I didn’t realize what masturbation was until I was 13 and went to church. It began at the stake center, when I attended the audio portion of a general conference priesthood session. This was in the days when it wasn’t broadcast on TV. One of the speakers described a terrible, vile practice. Slowly I realized that he was talking about what I had discovered, all on my own. I felt small and ashamed, sitting in that pew and surrounded by men and boys who apparently had no idea that I was a guilty of a serious sin.
I resolved to rid myself of this burden by going to the bishop. He was concerned, and wanted to help. We met regularly to talk about my progress… and about my setbacks, in a cycle that repeated itself for years. It continued with the next bishop, and in college, and during my mission. One bishop asked how I discovered masturbation — “Did you learn it from other boys? Do you ever masturbate with other boys?” What? No! I discovered that my body feels good and responds to touch, all on my own.
At one point, when I was feeling most low, the guilt became too much. I began to think that I was destined for hell. Self-loathing led to depression. I planned out how I would end it all by ending my life. Before doing that I talked with my mother, and also with a friend. My mother told me that it was something all boys did. My friend confirmed my value and worth. It was enough to postpone my plans.
Later, I realized that what I’d learned from the LDS church impaired my relationship with my wife. Guilt over masturbation has been an impediment to our intimacy for decades. Things are better now, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been. We have a good relationship, but it took more than 20 years before we could talk about this. My closest friend in the world… and yet, the shame was so great I kept this from her for more than two decades.