My story has roots going back stemming from before I was born but I don’t think it is my place to tell them right now. My personal story mostly begins when I was 9 or 10. After school one day my friend and I were talking about “sex”, I put “sex” in quotes because we really had no idea what it was, we speculated on what “sex” could possibly be. What we really talked about was kissing girls. Somehow our parents found out about the conversation. My parents confronted me, I don’t remember a lot, but I remember being surprised at the vigor that my parents came down on me with. I remember my mom was crying, my dad was mad. I had to try to tell them what we had talked about, but everything we had said was speculation and I was embarrassed. I remember getting a very basic “the talk” and being horrified and kept saying “no that is not what we had talked about”. If I recall correctly this was the first time I had to “talk to the Bishop”. I don’t remember specifics about the Bishop visit, I vaguely remember I may have had to skip the sacrament as “an example to prevent future problems”, but I do know I came away with a clear understanding that sex was taboo, my parents would be mad and disappointed, and my eternal salvation was at risk.
A year or so later, over the summer, my older cousin came to visit for a week or two, he is a year and a half older than me. I idolized him, he was smart, had a huge Lego collection, I wanted to be just like him. At the beginning of this visit and possibly during previous visits we would end up taking longer than necessary to get dressed after something like swimming or getting pajamas on. For me, this was just innocent playing, I didn’t think of it as sexual, though I figured my parents wouldn’t approve. For my cousin, I think it was more and could be considered grooming. After a few visits and weeks, it culminated with him asking me to put his penis in my mouth, which I think I rebuffed a few times. I think that he phrased it like, “my friend and I do this to each other and it is amazing.” After a few attempts I acquiesced, I don’t remember much other that it didn’t last long and I told him I never wanted to do that again. We never really ever spoke of it again until he was about to go on his mission and I pretend I didn’t know what he was talking about.
Partly due to my prior experience with my friend, I didn’t feel I could talk to my parents or the bishop, I was ashamed by my participation and that I had given in. This laid the ground work for the next 3 or 4 years which nearly ruined my life.
Because of my experience with my cousin and guilt, the normal onset of puberty and natural curiosity was magnified. I started doing inappropriate things with my younger sister, fortunately it was found out quickly, and I didn’t go nearly as far as I could have. What happened next I would describe as a whirlwind of soul sucking terror. My dad took me on a long drive into the country and confronted me, I was terrified. I was 11 or 12 at this point, I was a reader and liked to learn things. I knew enough at this point that sexual sin was considered next to murder. I didn’t know what it was called but had heard about the concept of what is known as Blood Atonement. I was scared and guilt ridden and knew that I had done wrong. I wanted help but was scared that I would disappoint my parents and never have their trust back.
After confessing to my dad, they set up an emergency visit with the bishop, my parents also afraid that they would lose the other kids contacted the police. In short, I was never arrested, but I went to court, was put on probation, was assigned therapy for 3 years and stayed with some older relatives for about a year. Looking back I value this part of my journey. I respect what my therapist and probation officer did. It was recognized that what I did wasn’t far past typical sibling curiosity, but they also taught me about boundaries, red flags, coping mechanisms, and though I didn’t recognize it at the time that masturbation was ok.
My experience with the church discipline was not something I look back on with value, in the past few years I have learned what happened to me was essentially disfellowshipment. So from either just before or after my 12th birthday (I was ordained a deacon, but I am not sure how/why) I was not allowed to take the sacrament, pray, or generally participate in church at all. That means for a new deacon, no passing the sacrament, all my peers knew I had really screwed up, everyone in the ward knew I must have done something heinous. Every Sunday, I would skip the first 20 minutes of sacrament meeting, trying to find someplace that I could hide. Most times I would hide in the coat room and cry until I could go back. I was never formally tried in a bishops court but was told that I could be. I was 12 and was being told that for what I had done I could be excommunicated. In my experience with the courts, care was taken to establish what I did, how far I went; as far as I can recall this was never done by my bishop beyond my initial confession.
I was asked to read the Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W Kimball, which has quotes like: “Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation when there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”; and “President David O. McKay has pleaded: Your virtue is worth more than your life. Please, young folk, preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives.” It was in this phase that I probably only really ever contemplated suicide, I don’t think I actually would have followed through, but I thought about it.
