

    nothing is more important than figuring out who your friends are, and only surrounding yourself with them;selves

    anytime you adopt the lies that males force feed the masses, it affects your ability to recognize all truths. When seemingly sound logic doesn't work, they use fear as their "go to" mainstay, and fear it was the ignorant mind uses to justify believing his own lies, to justify the atrocities they comitt. Anyone that doesn't respect the truth, you might as well through everything that idiot says, out the window.

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