When I was a 12 year old I went to my father full of shame and confessed I had masturbated. His reaction led me down a path of intense self-loathing that lasted well into adulthood.
Because what he didn’t say was “Literally everyone, especially kids your age, masturbates sometimes.”
What he did do was make me an appointment with our bishop. Who made me feel like a sexual deviant who might, someday, with enough tears and self-recrimination, be made whole again.
I don’t remember very much clearly from that age. But I remember that in such detail. And I remember how I was. How badly I wanted to please God. To be a good priesthood holder. To be valiant. It was all consuming. It WAS my identity. And how utterly I felt like I had failed. And nobody offered comfort. Nobody told me “Hey, this isn’t really a big deal”. They were all grave and somber and it destroyed me.
From that point on every interview I had with any of my bishops in my teenage years included sexually graphic questioning. I was asked if I had masturbated with other boys, touched other boys, participated in oral sex, viewed pornography (including brief descriptions of the types of pornography I may have seen), and much more.
All of this had the net effect of making me feel like a deviant. If I seemed like the kind of person who would be doing those things (why else would Bishops ask me?) then it must be because I just seemed depraved. And I felt like I was the only one struggling with masturbation. All the other kids my age weren’t doing this. It was just me. So even if I abstained for months, if I had one slip up all my former sins returned. It crushed me. Ground me into powder.
All my self confidence went away. I didn’t regain even shreds of it until I was nearly 20. And it took me until my late 30s (and therapy, and leaving the church completely) to get over the idea that I was fundamentally a terrible person.
The thing that makes me angriest is I never questioned that these Bishops were doing the right thing. Because I had been taught they were God’s representatives. They had the priesthood mantle. If anything was wrong it was with me. Me at 12. Made to feel like a pervert for something so natural and ubiquitous to the human experience.
It’s not right. No kids should suffer through that. None of them deserve it.