I remember the first time I was asked if I masturbated.
When I was about 15 years old, I was very depressed. My bishop was a neighbor and family friend, so I called him and asked if we could set up an appointment to talk. I didn’t tell my parents I was doing this, and honestly I was scared even to call my bishop, but I felt I needed help and that he was someone I could turn to.
We met in his basement. I told him why I’d come, that it was because I was struggling with feelings of self-loathing: “I hate myself.” In response, the first thing he asked me was if I masturbated. I was shocked – I didn’t even know what masturbation was, but I was pretty sure it was something embarrassing. “No!” I responded. And the conversation moved on.
I’m certain I was asked if I masturbated in future bishop’s interviews, with multiple bishops, but honestly I don’t remember specifics. I became accustomed to it; I trusted my leaders wouldn’t ask anything they shouldn’t. And because I didn’t have any masturbation or sexual activity to report as a teenager and young adult, fortunately I was spared the discomfort of further graphic conversations.
But what if my answer had been yes – as it would be for many if not most adolescents? I shudder at the thought that I could have been led to believe that my self-loathing was my own fault, related to natural expressions of human sexuality.
The most disturbing thing to me is not actually that I was asked inappropriate questions. It’s that I was actively seeking help for real, persistent mental health issues (depression and anxiety), but my issues were approached through a framework of sin and purity. I was instructed to deal with my issues through prayer, scripture study, and righteous living — never directed to appropriate resources. I didn’t get a diagnosis or help from a trained mental health professional until well into adulthood (in my late 20’s).
My heart aches for the thousands (at least) of youth who are not receiving mental health support that they need and furthermore, are being made to feel that their human sexuality is shameful and wrong.