I grew up in the church and remember never properly being taught about sexuality until my teenage years. Even then it were very vague attempts. It always seemed as though people at church were embarrassed (or largely uninformed themselves) teaching about these things and even my parents never really taught me anything. The only occasion I can recall is when my mother once told me, after I’d had sex education at school and had first learned about masturbation, that to masturbate was not a good thing and that I should never do it, because God does not want me to.
The fact was that I had started masturbating very early as a child. I think I was around 8 or so and didn’t even know what I was doing, neither did I feel ashamed of it or felt any kind of inclination that it was a bad thing. It just felt natural to me, like I was just getting to know my body and its healthy desires.
However, after learning that masturbation was a “sin”, and notably a rather serious one (as all sexual sins are claimed to be), I started to feel ashamed of it. I’d try to not do it, but even though I sometimes managed to go days or weeks without the practice, I always fell back into it. I felt so ashamed and always thought I was a terrible person for doing it.
As I approached my teenage years the desire to masturbate increased, as is normal with teenagers, since they are starting to produce certain hormones and their bodies change. I continued to feel so bad about it, always going through a never ending cycle of trying to repress the urge, failing, hating myself for it, and then falling back into the habit as a coping mechanism to my bad feelings. It was horrible!
Things got really bad when I was interviewed by my bishop for certain callings, priesthood offices and for the temple. He is a really good guy, but as is required of him, he had to ask about chastity and also asked about masturbation. I was so so so ashamed and frightened to tell him about it, because I thought I was the only boy in my ward masturbating and that I was going to hell for it and that God hated me. I was also so afraid that he would talk to my parents about it. So I lied to him. And that made it even worse, because the guilt for having lied to my bishop, a man called of God, and subsequently receiving the priesthood and going to the temple “unworthily” led to me being a constant emotional and mental wreck, having no self confidence whatsoever and hating myself for all these things.
The vicious cycle led me into more extreme sexual behaviours. I would turn to pornography and do some other things I am still ashamed of today (nothing super bad, just things that don’t fit me as a person and my core beliefs at all). I now know that the “escalation” of my sexual behavior was mainly due to my constant trying to repress innate desires, which is what naturally happens according to many studies and findings of health and psychology professionals. I believe it to be the main reason why there are so many people of authority in many religions, who channel their repressed sexual desires into all these horrible things, like abusing children, asking sexual questions, etc.
I had to learn by myself, that having sexual desires is a normal and healthy human trait and that completely repressing these feelings only makes it worse. Only in recent months did I start to question things I have been taught and did my own research on these topics.
I don’t want to accuse my parents or my Bishop, as I know they always had my best in mind. But I think it is a very toxic practice among Mormons not to adequately teach about sexuality and then ask in interviews whether certain principles are lived, that have never been discussed fully and that are not backed up by science. Whether masturbation is a sin or not is a question in and of itself and it is not the subject here. But to just tell children “masturbation is of the devil and God does not want it” and to leave it at that and then ask about these things in worthiness interviews, a naturally intimidating environment, is very problematic. If priesthood leaders are asked to conduct these interviews, they have to be trained very carefully, not just according to church doctrine, but also to modern psychological findings, or otherwise they are just going to continue to destroy people’s self worth and view towards sexuality, even if unintentionally.
I suffer from these things to this date (being 24) and am so happy you are fighting for this important cause. I hope you will continue to succeed in keeping the public conversation going.