My story takes place in the 1980s, in a town of about 30,000 people in Los Angeles County, California.
One Sunday when I was about 15 years old, all the girls were brought together to watch a film called “Morality For Youth” (1982). The video used a group of teens on a river rafting trip as a metaphor for our lives being full of sexual dangers that we had to protect ourselves from. There were several quotes from the prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, who warned us against “necking, petting and masturbation”. I wasn’t entirely sure what those things were, but the movie told us they led to “the more serious sins of exhibitionism and the gross sin of homosexuality.”
Soon after, we all underwent Bishop’s interviews. I found myself in the bishop’s office, being asked about the things in the film. When I hesitated because I wasn’t really sure what those things actually were, he explained. Everything.
I had figured out masturbation somewhere around the age of 8, and did it pretty regularly. Other than understanding it was meant to be private, it had never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with what I was doing.
I felt deeply ashamed. How could God forgive me?
But here was the bishop. I trusted him. He would help me know what to do. It was mortifying, but I told him what I had done.
For a moment, he seemed stunned. I recall him blinking in silent surprise. Maybe it was something he only expected from the boys. In any case, he recovered his composure and scolded me severely, pointing his finger and telling me I should be ashamed. I sat in silent, humiliated tears.
Even after all of that, I struggled hard against the temptation. I would abstain for weeks, but would inevitably slip up. I never admitted to doing it again, even though I was asked at nearly every interview.
I was a terrible person.
Of course, knowing I was lying to the bishop made me feel even worse. I tried to pray for forgiveness, but I knew it wasn’t enough. The only real way to be forgiven was to confess. Sometimes, I would try to work up the courage to tell the truth, but I would always chicken out at the end, lie quietly to the Bishop and continue feeling miserable and worthless.
When I started dating boys, there were more pointed questions about sexual behavior. The bishop and my teachers had convinced me that anything more than hand-holding and a kiss on the cheek required repentance. The guilt and misery that followed normal good-night kisses on the porch after a date were so excruciating that I generally couldn’t bring myself to date anyone more than a few months. For a while, I was with someone who forced me to do things that I knew were wrong. But rather than tell my parents or church leaders and ask for help, I remembered the humiliation of that first confession and suffered in silence.
I was a terrible person.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had met and fallen in love with an amazing boy who did NOT think I was a terrible person and I wanted to spend my life with, but the Bishop and other leaders pressured me relentlessly to either convert him or move on. I was told again and again that I would NEVER BE HAPPY if I didn’t marry in the temple.
I would be a terrible person FOR ALL ETERNITY.
Sexual questions in my interviews became more explicit. Is he touching your breasts? Over or under your bra? Are you kissing with tongues? For how long? Is there kissing anywhere other than on the mouth? How does it feel? Do you want him to touch you under your clothes? Do you want to touch him under his clothes? I rarely admitted to any of our relatively unadventurous, age-appropriate, consensual behavior, but that didn’t stop me from constantly struggling with the ever-present guilt.
I was told over and over that the non-member status of the boy I loved meant he would NEVER be good enough and our relationship was unacceptable in the eyes of God. After two years together, I caved. Not long after getting my acceptance letter to BYU, I broke both our hearts and left him.
Once I got to Provo, I let myself be sucked into the Temple Marriage whirlwind and married the first Mormon boy who looked my way. This is what God wanted, wasn’t it?
I wouldn’t be a terrible person anymore. I was finally going to be who God wanted me to be.
It was a mistake. He was abusive and unkind. Worthiness interviews after marriage are far less invasive, but that old familiar guilt kept me in a stranglehold. The accusations were in my own head now. I was being punished for my wickedness. I deserved every bad thing that happened to me. If I was worthy, God wouldn’t have let it happen. It was all my fault.
Many, many years later, I am finally angry. How dare they? They had no right. It took me so many years to overcome feeling that I could never be good enough for God to love me. I have now left the church and taken my children with me. They will never have to hear someone they trust tell them they aren’t good enough. Good riddance.