When I was 17, I fell in love for the first time. This boy looked at me in a way that no one else ever had before. It was like his eyes bored straight into my soul and saw me, the me that I didn’t even see yet. It was like our souls met. And with this soul meeting, I wanted our bodies to meet, too. I was driven by my heart that felt like it was beating a hole into my chest and a sex drive that I didn’t understand that had kicked in at full speed ahead.
Being a good Mormon girl, I also wanted him to learn about the church. So in between touching him everywhere I could, I was sitting in on missionary discussions with him. My love for this boy and my desire to be with him in every way was real, and my testimony was real, too. I didn’t understand how I could be experiencing such paradoxical drives, but I was managing to balance them for awhile.
My Love was very willing to have the missionary discussions and very willing to kneel with my family in nightly prayer when he was over on an evening. When he agreed to baptism, I hoped that he was truly converted and that it wasn’t just for me. But when I saw him walk up to the Bishop a week later with his tithing, the look of earnestness in his eyes told me that he was sincere.
It was after he was baptized that we made love for the first time. It was sweet and pure and intimate and innocent. I know that innocent is a strange word to pair with having sex, and I can’t explain it, but there was an innocence to it. But with this next level of intimacy, a new guilt and insecurity began to rise in me. I was aware that I’d stepped into more sinful waters. I felt really guilty about wanting to convert him and make love to him all at the same time. The “he won’t respect you in the morning” admonition began to hover over me. My tenuous balance of polarities was starting to wear out. My bishop must have seen the strain on my face one Sunday night after sacrament meeting. He casually asked me to come into his office and have a visit with him.
I should have never gone in there.
Before long, i burst out with my all my anxieties and told him what I’d been doing. The bishop’s face registered true horror. He shook his head as if he was personally wounded by my behavior. That’s when the questions started coming at me: Did we have all our clothes off? How long had we been doing it? How many times had we done it? When was the last time that we had done it? Where had we done it?
Then he asked me how I could be teaching my boyfriend the gospel and doing it with him at the same time? And did we think that because he had paid his tithing that that made it ok? (This verified and confirmed to me that I truly was the hypocrite that I feared I was.)
The bishop shook his head and said that of all the girls in mutual, I would have been the last one he thought would come in with a confession like this. This was truly shocking and heartbreaking to him. He thought I was better than this. Smarter than this. He then told me that his two daughters (in my age group) would never do something like this.
Then he laid the real bombshell on me. He said that I could be excommunicated for this. (Yes, they were excommunicating unendowed teens in my Idaho town in the 70’s.) And that he was setting up a court for me on the next Thursday night. I. was. shocked. I knew that what I had done was wrong, but I didn’t know that I could be excommunicated for it! I was terrified now! Terrified of hell and outer darkness. When I questioned my bishop about this, he explained to me that the only thing I could do worse than this was to commit murder. Murder. Murderess. But, I didn’t feel like a murderer.
The bishop encouraged me to tell my parents everything. And if I didn’t, it would proof to him that I was not repentant and that he would see me at my church court in 4 nights time………in the court that my dad, a high counselor, would be sitting in. I didn’t want my dad to publicly find out his daughter’s shameful sexual secrets in a roomful of his peers, so to save my dad from that humiliation I resolved to tell my parents.
The Bishop’s horror was nothing compared to my parents’ horror. They asked me all of the same questions that the bishop had. And they also asked me if I had had a period since the last time I’d had sex. When I told them no, they talked about where they would hide me in case I was pregnant. I had brought dishonor upon them and upon all of my little brothers and sisters, for whom I was supposed to be an example. I told them that I loved this boy. My dad sneered at me, “What can you possibly know about
love. You’re just a kid.” Then he told me that before that night, his vision of me was that of a beautiful girl all dressed in white. And now I looked to him as though I had been pushed down in the mud and trampled upon. Their looks of horror, disgust and grief went to not being able to look at me at all. And they sent me to my room.
The next morning, my mom came to my room, weeping. She gave me the book, The Miracle of Forgiveness. And she told me that this sin was next to murder. And that I could only be forgiven of this sin once. There were no. more. chances. If I ever “fell” again, I could not obtain forgiveness again. I would be cast into outer darkness for forever.
This was the moment that changed my life forever. It was like someone flipped a switch inside of me and I was never the same again. I lost my light, my security, my confidence, my joy, my sense of self. For the first time in my young life, I had acted independently and had made my own decision, and that decision had brought me to the brink of spiritual annihilation. I must never, ever, make another personal decision again. I could not be trusted. To be safe, I must give over the reigns of control of my life to those who were older, wiser, better, than I was. This was also when a lifelong battle of anxiety and depression began.
