I was sexually abused by my step-brother when I was an eight year old girl. It continued for two years. My family was broken and dysfunctional and there was no adult I felt I could talk to. Like many victims of sexual abuse, I kept it to myself for years.
I was never asked any probing questions in an interview to my memory. However, the teachings of the church were very clear to me as a child and teenager. Like many victims of sexual abuse, I started masturbating at a young age. I didn’t know at the time that it was a common side effect. I just felt guilty. I heard talks about confessing masturbation to the bishop. After many years of praying and striving to end the behavior on my own, I did go talk to a bishop. He didn’t probe, but I still felt miserable about the whole thing. I comforted myself that I would rather get it out of the way now with a bishop than have to confess my sin before God one day.
I was eventually able to stop masturbating. I had triumphed! I had gained control of my body. I thought I had finally won. Then I got married. Between the sexual abuse and the efforts to stop its effects, I had managed to mostly shut down my sexuality. It has been years. There have been better and worse times for me and my husband. But still, we do not have the sex life we deserve to have as human beings. And still the shame follows me. I couldn’t even tell my therapist about the masturbation. I had to have my husband come with me and say the words for me.
It was then, about two years ago and eight years into my marriage, that I first learned that masturbation was common for victims of sexual abuse. The bishop I talked to had no training or expertise. If he had, I could have learned years before getting married that I was a normal person behaving in an understandable way. I could have been saved from about 15 extra years of shame. I could possibly have the love life with my husband that I so desperately desire. If only I had been told to speak to a professional rather than lay clergy, I could have started healing so much sooner.