I was told from the time I turned 12 that masturbation was a sin. I discovered masturbation by accident before that time and didn’t even know what it was. When I finally made the connection I felt a deep sense of guilt and through numerous “chastity talks” from the bishop during our youth meetings, I felt that I needed to confess my habit to him. When I did, he told me that the Spirit had told him that I was having this problem. I felt crushed to know that he and God were having this supposed communication about how sinful I was. I never felt more shameful or worthless in my life than I did at that moment. I felt like I was a sexual pervert and probably the only person around who masturbated. Unfortunately, I was unable to break the habit, and I had to have regular check-ins with this bishop who made me feel the same sense of guilt and worthlessness every few months as we checked in. I never told my parents any of this – I suffered in silence. I felt like they would feel the same toward me that my bishop did and would restrict my privileges or not let me be alone in my room or bathroom with the door closed.
I am lucky that years later I had a bishop who was the polar opposite of this bishop. When I confessed to him, he almost seemed like he didn’t care that I was masturbating, but wanted me to know that I was far from the only person to have this “problem” and that it didn’t change how he or God felt about me. He showed compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and love. I couldn’t believe the difference. Rather than leaving his office full of shame, I left his office full of hope, knowing that I was worth something and that even if I messed up again, in the end everything would be ok. He didn’t ask for regular check ins but he did tell me I could come to him at any time or even call him if I needed help.
Ironically, the bishop who intervened the least was the one who helped me the most. Ecclesiastical leaders shouldn’t be going into detail about any sensitive sexual issues with teens. They should provide support and guidance for vulnerable kids in a more general way like my second bishop did. This not only protects children but protects the leaders as well and the church should implement policies and training in this direction.