Because I had confessed to my parents, the bishop called off the court. But I was being watched. I must break off completely with the boy. I must not take the sacrament until given permission to do so again. I was to meet with the bishop regularly. And read the Miracle of Forgiveness. I was alone in my shame. I could talk to no one. No one must ever know the truth of who I was: dirty, unclean, unvirtuous, immoral, fallen. And The Miracle of Forgiveness made me feel more dirty, hopeless and fearful than ever. My parents kept telling me what a lucky girl I was to have the bishop I did. He was saving me. But I didn’t feel like I was being saved, I felt like I was being killed. The girl who was little better than a murderer was being murdered.
I went from living a joyful, passionate life to thinking, saying, and doing the things that I had to do to try to regain my acceptability before God. But it was hard to believe that that could be done, especially when my Sunday School teacher explained to me that when you sin, it’s like putting a nail in a board. You can extract the nail, but the hole is till there. You can fill it with putty, but the hole is still there. I would never be good and clean again. So I lived in fear. I feared “falling” again. I feared going to hell. I chose my future husband on the grounds that he was good. It was essential that I marry a good man because I was inherently bad. And if I had any hope of having good children, I would need to marry a good man who could pass on his good genes to them, because I had none.
I went into my bishop and stake president interviews for my temple recommend for marriage confident that I had chosen someone they would approve of. And perhaps by virtue of aligning myself to him, I would be acceptable to them, and to my parents and to God and I would have a chance to make it to heaven. I was truly horrified and embarrassed when the Stake President asked me about my confessed sins 3 years prior. How did he know anything about that? I had never spoken to him at the time. Who had told him about my private life? And why? And who else knew? I was horrified at the thought that a group of old men in my small town sat around discussing my private life!!!! I felt violated! As though I had been spied upon while I was naked by a group old peeping toms. And why was he asking me about it now? I had done everything I had been told to do. As always, I swallowed my shame and obediently answered his question. I assured him that I had remained “clean” ever since the incident.
Then he asked me a series of very strange questions: Did I take baths or showers? I took showers, I answered. When I washed myself, did I use my hands or a wash cloth? With my head starting to spin, I said, Wash cloth. And then his line of questioning got weirder. When I washed myself, he asked, did I like it? I had no idea how to answer this one. So asked him to repeat it. When I washed myself, did I find it… exciting? When I looked at him in complete puzzlement, he moved on to another line of questioning. It wasn’t until years later that I realized he was asking me if I was masturbating. I may not have been a virgin, but I had never masturbated and had no idea what it was.
When the sealer in the temple pronounced my husband and I married, I felt a wave of relief. Now I didn’t have to worry about burning any more…. as Paul had written, “Better to marry than to burn.” And I had worried about burning for years.
My wedding night was terrible as I pretended I was a virgin. Sex with my first love was wonderful and sweet. Sex with my husband was fraught with anxiety. It was hard to enjoy it. I decided that this must be more of God’s punishment for me. I had not been forgiven. Because I had had unsanctioned sex before I was married, I was being sentenced, by God, to never be able to enjoy sex again. I found, through the years, that even though I can spread my legs and have sex, and experience orgasm, I have never been able to give my soul to it again. This has been a terrible blow to my husband, who was assured that if he waited until he was married to have sex, that all wants would be fulfilled through his wife. We have both been so unhappy.
My husband told me years later that on our wedding night, he knew that something was missing. That missing something was me. My bishop, my parents, and a very shamed and fearful me zipped my wicked, untrustworthy soul up tight, buried her deep, never to see daylight again.
In retrospect, my bishop did not set out to hurt me. Neither did my parents. They were doing what they thought was right. (However, I think that my stake pres. was a pervert.) But those good intentions did not save me from the lifetime of damage that was done. The church has been both a great blessing to me, and my worst nightmare. Though deeply conflicted, I have stuck with it all my life. Yet, even now, at age 58, I cannot think back on that time in my life without crying. Though I have tried, I have never been able to heal. I built my life on a faulty foundation of shame. And it has been very painful. I raised my children in the church, but I didn’t want them shamed and shoved into the same corner I had been. So before their bishop interviews (after having been told I could not accompany my children), I tried to prepare them and give them some power and personal autonomy that I never had. I told them that they were not obligated to answer any question that made them feel uncomfortable and that they could leave the interview at any time. And every time they went in, I was washed with guilt and confusion and anxiety. I would sit outside the door and cry and wring my sweat soaked hands together and examine my children when they came out for any trauma.
In many parts of Africa, young girls have their clitorises and outer labia cut off. Then their vaginas are sewn up, leaving only a small hole out of which to urinate and menstruate. They believe that this is done for their own protection by God’s command. If they live through this procedure, done with no anesthesia, they often live lives of physical and mental pain. THIS IS WHAT WE DO TO OUR YOUNG WOMEN MENTALLY, EMOTIONALLY, SPIRITUALLY. I know. I have lived it.
When will the Mormon church finally follow the true example of Jesus Christ, whose name they bear, and finally see that there is only one question and one appropriate course of action to take with a member who comes to the bishop for guidance? That is to say, “Where are thine accusers? Neither do I condemn thee. Go thy way and sin no more.”