Growing up in Utah I was regularly asked about whether I touched myself (even how I did it, and where) by my bishop and the counselors. I think I was asked about it starting around 8 years old, and all through my teens and into my twenties (I’m early 30’s now). I’m sure I was asked in every interview, which happens bi-annually, because I remember absolutely dreading the interviews and trying so hard to stop masturbating before the interviews. It was always just me and the bishop or counselor, never another adult. To this day I don’t understand how THEY felt comfortable doing that– taking a nervous and scared little boy / young man behind a closed door to grill him about how and where he touches himself, and if he’s ever looked at porn, and if he’s ever touched someone else or mutually masturbated with someone. As an adult that would make me feel very uncomfortable, but maybe that’s just me. Nevermind that my childhood ward was rural and these were farmers and blue collar workers, definitely not trained to deal with or talk about things like this.
The interviews were inappropriate and I dreaded them, but even more terrible was the GUILT and SHAME I experienced all throughout my formative years. I was a DANG GOOD KID. I never smoked anything, never tried alcohol (or was even in the room with someone who was drinking it), rarely cussed, rarely drank caffeine, never drank coffee, graduated seminary, held every male Mormon youth leadership position in the ward and stake level, was the staple perfect “young man” in the ward, sang in the choir, had a high GPA and ACT score, was accepted to multiple colleges, later served an honorable mission, etc. But my ENTIRE LIFE I felt like I was the worst person on the planet. I KNEW I was going to hell because I was routinely committing the sin RIGHT NEXT TO MURDER, and I couldn’t stop doing it for more than a month or two despite my absolute best efforts. I could never be whole or enough or worthy of love. I contemplated suicide many times, strategically considering it right after taking the sacrament, knowing that at least my soul would make it into heaven before I would be tempted to murder again (sin next to murder). At least I would be saved and see my family after this life, which I knew was out of reach if I died after having touched myself but before taking the sacrament again. thank goodness I was sensible enough to NOT commit suicide, but I entertained the idea. It was so tortuous to think I was going to hell and that I would never see my family again if I died in that “dirty” state, I loved (and love) them so much– what 10 year old little boy should grapple with blaming himself for losing his mother? I experienced deep depression and darkness knowing my inability to stop touching myself would eventually send me to hell and away from my family and friends who obviously weren’t sex pervert deviant murderers like me. I knew I was the only one with that problem, and absolutely had no escape from it.
I was so young, and was dealing with such high stakes and finalities while my body and brain were barely exiting the magic of childhood. I can’t even believe my young mind was meant to think those thoughts and feel those feelings and grapple with not only my own existentialism, but also with the unavoidable grief and anxiety that I knew would someday be mine unless I stopped committing this dirty deed. These are the “adult” topics that parents and caregivers are supposed to shield children from, not encourage their exposure without offering support or respite except from those who wanted to perpetuate these ideas (church leaders, believing parents, etc.). To this day I can vividly remember crying myself to sleep at the thought of losing my sweet mother because of my dirty habit, it makes me so sad to look bad at my childhood self. Oh how I would love and comfort and reassure him, oh the things I would say to him and the connection and love I would make sure he experiences. It’s so heartbreaking for me now, and it’s heartbreaking to me to know that there are still little boys like me who feel that way. It needs to stop! No little boy should see a future where he feels blamed for never being able to see or be with his mother again, or for forcing his mother to never see him again! It is so manipulative, even if only negligently manipulative. I love all my family, parents and siblings, but as a little boy we just love our moms the most.
It seems dramatic looking back, but really that’s how I felt and the mental cage I lived in. I feel bad for how I treated myself, and as an adult I would absolutely LOVE to have a child as “good” as I was– I really didn’t do anything else “bad” growing up. I was a good kid by all measures of the phrase, but nobody could ever convince me of that. I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself for being a normal boy. I wish someone would have told me it was okay, or at least normal to feel that way. I wish SOMEONE would have pulled me aside and just told me that it was normal, but to not become obsessed. I’m lucky my depression and suicidal thoughts were never enough to take me to the point of action– I did self-harm but never seriously enough to kill myself. BUT everyday of my youth and adolescence I thought about what a dirty unworthy piece of crap I was, and of the future alone and in hell that I knew awaited me. It was always on my mind. Even “morning wood” was sexually deviant in my mind. It’s crazy looking back.
Yet EVERY DAY I wore a smile and pretended like nothing was going on. My parents are probably be in the camp of folks who oppose this movement saying “it doesn’t happen” or “it isn’t a big deal”. The truth is I would never tell them, they haven’t earned the right and trust to hear my story. In many ways they were enablers of all this by the environment in the home and by blindly trusting church leaders and outsourcing their sexual education, monitoring, and parenting to a large organization. My parents would probably be sad to know the burden I bore, but also think of it as a type of “righteous burden” that I had to carry. It’s sad on so many levels. I will NOT let my children or nieces or nephews feel this way about the normal functions of their bodies. If it ever comes up I will not be ashamed to be that person that I needed so desperately in my youth. No question about it, even if it alienates me from my siblings (their parents). I’m done allowing this to continue.