I will tell my story anonymously as it the internal and external impact Church teaching around sexuality and expectations of worthiness evaluations by Church leaders still impacts me substantially. If a leader in the Church takes seriously these stories including mine, and wishes to communicate with me about the harm they have done, I will allow Sam Young to give them my email address to do so. Otherwise, I will remain anonymous. I am a convert to the LDS Church, joining in my early teens. During my missionary discussions, I remember the missionaries teaching about adultery, and I asked what that was, and they responded that I should ask my mother, which I later did. Perhaps that was one time questions about sexuality by me as a youth was handled well.
While, my story is not one of Bishop’s or Branch Presidents or Mission President’s prying into sexual experiences for their own voyeuristic or authoritarian compulsions, it is in my opinion problematic on a deeper level. You see I don’t remember being asked sexually intrusive questions when called in by my church leaders, rather I was taught and thoroughly believed that I had to monitor my own sexual thoughts, arousal, and behaviors and to not do so was a grievous sin — a sin next to murder. My bishop or branch president didn’t have to call me in for an interview, I felt the heavy burden of guilt and shame that caused me to heed the Church teachings and to seek out my Bishop and to confess my struggles and challenges and shame.
Prior to learning about the Church, I found self stimulation of my genitals pleasant and had no feelings of shame or guilt about it. But upon joining the Church, I quickly learned that touching others or myself sexually was considered a grievous sin, like unto murder and was encouraged to repent of sexual thoughts, self pleasure, and to avoid sexual interaction with others. I joined the Church in the era of Harold B. Lee and then had Spencer W. Kimball as the Prophet thru my missionary years. I read Miracle of Forgiveness and internalized the story of the girl who felt shame and was physically ill after she learned what she had been doing was masturbation and a sin and only found peace of mind after confessing and repenting to her bishop. Internalized the teachings that sexual thoughts were bad and that I was offending God when I had such thoughts. I felt immensely ashamed and sinful when I could not stop sexual thoughts from going thru my mind. I sometimes equated arousal with being unable to control my thoughts even when my arousal didn’t seem to be related to thoughts or external stimuli. (It would be in my adult years before I understood that an erection was normal and often meant I was tired not somehow lusting after someone or some sexual act).
I remember as a young man now in the Church believing that masturbation, even the innocent non-goal directed self stimulation I did as a child, was so sinful and felt shame before I actually even learned or experienced an orgasm. That day came when I gave in and first experienced an orgasm and I immediately knew I had offended God and had to stop this practice. I remember going running, even with a disability that made running difficult, I would run miles and miles just to try to control my thoughts and to not give into self stimulation. I remember my father seeing my change in countenance when I felt shame, and asking me what was wrong, and not understanding my vague excuses about wanting to run alone.
Like many many LDS youth and adults in the past, I began a torturous pattern of swearing off self stimulation and sexual thoughts and the intense shame and self loathing that came with the belief and going into the Bishop and “repenting” and feeling temporarily clean again, then relapsing and starting over again, and again, and again and feeling like something was wrong with me. My bishop’s / Branch President’s were mostly kind, but none of them told me that having sexual thoughts, arousal, or masturbation were normal, natural, developmentally appropriate for a teenage boy / (or girl) to experience. They told me to repent and encouraged reading the Miracle of Forgiveness, and confirmed my shame and guilt were what God wanted, that I was flawed before God. Almost a murderer.
Sexuality and arousal became shameful, forbidden, sinful, dirty, a character defect. I was herculean in my strivings to avoid sexual thoughts and arousal and masturbation. Running miles and miles until injuring a limb; long periods of abstinence followed by bitter soul wrenching relapses. Finding ways to stimulate myself without touching anything thinking that I had not violated God’s commandments, only to feel horrible when I realized that regardless of the lack of actions, my thoughts were enough to condemn me. When I felt unworthy, I suffered depression. Unmotivated, giving up zest and enthusiasm for life, withdrawing from social commitments, fearing offending God at Church bowing out of passing or blessing the sacrament at the last minute in a small branch when that action was clear to the whole congregation that I must be feeling unworthy as there were so few young men that my absence was glaringly obvious. Sometimes I passed or blessed anyway, knowing I was an even worse sinner. Putting Christ to open shame by unworthily representing God.
My relationships with girls my age were impacted. Although I did have some exploration, I was very restrained and limited in my interactions with girl friends. Sexuality was forbidden. Watching interactions, did have benefits as I would have been far more sexually involved as a teenager than I was if the Church hadn’t come into my life, but not because I understood consent, and respected my partners and delayed gratification to benefit the relationship or myself or my partner, but because God said so and it was a sin unto murder and physical intimacy before marriage was evil of the worst kind.
I didn’t realize that the Church teachings about sexual thought warning that masturbation lead to homosexuality, licked cupcakes, sexual thoughts were almost like adultery, masturbation was grievous sin, were producing he anxiety and guilt in me. I didn’t know that the shame I felt was due to believing the Church teachings rather than the natural result of having sexual thought or masturbating, or experiencing consensual intimacy with another person. I thought my feelings of shame were because these things were sinful like murder. I believed the Church teachings with all my heart and it nearly killed me.
After a mission, I, a virgin, married a virgin. We stumbled thru trying to be sexual and learning intimacy. She had never masturbated at all and didn’t know her body and I had little knowledge other than gained from books and porn. It took us a long time to develop a sexual relationship that was pleasurable and functional. We were unprepared.
At one point in my life my struggles with shame over self stimulation and sexuality lead me to become suicidal. Thinking it was better to die than to live. A more moral choice. Luckily I had a good therapist and was able to go to treatment facility and did not complete a suicidal plan.
The Church and its horrendous teachings about sexuality harmed me; harmed my marriage, risked my life. I did not learn about my own consent. I didn’t learn that sexual thoughts were normal, that arousal was normal, that masturbation was normative. I didn’t learn respect for women and for a potential partner. I didn’t learn to communicate about sexual issues. I learned shame. I learned it was ok for an adult church leader to ask sexually explicit questions of me as a youth. I learned that virtue could be lost and that a child who did not physically fight during a sexual assault would have been better off dead.
It took 30 years before I realized that the Church’s teachings were the problem. They shamed me for things that are normal, healthy and not a problem. The Church teachings recommending concern for sexuality could have been done in a positive manner, teaching consent, respect, and responsibility and not demonizing physical intimacy.
In my healing, I am helping others now and advocating for Children. The Church’s teachings and practices around worthiness interviews are not doctrinal and they are harmful. The practices were harmful to me, my marriage, and to so many members and non members of the church.
I stand with Sam Young to protect LDS Children and call on the LSD Church to end one on one interviews and to stop a allowing leadership to ask sexually explicit questions to youth.