Looking back now, I can see that I have always been very interested in sex. Even as a young kid of six or seven years I liked being naked and exploring my body. I was very curious about how girls were different than boys. I liked to experiment with things that would cause erections. I don’t remember feeling guilty about any of this until I was caught by my mother at one of these times that I was playing with myself. I don’t recall exactly what she said to me, but I got the message that my behavior was not appropriate. This caused me to be much more careful to not get caught. It also introduced some associated guilt — although not a lot.
It is also important to my story to note that I was a very conscientious kid and very susceptible to feelings of guilt. I worried about things a lot. In therapy I have since learned this amount of worry to be very unusual for young kid. And due to the indoctrination I received, I was worried that I would be found worthy before God. As I grew older I was very worried about being righteous enough so that the Holy Ghost could be with me. I desperately wanted His guidance, protection, and inspiration as promised by the doctrine I was taught.
Essentially, I was not instructed by my parents about sex. Sometime around when I was twelve my mother gave me, with very little of her own comment, the “For Young Men Only” pamphlet that was a reprinting of Packer’s famed “don’t masturbate, little factory” conference talk. I suspect that document has single-handedly destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of church members. It definitely had a devastating effect on me. Also at that age other anti-masturbation messages started coming from church sources. My cousin had a book that I read parts of that also condemned masturbation and said that confession to a bishop was required to receive forgiveness. The condemnation of “playing with yourself” was mentioned by my deacon’s quorum teacher on at least one occasion — along with weird and uncomfortable eye contact. Perhaps unusually, it was not brought up in bishop interviews.
As I hit puberty my interest in sex accelerated. Due to the vacuum of parental instruction I looked for information everywhere I could. I looked up “sex” in the encyclopedia and studied every related reference. I found other books in the house that mentioned a few things sex-related. Eventually, I came across pornographic magazines, which I studied cover-to-cover multiple times. I still have burned into my memory those first images of naked women that I saw in those magazines. However, combined with the excitement and enjoyment of porn was intense guilt. For a while I actually made a deal with myself that I would read a chapter in the Book of Mormon for every time I read through the magazine — as a way to counteract the evil with good, I guess. Eventually, the guilt got so bad that I destroyed the magazine.
The “little factory” aspect of the For Young Men Only pamphlet got extra attention from me. I kept expecting to have a nocturnal emission, but it never happened. I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. It also seemed to cause quite a lot of curiosity about semen and orgasm.
When I was thirteen, I discovered somewhat by accident how to masturbate to the point of orgasm. This was very thrilling, but the guilt, shame, and self-loathing intensified exponentially. And so began a decades-long battle of trying to stop masturbating, inevitably failing, and feeling guilty, over and over and over. Because of the endless church messages about the requirement to be worthy/pure/righteous, I felt constantly ineligible to receive inspiration. This was very upsetting to me. I was tormented endlessly by it. I wanted to receive inspiration but felt like it was locked away from me due to my sinful state.
When I was sixteen I decided that something had to be done. I wanted my patriarchal blessing but I knew I had to properly repent of my masturbation sin first. To that end, I managed to stop masturbating for the period of a month or so, and then I made an appointment with the bishop. I went through the embarrassing process of confessing to him about my masturbation sins. In retrospect, he did fairly well to not intensify the shame except that I could tell from his comments that he fully expected me to start masturbating again. He failed to express faith and confidence in me. Instead, he wanted to meet with me weekly to “help me be accountable.” He also probed into whether I looked at porn or anything like it (which I wasn’t at the time). Fortunately, the weekly meetings never happened and were dropped.
I went through other white-knuckled periods of stopping masturbation prior to being ordained an elder and prior to my mission. In the latter case I again confessed my sin to my bishop (a different bishop from when I was 16). His response was minimal. Something like: “You stopped right? Good.” How refreshing that was!
My mission president Clark Thorstensen had a very manipulative tactic in his interviews. At one point he got wind of a “relationship” between myself and a member girl. (She and I became platonic friends, but nothing more.) He got wind of this (probably my companion informed him) and in a subsequent interview with me he tried to get me to confess by the following manipulative method. He said something like this: “Elder, I have heard that you have a romantic relationship with, oh, what’s her name… Jody?, Janna?, Judy? …” He was saying names similar to my friend’s in order to get me to supply her name and in the process provide an implicit confession. It was a power play. He tried this technique on me several times. Not expecting such a thing, I fell for it the first time, but thereafter I just sat there and let him spout names without responding until he gave up. I talked with other missionaries about it and found that several others had the same experience in their interviews. It was evidently one of his favorite tactics. He was the first case where I was severely disappointed and disillusioned with the devious behaviors of supposed “men of god.”
