My experience going through the Young Men’s program in the LDS Church in California was probably about as good as it could be. I feel very fortunate to have had good leaders and a good father. Scouting was an important part of my experience. However, there is no question that matters of sexual development had a significant negative impact on me. I won’t lay the blame on any one person or institution, but there is absolutely no question that my personal emotional development was negatively impacted well into adulthood as a result of teachings and practices of the LDS Church. The impact on me began at about age 15 up to age 35 (at least twenty years).
My parents did not discuss sexual matters with me, at all. My interest in girls was normal. My discovery of sexual feelings was normal. However, leaders in the Church always made issues of sexuality ominous, scary and evil. Interest in girls (and their physical attributes and the sexual attraction) was treated as taboo and something that must be avoided.
My physical affection with a high school girlfriend came up in an interview and I was scared to death to discuss it with the Bishop. I had not fornicated, but was still extremely distraught to discuss my affections to her because I had been taught that necking/petting was a terrible sin. This made me feel like a terrible person, and something I had to hide for survival. I confessed and was given a brief probation.
Later in my youth as I approach the mission age I independently brought up the matter of masturbation, something with which I struggled. I felt I must be a wicked person if I was dealing with this. The taboo nature of sexual matters in the Church made me feel abnormal or perverted. My bishop handled it well and told me to avoid it but I was never told that it was a normal developmental thing. I did feel significant guilt and shame, which I figured was part of the repentance process. However, because it really never went away, naturally I thought, well, I didn’t really repent. I was not meeting the standard of repentance. Something is wrong with me. I’m a bad person. I’m a wicked person (all the while, I was engaged in worthwhile and good pursuits in life. This issue was the dark cloud that was always there making me feel bad).
When I interviewed with a member of the Stake Presidency for a final mission interview he asked me near the end of the interview if I had a problem with masturbation. It had happened 2-3 times a month prior to this interview. I was actually shocked by the question, wondering if the Bishop had told him about my problem. I thought my discussion with the Bishop were confidential. I told the Stake President (Counselor) that I had no problem and was good to go. I rationalized my behavior because I did not want to deal with the consequences of delaying a mission call. (The social pressure is incredibly high.)
The issue continued to haunt me as a missionary and caused me to feel unworthy, abnormal, sex obsessed, etc. I raised the matter with the Mission President who basically said “go take a cold shower.” He did not come down on me about it. I was an obedient missionary. Never got into trouble. Yet, I still felt like a failure due to this problem. I had no idea that other missionaries could be dealing with the exact same thing. I thought I was the only one who had this problem.
The issue continued into adulthood and college, etc. I raised the matter with other Bishops as well, thinking I had a serious sexual deviancy. There’s no question that it affected my self image, self esteem, self worth. No question. Had someone simply sat down with me and explained that sexual feelings are normal and healthy, that these are normal body functions and responses, I would have been relieved of a tremendous amount of stress, shame and guilt which would have been a major boost to my academics, career pursuits and personal motivation to engage in normal human relations. Being taught that anything that causes arousal before marriage is wicked in the sight of God made me feel like a reprobate!
The shame of this issue affected communication in my marriage. No question about it. Masturbation has been made into the monster of a problem in the Mormon culture (or vis-a-vis the Authorities). Frankly speaking, over time I realized that the Church authorities in my life really had no effective answer to my problem. I finally decided on my own that I would not worry about it any more. I would not consider it a problem. I even brought it up with my wife who said, “Huh, that’s just normal male behavior.” Wow, I had no idea she thought that and it broke down major barriers between us. I felt a huge weight leave me.
In conclusion, there is no question that my emotional and mental health was affected by this issue. Had issues of sexual development been addressed with me in a healthy and guilt free way it would have changed my life for the better. I would have been much more effective in dealing with other life problems. My marriage would have been much healthier much earlier. My ability to impact others for good would have happened much sooner. Overall, I would have been a much healthier and happier person.