I didn’t know what masturbation was at 11 when I went in for my “are you ready for the priesthood?” interview with the bishop. Little did I know when I walked into that office with my best Sunday clothes and celebratory new set of scriptures that this would be the beginning of years of group and individual shaming that would result in an attempt to shoot myself four years later and numerous other attempts.
The bishop explained what masturbation was in detail and in that interview I already felt like I had done something wrong just by knowing. LDS culture has a big taboo on any sexual conversation. My parents repeatedly dodged the subject and even when I would have learned about the subject at public school, they pulled me from the class by refusing to sign the parental consent waiver. I spent the next two weeks isolated and picked out of the class containing all my peers to sit in the library. As a twelve year old this felt like I did not deserve to know what sex was while all the kids around me got to know, joke about it, and mock my naïveté. It hurt. It hurt to not be included, it hurt to feel like I didn’t deserve to know this big secret everyone knew about, it hurt that I was interested in it and that everyone treated it like it was such a terrible dirty thing. I felt terrible and dirty and alone and I didn’t even know why.
Hours of being left alone with the computer turned my curiosity into something that I explored. It wasn’t the best place to learn but no one else would even speak to me about it. My mom found out. She screamed at me about how dirty and wrong what I had been looking at was, my dad hit me and I was locked in my room so that I wouldn’t taint the family with my presence.
The next day after school, my mom picked me up and took me directly to a Mormon sex addiction therapist. I spent the next three weeks meeting with him where he encouraged me to tell my bishop about what happened because he said. “It will make you feel better and at more peace with yourself.” In meetings with him I was introduced to so many sexually explicit terms. I was told that I was an addict (at 12) when I hadn’t even done anything more than explore something that no one would bring up/talk with me about. I was so ashamed. I let everyone down.
I took his advice and turned to the bishop to continue my ‘rehabilitation’. When I told the bishop what had happened he told me he was deeply disappointed. He said I knew better and that unless I was careful, Satan would destroy my family through me. He pulled me from passing the sacrament with the other kids my age and had me sit down so they could see. I was so embarrassed. Not only had I let my family down in my eyes, but all the other kids my age knew, my home teacher knew, my leaders knew, I knew. I began to think there’s was something deeply wrong with me.
I began self harming with the pocket knife my grandpa had bought me for scouts. I began to deeply hate myself. My bishop would pull me aside at scout meetings to ask if I hadn’t masturbated recently or had thoughts about sex. Once a very outgoing and energetic primary kid, it was rare to hear me talk at church or activities. I cut so deeply once that I severed a vein in my arm and my mom had to take me to the emergency room. I didn’t care. I lied to my friends and told them it happened at scout camp on accident.
The bishop pestering continued. When I was fourteen I got my dad’s 9mm from under his bed, took the safety off, and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. I should have died. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do next. I put the gun away and pretended like it never happened.
The self harm continued. My dream from when I was a child was to go to BYU like my parents. My bishop had to interview me and send it in to the university. (I was 17 when I applied). He included things about my ‘problem’ and I wasn’t denied on the basis of ecclesiastical endorsement. I tried to take my life again, this time by walking in front of a school bus.
Years later I still struggle with shame associated with my body and sexuality. These interviews and shaming processes started me on a path that almost ended in the end of my life. I know I am not alone in these experiences because I saw it happen to more than me. Interviews weren’t the only sexually explicit conversation leaders had with me or others my age either; Masturbation and sex shaming was a regular priesthood lesson topic. The bishops also shared some really sexually explicit experiences of their own in hopes of ‘curing me’. This is such a pervasive problem in Mormon culture and ultimately was the thing that drove me from my faith. Don’t give up your life for shame someone else imposes on you. You aren’t dirty or wrong for experiencing something very normal and human. Healthy, appropriate education settings are important and this isn’t one of them. Thank you for listening to my story.