I was lucky enough that my father was my Bishop during my formative teenage years so the damage and shame I received as a youth was from other people in leadership positions or during lessons and not one-on-one interviews at an early age.
I never had negative experiences with a Bishop, but that changed my junior year in High School. By LDS standards I went farther with my boyfriend than “good girls” should go (for the record, and not that it matters … but it wasn’t sex). He felt guilty and confessed to his Bishop, unbeknownst to me. His Bishop asked him who he “sinned” with and my boyfriend willingly gave him my name. His Bishop contacted my Bishop who then called me into his office and manipulated a confession from me. I was put on informal probation, with public shaming being a huge tool in the Bishop’s arsenal — no sacrament, no praying in public, no trips with my YW class to the temple. I was told I was the “gatekeeper”. I was told it was my responsibility to maintain his self-control. He never received a punishment as harsh as I did, while he was just as complicit in the encounter.
I was socially punished for just kissing boys and was told I was “promiscuous”. I was treated as an outcast by my youth leaders who talked about me behind my back. The adults participated and encouraged the youth to shame and bully me.
When I was a senior in High School I had an aggressive boyfriend who ignored my “stop” and my “no”. Per LDS teachings, again, that required a confession to the Bishop. I was scared and waited until I moved away to college and put it off. Eventually that boy got guilty and confessed, again he told his Bishop my name. Again, I was called into an office without initiating it. If I had been properly educated in sexuality and consent I would have understood fully what had happened to me. My first sexual experience was assault … and I didn’t even realize it because of the shame that was placed on me. Had he been trained I would have received counseling and support for being raped. Instead, I was punished and shamed with huge heaps of guilt. Probing questions were assailed at me: Clothes on or off? What positions? How many times? Where were you? How long did it last? When was the last time? Did he climax? Did you climax? Where did he touch you? Where did you touch him? Did he insert his fingers? How many? Did he touch your breasts? Over or under clothes? Did you perform oral sex? Did he? What were you wearing? Did he ejaculate?
Why didn’t he ask the questions that mattered? Did he get consent? [NO] Did he use a condom? [NO]
He required I have a disciplinary council. It was never explained what that meant or how to prepare, I was only told a time and a place of where to be. I was told this sin was comparable to murder, that I was the same as a murderer.
A room full of men that I had never met then continued to ask me the same probing questions that my Bishop had asked. I didn’t feel love or supported, I only felt judgement and shame.
In the end, it was decided that I was disfellowshipped until further notice and told to read the “Miracle of Forgiveness”.
It took years to learn to reframe that it wasn’t just “premarital sex”, but rape. It wasn’t me losing my virginity, but someone taking it from me against my will. I believed it was my fault, because I was told it was my fault. I never thought to talk to someone else at the time. I was told my worth was tied directly to my “purity”. I was told that boys’ thoughts and behaviors were my responsibility to bear.
The sexual shaming continued into my marriage. I rushed into a marriage thinking that if I got married my sexual feelings would then be allowed and my feelings of self-loathing and inadequacies would disappear. I never received the tools on how to properly select a husband … YW lessons centered on the dress and the temple and never anything about the man or how he treated a woman. In my naivete those questions on what type of person he was never entered into the equation. He was cute and a member and he liked me, that was good enough. I never knew i should try to get to know him better. I didn’t know the qualities to look for, or the questions to ask. I found myself in a marriage that was mentally, psychologically, financially and sexually abusive.
Years passed and I was still married, and now with 4 kids. Slowly I began to realize the emotional and sexual abuse that I had been enduring for years — something wasn’t right and I needed help! I gathered my courage and reached out to my Bishop for help (I didn’t know where else to go, and had been groomed since childhood to put my trust in him). He counseled me that I needed to pray harder and be more faithful and that then my husband would treat me better. He blamed *ME* for the abuse that was inflicted upon me. Me, the victim. I was told it was my fault and that I must have done something to deserve it. I was counseled to buy new lingerie and to never say no to him. I was counseled to be more submissive.
I was told to fix problems that were NEVER mine to fix. No counseling or therapy was ever discussed or recommended. I was scared and hurting. I was desperately grasping for a safe and trusted hand. Instead of help, I was pushed back into the pit. In the end I was more damaged and traumatized.
Because of that damaging and destructive “counsel” I stayed in that abusive marriage for years longer. I endured more years of abuse that I had tried to flee only to be told it was my own fault.
