I was a twelve-year-old girl when a bishop I hardly knew asked me if I masturbated. No one had taught me what the word meant, but I sensed that the right answer was “no,” so I told him what he wanted to hear. While I didn’t understand the term, I had been innocently masturbating since early childhood, without knowing that what I was doing was considered wrong in the church. This created a lot of guilt and shame for me once I finally understood the meaning of the word, in my mid-teens. I didn’t confess to priesthood leaders throughout my teens because 1) church lessons gave me the impression that masturbation was especially deviant for girls, and 2) my instincts told me it was not only inappropriate but degrading. I thought something must be terribly wrong with me. I experienced a lot of self-loathing throughout adulthood, and I believe this was one of the significant causes.
In my teens, my first boyfriend groped me several times. He never asked; he just went for it. I soon broke up with him for this reason, but in those moments, I was paralyzed. Certainly, I wasn’t enjoying it; I was trying to think of a way to stop it without angering him. Because my father was frequently raging at us and my mother was passive and afraid, healthy boundaries and assertiveness weren’t modeled for me as a girl. (My parents were active LDS members.) By a mother who was just trying to honor domestic patriarchy, I was taught in my home to avoid angering the male species, to pacify, to give in. Even though I’d neither enjoyed nor consented to the “petting” that was thrust on me, I experienced a lot of self-loathing for permitting it a few times (out of fear) and for my healthy instinct to avoid confession–years into adulthood. I knew I’d be asked for graphic details, and the that didn’t feel right to me at all. Yet because I was indoctrinated, I felt like a terrible liar and sinner for avoiding the bishop’s office.