I confessed to the bishop that I had been masturbating when I was 15 years old. His response was that he “didn’t know girls could do that,” and that there must be something abnormal about my sex drive. This haunted me for years because I assumed he knew what he was talking about. He also told me that if I didn’t stop, my church membership would be in danger. I’m pretty sure now that they don’t excommunicate teenagers for masturbation, but 15 year old me didn’t know that and I took his warning seriously. It took years of therapy to overcome the guilt and shame and it’s not 100% gone. It’s affected my self-esteem, my mental health, and my marriage.
My husband was forced to delay his mission by almost a year because his bishop would not approve him to apply until he was masturbation-free for at least 3 months. This was extremely embarrassing for him. In hindsight he now realizes that most of the other boys his age were simply lying. The honest ones got punished.
In my case, I never had a bishop press me for details inappropriately, or even asked the question directly, but I had been taught that the only way to be forgiven for sexual sin (including masturbation) was a full confession to a bishop. This led to several excruciatingly awkward and humiliating meetings where I felt the need to tell a man who knew my parents that sometimes I touched myself.
The church needs to acknowledge that occasional masturbation is a healthy part of sexual development, completely normal, and not a reason to be shamed and excluded from normal church activities. Stop asking kids about it, and stop telling them they need to confess something so absolutely benign!