I was 5 years old when I discovered masturbation. I guess I could blame it on my babysitter using shampoo in my bubble bath which lead to a bad yeast infection. But my parents had no idea about it for years until right before my 8th birthday. My dad was my Branch President at the time. My mom found out first and told my dad and they decided to have a serious talk with me after all my younger siblings went to bed. I sat alone with them in the living room as they told me that what I was doing was wrong and should be saved for when I get married. My mom was trying to be kind but my dad was this menacing angry disciplinarian who told me I wouldn’t be able to get baptized if I didn’t stop doing it.
This shattered my whole world! I was so excited to get baptized and I loved singing in Primary and answering questions in class. I thought I was a very good girl and couldn’t believe I wasn’t worthy to be baptized, especially for doing something I didn’t even know was wrong. My dad forbid me to tell anyone about what I had been doing or our talk, especially not to his mother (my grandmother who was a huge part of our lives and lived nearby). He was too ashamed of his daughter to even let his mother know what I’d done, which really made me feel like I was the worst child ever and I had severely disappointed my father.
I managed to stop for a while, but it crept back into my life at various times throughout my late childhood and once my mother walked into my bedroom and saw me and she burst into tears and ran away crying. I felt awful but mainly because I hadn’t hid well enough. She never talked to me about it after that. It was an unspoken taboo that you just never brought up. I longed to talk to someone about my anguish and self-loathing but was too ashamed to reach out for help or guidance. When my first temple recommend interview came, I was so excited because I had been very good for about a year and felt worthy to go. But the day before entering the temple, I “messed up” and felt horrible and so disappointed in myself that I considered faking I was sick and letting my sister and family go to the temple without me. But I longed to go so badly that I went anyways, feeling the whole time that I wasn’t perfect enough to be there and wondering if God would strike me down for lying about being worthy.
I fought it all through young women’s and became the best at many things-memorizing scriptures in seminary, singing in church and YWs, getting ahead in Personal Progress, and everyone believed I was an exceptional, intelligent, virtuous young woman. In Bishop interviews as a youth I always agonized about bringing it up during the law of chastity question but I felt so uncomfortable telling a grown man about my sexuality that I just chickened out every time. I didn’t date at all before age 18, and got the reputation as a prude well into my 20s because I didn’t like men or young men to touch me at all, not even hugs or anything like that. I never told a Bishop anything about my struggles, though I agonized about if I needed to all the time. I often felt I was living a lie.
When I finally opened up to my Bishop when I was 23 years old, I told about how I felt unworthy my whole life because of this habit and shared my experiences from age 5 to 23, which was very embarrassing and I couldn’t make eye contact with him. I just felt like if I could get it all off my shoulders and finally trust a priesthood leader, I wouldn’t be wondering about my worthiness anymore. He seemed extremely uncomfortable and asked, “So…why do you want to do it?” I had no idea how to answer that. I felt so violated trying to explain myself…he didn’t seem satisfied with my answer and kept asking “Why??” and he would compare me to the young men he was working with on pornography addictions (which wasn’t what I was dealing with at all) and made the men seem normal and my situation seem so strange to him because I was a woman.
The shame I felt from my parents my whole life, the constant self-doubt of my own worthiness and feeling like I was lying in my interviews because I was so uncomfortable with a middle aged man asking me those things have been a large silent battle inside me my whole life.
I’m still actively part of the LDS church and happily married and I will never let my children be alone in interviews and I will never tell a Bishop personal intimate details about my life again. The outdated policy of Bishops interviewing children one on one about sexuality is harmful and damaging. The culture of shame around children and masturbation or other similar things is not helping anyone heal. It’s making things worse and perpetuating the cycle of self-loathing and shame that turns into suicidal ideation. Parents should be teaching the law of chastity to their children in a loving and supportive manner, and not expect the Bishop to do that for them.