At 5 years of age, I was caught playing doctor with the neighbor girl. It was pretty innocent, up to that point I had no idea boys and girls were different. But, we got caught and that’s when the shaming began. I remember that night, my mom told me that “God was ashamed of me.” That was pretty heartrending for a little kid who was being raised in the church. That incident severed me from God. I mention it because that one incident set the foundation for a lifetime of self-loathing. Truthfully at that age, I was more than a little confused as to what I’d done wrong. That’s the problem with shame. Even though I didn’t understand why, I clearly understood that God was ashamed of me.
At about 12 years of age I accidentally figured out the masturbation thing. No, porn wasn’t involved and frankly I never even associated it with “sex.” I did know what sex was as my mom gave me the “birds and bees” talk when I was about 8 years old…although thinking about it, I’m not really sure that I understood the “put tab p in slot v” part of it. I just know that having an orgasm felt really, really good. I’d do it, then go on with life. I didn’t really think about it, and never connected it with “sinful behavior.”
When I turned 15 years old back in 1977, I was called in for my first “worthiness interview”, at least the first one I can recall. I remember the bishop asking me a few questions. Bishop: “Do you believe in God the Father and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost?” Me: “Yes” Bishop: “Do you believe the First presidency and the Quorum of the 12 Apostles have God’s authority to lead the church on the earth today?” Me: “Yes” Bishop: “Are you morally clean?” Me: “Yes” Bishop: “Do you have a problem with masturbation?” (Huh? What? I wonder what that is? I wonder if he’s talking about…that…) Me: “No bishop, no problem.” It wasn’t intended as a lie. I really didn’t know what it was. But, I filed the information away in my mind because evidently this was important. The questions ended and I was “called” as a first councilor in the Teacher’s Quorum.
A few months later I found out what “masturbation” meant, from overhearing a comment between students in the locker room. It was truly an “oh shit!” moment for me. I man that I looked at as an authority figure had defined masturbation as a “problem;” a sin.
I’d already experienced several of the sexual shaming lessons in priesthood meetings. Those were the ones where we were taught about how having sex made us into “licked cupcakes”, “chewed bubblegum” and “nails in boards”… in other words, damaged and unable to be “made whole.”
Invariably these lessons always started with the scripture for Alma Chapter 39:3-5:
3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, AFTER THE HARLOT ISOBEL.
4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.
5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, MOST ABOMINABLE ABOVE ALL SINS SAVE IT BE THE SHEDDING OF INNOCENT BLOOD or denying the Holy Ghost?
We were assured that sexual sins were nearly as bad as killing someone.
The guilt from “my grievious sin” of masturbation turned me into a person nearly as ugly, in God’s eyes, as a MURDERER…someone automatically destined for the lowest of kingdoms in the Mormon afterlife. In that moment, I developed utter self-hatred. After all, God was already “ashamed of me” according to my own mother. The worst thing about it all, is it made me obsessed. Up to that point I masturbated occasionally, but after? It was all the time, sometimes two or three times a day. And I hated myself. I started thinking really dark thoughts, about self mutilation and suicide.
Living in the heart of Mormondom made it worse. I saw constant guilt and shaming occur, from the poor teenage girl who got up in Fast and Testimony meeting to apologize for getting pregnant out of wedlock, to shunning and derision for those who were forbidden from the sacrament.
The self-hatred continued through my teenage years, onto my mission, even though I managed to stop masturbating throughout my entire mission. I came home and lost control of it again. I ended up marrying a very sexually repressed Mormon girl and it eventually broke my marriage. At age 45, I was standing in a cold Utah canyon with a gun to my head, and while there were other things going wrong in my life, the source of it all was the sexual shaming and the self hatred caused by worthiness interviews, a marriage without intimacy and subsequent divorce. As I was about to pull the trigger, I had a thought cross my mind, “If the church was such a source of pain in my life, why not try walking away from the church?”
Even though I still believed, I walked away that night. Later I started discovering the whitewashed history, the Book of Abraham issues, Joseph Smith’s polygamy and the many other issues of doctrinal contradictions, and Book of Mormon anachronisms. I left the church completely at that point, and began the healing process.