President Thorstensen had other elders spy on me. One day my companion heard through the bathroom door the sound of me masturbating. He might have had his ear to the door, for all I know. As I emerged from the bathroom he asked something like, “Were you doing something bad?” Flabbergasted, I asked, “What?” and he said, “Nevermind.” However, in my next interview with President Thorstensen he point-blank asked me if I masturbate. I paused and then answered in the affirmative. In fairness, his response could have been much worse. He admonished me to immediately stop and said he had a really helpful “Steps in Overcoming Masturbation” document that I should read. He never did give me a copy of it, but I previously had happened to come across and read this absurd document since it was sitting around in one of my apartments. It is still available to read on the internet today. The author is anonymous but has been attributed to Packer. At this particular point in my life, I knew I was not going to stop, so I didn’t try. President Thorstensen continued to ask me about masturbation at every subsequent interview. In each instance, I lied and said that I had stopped doing it. This caused guilt, but I felt I had no other viable option.
Post-mission the guilt over masturbation continued. I tried stopping several more times. At one point, I made the error of admitting it to my girlfriend at the time. I even asked her to ask me about it periodically to essentially be my “accountability buddy” to help me stay “sober.” Understandably, she did not like being burdened with this. I strongly suspect she went to our Institute teacher with the issue (we attended a class together). During institute class one day this teacher brought up masturbation and went on about how evil it is and why would anyone do it. It was very out-of-context with the rest of the subject matter of the lesson. It was very weird and uncomfortable. This girlfriend broke up with me soon after. The masturbation issue probably played a substantial part in her rationale for ending the relationship. This breakup had a devastating effect on me. My level of self-loathing soared to new highs and my self-esteem hit new lows.
It was in this unstable and unhealthy state that I eventually found and dated the woman who would become my first wife. From the start it was a dysfunctional relationship, but we got engaged anyway in part because my self-esteem was so low that I didn’t think I could do any better. Somewhere along the line I informed her about my “past” problems with masturbation, but I assured her that I had stopped (which was, of course, a lie). One morning a few days prior to our wedding day, my fiance caught me in bed just after I had masturbated. She got very angry and threatened to call off the wedding. I lied and told her the semen was from a wet dream. She accepted that explanation, but it was clear that the stakes were high that I could never get caught masturbating. And so, right from the beginning, my first marriage was built on deception.
Not long into my marriage, I added internet porn use to the masturbation. This got difficult to always keep hidden. Occasionally, my wife found my porn. Each successive time she caught me, the fallout got progressively worse. She eventually forced me (with threat of divorcing me) to confess my porn use to the bishop. This was a particularly unpleasant interview since this bishop was also a co-worker. I confessed to porn use and masturbation and was placed on the humiliating and shaming “probation” where I couldn’t take the sacrament, participate in priesthood ordinances, say prayers at church, etc. I had to promise to stop masturbating and viewing porn. I was forced to meet with him monthly where he asked again about how I was doing with my “habit.” He left my church status open-ended with no timeline given for restoring it. I successfully stopped masturbating for a month or two, but eventually started again. I clearly remember a feeling of sheer terror right after that first time masturbating following the confession. I felt like I had lost my marriage and my very soul. I knew I couldn’t go through confessing again and starting over, so I determined to lie. It was more than six months of interviews until my bishop finally restored my church status.
There is no question that my mental and emotional state was negatively affected by the years of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. As my horrible first marriage dragged on and the ever-present guilt persisted, I became more and more depressed. I was terrified of leaving the marriage because I was sure, in my despicable and sinful state, no one else would want me. I felt trapped in a living hell with no escape. I didn’t care much if I lived or died though I never made a suicide plan or attempt.
A number of years later, I eventually broke free from both the toxic marriage and harmful church. Once free, I began to see how absurd, unhealthy, and damaging the masturbation ban truly is. It makes me angry and sad to think about all the emotional turmoil expended in the futile and unnecessary attempts at trying to stop masturbating! So unnecessary! How different my life could have been! How much healthier my emotional state would have been! What a terrible waste!
I further think the church’s condemnation of pornography is counterproductive since it serves to make it more forbidden and thus more enticing. If the church just dropped talking about it and preaching against it incessantly, “porn abuse” among members would probably diminish organically over time.
Indeed, I have concluded that all aspects of the sexuality of its members is none of the church’s business! The obsession with “worthiness” and a demand for purity is one of the church’s worst offences. Yes, the probing questions asked in interviews by bishops, stake presidents, and mission presidents are unquestionably way out of bounds. But more fundamental are the horrific doctrines and teachings that intrude into the private lives of the members. The members and leaders are both conditioned to think that this intrusion is required, normal, even a “blessing!!!” This is the root of the problem that ultimately needs to be addressed. It should never be normal for a person to think it’s ok for an institution to dictate or inquire into sexuality!