I confessed to masturbation to several priesthood leaders as I struggled with it from age 12-19. One bishop around age 14 told me I was “preying on my own sexuality!” He was a kind and genuine man, but because of this idea I identified myself as a predator. I felt like a deviant much of my young life. I really, sincerely tried to stop, had successes, relapses, prayed and and lived in a near constant state of guilt, and had to compartmentalize it to survive. I have damaged many of my relationships through adulthood because of this warped coping mechanism.
As I prepared to serve a mission (which I did), I had to clear up things with a counselor in the stake presidency. This man wanted detail. I met with him for a month or two, weekly. My parents didn’t know. I just walked over to the stake center a block or two from my house at the appointment times. I was ashamed and self-disgusted, and had to talk about a relapse I had during the course of our meetings. He asked how I did it, if my parents ever found any mess, and even found some of my confessions a bit amusing, saying “I’ve never heard that one before!” He took it far less seriously than I did, but still required the meetings. The whole thing felt awful, but I had to do this if I wanted any chance at forgiveness.
I did go on a mission, and ended up relapsing a few times. I tearfully confessed to my mission president because I didn’t feel worthy to attend a dedication of a temple in our mission, half expecting to be sent home. This kind and loving man said “Elder, go and get some strength from the temple.”
When I came home at the end of my mission, I had more relapses, got married worthily in the temple and thought that would solve my problems. It did not. Confession to my wife was permanently damaging to our marriage. I learned to hide and lie until I couldn’t bear it anymore. I was given “the miracle of forgiveness” by a bishop at this time. After reading it, I thought I was a son of perdition and hopelessly lost. Ironically, the only thing that saved me from suicide was the strength of my belief in an afterlife and the worse eternal consequences of killing myself.
In my life, I had interactions with leaders that made me sick, that twisted my sense of myself, and felt like a violation that I had to subject myself to in order to avoid divine condemnation. There were also good men that truly loved me and showed me Christlike love and mercy, but the doctrines I had been taught about myself caused me so much anguish and self-hatred. I spent so many years of my life fighting a life-or-death battle that did not need to be fought. I am lucky that I was never a victim of physical abuse, and I know my story pales in comparison to many others. My heart breaks for them.
I no longer believe in the church, but these effects are still with me. I don’t tell anyone my story because I feel the second they hear I masturbated they will believe that my disbelief is the result of that and my fall from grace is my own doing.