I was a popular young woman, honor student and athlete in my high school with supportive and loving parents. In the summer before I turned 16, I attended a fireside about chastity in which masturbation was the focus. Since approximately the age of 14 I had engaged in some mild masturbation, completely normal and moderate in every way. But I had never thought of it as masturbation. It seemed healthy and normal and it never occurred to me that it was a sin. Until that fireside. I felt deep shame and anguish as I realized that I had committed the sin next to murder, that I was unworthy of attending the temple, that I was filthy before God. I was wracked with the pains of hell. After several weeks of emotional turmoil, I tried to set up an appointment with the bishop. My parents somehow caught wind and tried to dissuade me. Though they gently inquired, I refused to give up why I needed to see the bishop. They were quite progressive, although believing, and tried to tell me that I didn’t need to see the bishop and that I could repent directly with heavenly father of whatever was bothering me. They tried to tell me that it was not necessary for a teenage girl to confess to a mid-fifties man. But I knew better. I knew that there were sins that could only be absolved through proper priesthood authority. And I knew that I was the worst of sinners. Akin to a murderer. At this point, I still had never even held hands with a boy or skipped a class at school. And yet my anxiety and self loathing were crippling.
Eventually, my parents relented and helped me schedule an appointment with the bishop. I believe that my bishop was well-meaning. But the experience was traumatic for me. I recognize that what follows is not even particularly extreme, but it was still traumatic for me. My bishop did not like me or my family. He was very orthodox and my parents were progressive. I knew that going in and so it already started out strained. The bishop asked me incredibly invasive questions. He wanted to know where in the house I would do this, what time of day, and how exactly was it done. When I hesitated in describing in graphic detail the masturbation, he explained how he was trying to understand so that he could counsel me properly and change negative behaviour. The bishop made me read The Miracle of Forgiveness. And he disfellowshipped me. I was not allowed to take the sacrament during that time. The Miracle of Forgiveness gave me nightmares as that narrative made it feel almost impossible to ever be forgiven. And it doubled down on how serious my sexual sins were. I was filthier than I could have ever thought. I had to report back to the bishop every few weeks. I think that this sometimes extended to a month as my family holiday schedule took us out of town. Every time I met with the bishop, he would repeat the invasive questions and want to know how many times I had screwed up. My mom got really worried about me because she could tell that I was stressed, knew what a good kid I was, and saw that I wasn’t taking the sacrament. I told her nothing and continued to suffer through shame and self-loathing. Eventually, I realized that I had to just tell the bishop everything he wanted to hear, whether it was true or not, because he would never let me off the hook unless I did so. I was disfellowshipped for a total of approximately 3 months.
I felt dirty even after he declared me clean. One of the messages that I internalized was that I was particularly sinful because girls were not supposed to have those sexual urges like boys. Anytime I had sexual feelings, it made me feel ashamed because I felt that I was not pure and deeply flawed. These feelings carried into my adulthood and marriage.