I began self-harming in an effort to cope. It probably stemmed from the belief that i needed “punishment” because I couldn’t be who the Church told me to be for my husband because the abuse continued — it was my fault, clearly, I was doing something wrong. Maybe, I believed, if I punished myself enough then he wouldn’t have to. I continue to struggle with and still self-harm today, even though I am now in a stable and loving relationship. The scars constantly remind me of the feelings of my insecurities. The pain still remains and bubbles up at unexpected times.
I almost didn’t make it out of the abuse. If i had followed the counsel of my priesthood leaders I never would have. Every time they spoke to me it was to stay in the marriage and work it out, to submit and pray harder.
Because of the fact that sexuality in every talk and lesson in YW was discussed as bad and sinful, I never learned what was healthy and had no framework for what sex should be in a loving relationship. I was robbed of a normal, healthy sexual development. As a result it took me years to realize that what was happening in my marriage was abuse and not normal or healthy in any way. I didn’t realize that i was allowed an opinion or that i was supposed to get pleasure out of it.
After the end of my marriage I began to masturbate (for the FIRST time) in my early 30s. I was desperate to discover if sex could be pleasurable. I was desperate to take back control of my sexuality and bodily autonomy. I journeyed for over 2 years before venturing into dating, trying to find myself and who I really was — when I wasn’t being told what to wear, what to read, what to listen to, how to style my hair. Freedom was exhilarating. The self-discovery was necessary after anything that was “me” was pushed into a box and controlled. It’s now been 4 years, I’m still trying to recover from the damage.
The prying, inappropriate questions don’t stop when a person reaches adulthood. This isn’t just happening to children — though that is definitely when it starts and when the grooming begins. Even now, as a 35 year old adult, I was recently asked pointedly and explicitly about my sexual behaviors. Shamefully and cowardly, I lied, instead of telling him that it wasn’t any of his business. Lying seemed like the easy way to move past the ridiculous instead of engaging. Even still, he pressed the issue and wanted more details, trying to manipulate me into a confession. I only conceded to tell him that my boyfriend treated me with kindness and respect. He could choose to interpret that as he wished. It was true. Past Bishops didn’t care when sex was physically and emotionally harming me, why should they be involved when I’m in a loving and committed relationship with someone who treats me with kindness and respect?
We emotionally, mentally, and spiritually circumcise our YW … trying to cut out the sexuality in their lives that leaves them stunted and traumatized.
We teach them to submit to the “Priesthood”. I never received the tools to talk about sexuality in a healthy way. I never received comfort in bodily autonomy. The system sets up girls to be victims of abuse and dominance in their future relationships. It creates girls who are entirely co-dependent on someone else for their happiness and decision-making.
We publicly shame children and young adults for normal human behavior that should never have been asked to begin with by an adult man behind a closed door who has been taught to be an “authority figure”. Children shouldn’t be questioned about their sexual thoughts and behaviors. They shouldn’t be pressured to tattle on other youth. They shouldn’t be expected to talk about things they aren’t comfortable telling their parents.
We need to teach our youth that sexual thoughts are a normal part of human development. We need to teach them that knowing their own bodies is necessary. We need to teach them the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. We need to teach them not to be ashamed of their own bodies. We need to teach them about consent vs coercion.
Most importantly, we need them to know that it’s NOT okay for an adult to ask invasive questions about your sexuality or sexual habits. NEVER, under any circumstances is that okay.
A man does not suddenly acquire a clinical psychology degree or an education in health and wellness, and yet he is elevated to this higher clergy status that is expected to act as a therapist and life coach.
This system invites older men to abuse. It provides a means for them to exert control over people and children. It creates an unbalanced power dynamic with a false sense of authority. Children are *groomed* from a VERY young age to “respect” the Bishop who is the “Judge in Israel” for the ward. They are taught he is God’s representative on earth. They are told to never question his authority. They are told he “holds the keys” and is guided by God. They are taught that he is the judge. They are taught he holds the spirit of “discernment”. They are given the fear of their eternal damnation hanging over their heads and eternally being separated from their parents in a different “kingdom” if they “sin”.
The problem begins when we are children, what we are taught in classes and told to trust in the “Priesthood” and therefore ultimately, the Bishop. It continues to harmful bi-annual interviews where prying questions are flung at impressionable youth — and lessons about sexuality are always negatively framed and full of guilt and shame. It progresses into adulthood and follows us into our marriages.
All of my experiences show the danger of how sexuality is taught and presented to the youth. Each experience was then further compounded interactions with Priesthood authority, by interrogations. The damage that happened as a result of the church and is interference in sexuality is extreme.