I was born into and grew up in a very strict Mormon family. My mom had this view of the world that the less you knew about sinful, harmful stuff, the better. So when I was 11 and I got “the talk”, it lasted about 4 minutes. I knew what sex organs were, and roughly how people got pregnant. That’s it.
At 12 years old, I started masturbating. Without knowing what I was doing, because I don’t think I’d ever heard the word “masturbate” before, I certainly didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t even know what I was doing was sexual in the slightest. It took me 5 years to put the puzzle together, from context clues about how people used the word, and then a bit longer to realize that’s what I was doing. So at 17 I had the shock of knowing I was a sinner, and had been for years. And it was sexual sin too. After years of Mormon conditioning, being told over and over that women are not very sexual creatures, that sexual desires in women are an indicator of something wrong, that terrified me. I was disgusted with myself. I thought God must be disgusted with me too, he must hate me. I came out to my mom like this: “Mom, what’s masturbation? (she told me) Oh, okay. I’ve been doing that.”
Again, she was a very strict Mormon, so she insisted I had to confess to my bishop, and even set up the appointment for me. Within the week I was sitting in his office, and I felt like the worst, most pathetic, perverted person on the planet. I was terrified of dying in my sins, and ashamed that I would have to tell my bishop all about my low-down, sordid deeds. After some small talk, I finally spat it out. “Bishop, I’ve been masturbating.” I started sobbing immediately. He was quiet, probably uncomfortable by the nature of our conversation and by the fact there was an underage girl in tears about it. He asked me how long it had been going on. “Five years.” Again he was quiet. Again, I was visually distraught, and I felt like the creator and power of the universe was revolted by me.
Again, I was 17, and I was active in the church, I was a good kid. And this is the first thing he thought of to say. “Okay. So I guess in all those temple recommend interviews I gave you, where you said you were free and pure of sexual sin, you were lying to me.” If someone said that to me now, I would defend myself, and I’d probably get angry. No, I wasn’t lying, no one thought to tell me what masturbation was. But I was 17 and miserable and I already hated myself. So I just cried, and internally agreed with him. Yes, I’m a liar, I’m a sinner, I’m the worst most disgusting person who’s ever lived.
I didn’t have many meetings with that bishop, maybe three or four. I hated going to see him, it’s incredibly uncomfortable being underage and asked questions about how often you touch yourself by a 40 year old man. He asked me if I thought about anything particular while masturbating, if I’d ever been caught, if I used porn, all questions I’m sure he thought were helpful and useful, but came off as very, very inappropriate. I think I lied about most of them, which only increased my feelings of guilt. For the next three years of my life I tried to kill my masturbation “addiction”. I tried everything, but nothing helped me because I hated myself so much I wouldn’t fully try to “get better”, or what I thought was better. I thought I was a lost cause, and masturbation honestly became a way of self-harming. I would do it because I was a disgusting evil sinner who didn’t deserve to be anything better, and then afterwards I’d cry and beg god for forgiveness knowing it wouldn’t be given to me because I couldn’t stop.
A year and a half into college, I started to think I was going to, and that in a way I had to kill myself. Because in my mind, I couldn’t stop sinning. And the longer I lived, the more I sinned. The more I sinned, the smaller a chance I had at a good afterlife. Therefore, it was in my best eternal interests not to live as long. I never chose a specific date, there were never any attempts, but I always knew I wasn’t going to live through college, and after bad days I would find myself wondering if maybe next week I’d be brave enough, or maybe next month. It wasn’t entirely my bishop’s fault I went through such a nightmarish three years. The environment that I lived in, the people I interacted with, the things I believed at the time, they all combined to create the perfect storm. But everything he did with the expectation of helping me made things much worse. I would have been far better off without any interaction from him whatsoever. In closing, my story has a happy ending. I learned to accept that I am a normal human with a sex drive, and actually a pretty tame and manageable one. I stopped hating myself for that, I stopped thinking I deserved to die. I still have major sex anxiety, and I think I will for a few years to come, but I know I can and will get better.