Also of note is the mixed messages I was getting at this point between my regular meetings with my bishop and my twice weekly meeting with my counselor. My court appointed counselor, which I checked was not affiliated with the church in any way, emphasized constantly that masturbation was normal, ok, and he would try to dispel any myths or misconceptions about masturbation. The bishop on the other hand emphasized the opposite. At this point in my life I had never masturbated beyond some basic touching myself when aroused. This was probably my first major encounter with cognitive dissonance.
After my church discipline was over I determined I was going to be best person I could be, especially in regards to church. I fully participated in everything seminary, mission, etc. In High School however that is when things got difficult again. When I was 15 we moved, it was around then that I masturbated for the first time. At this point I knew I was damned, in the D&C 82:7 it says, “And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” In the For Strength of Youth it says, “The Lord’s standard regarding sexual purity is clear and unchanging. Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage. Do not allow the media, your peers, or others to persuade you that sexual intimacy before marriage is acceptable. It is not. In God’s sight, sexual sins are extremely serious. They defile the sacred power God has given us to create life. The prophet Alma taught that sexual sins are more serious than any other sins except murder or denying the Holy Ghost (see Alma 39:5). “Never do anything that could lead to sexual transgression. Treat others with respect, not as objects used to satisfy lustful and selfish desires. Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression.” I think at a certain point I gave up and would continue to masturbate from time to time because I had so much sin back on me from what I had done earlier I may as well die, so what the hell.
Occasionally I would run across porn, kids would view it at school and you would sometimes find stuff on the computers, I probably only looked online a couple times, internet was slow, and popups were bad even from normal sites. I do know that sometimes probably mostly at school, sites would just pop up when you were looking for regular stuff and you would have to kill the computer to get it to stop. At some point my parents found out. As punishment, or to help (my parents had good intentions), I lost all privacy, my dad took the door off the hinges, that was fun to try to explain away to friends. I think for a bit I was even escorted to the shower and bathroom, I at least had a time limit. If I recall my parents tied my “punishment” to my “counselling” with the bishop. When I had to talk to the bishop I had to go into detail about pretty much everything and rehash it all. I did not tell him about what had happened when I was younger, and always felt guilty that I never fully repented since “my sins had returned”. This time I wasn’t allowed to take or participate with the sacrament for maybe 6 months, I was the only LDS male in my grade in my ward at the time. Again publicly shamed, with no way to hide that I didn’t bless the sacrament.
Part of my repentance process was to read Miracle of Forgiveness again, which again just re-iterated how messed up I was. Especially when we have scriptures like “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” So I should have been able to handle it, it was clearly me. It took longer to “become clean” again because I would slip up and masturbate. I went to a few extremes to try to help myself overcome this. I would tie my arms up so I could masturbate when I was half asleep, I would wear super tight pants to bed. I read about teas and supplements that would reduce my urges. When I learned about eunuchs, I knew that if I was strong enough I would just castrate myself so I could please the Lord. After all in Matthew 5:30 it says “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Every time I would slip up, I would feel the weight of all my sexual sins back on me since I clearly hadn’t “truly repented”.
To add to my confusion in regards to masturbation and how serious sins are, once with a girlfriend before my mission and with a different girlfriend after my mission I engaged in what would be considered “heavy petting” and dry sex. Both of these times how ever, I was told not to take the sacrament for a week and to stop doing it, that was it. I remember being very confused at this light treatment for something that to me was way worse than masturbation.
My various Church leaders, mission president, Bishops, Stake Presidents all have told me different, conflicting things. Some have said once I have been forgiven, the Lord remembers my sins no more and I don’t need to bring them up again. Others have said if I commit another sin or a similar sin all my previous sins come back and I have to repent for them all again. So since according to the For Strength of Youth even arousing sexual feeling outside of the context of marriage is a sin, does this mean I am constantly awash in my previous sins? My mission president said that sometimes we can get a priesthood leader who doesn’t care or doesn’t do things right, so he told us that if we didn’t feel forgiven enough that we would need to confess to a higher authority (stake president) or to the next bishop. This was troubling, because I had been put through the wringer for masturbating, but when I got closer to sex then ever it was a just a slap on the wrist. Especially as I got older, and talked to other missionaries and people, I realized that every teenage boy masturbates, according to one study “By age 15, almost 100% of boys and 25% of girls have masturbated to the point of orgasm.”
This has caused a lot of heartache for my wife as we have tried to talk about sex, masturbation and other issues because of the shame that I have felt. I feel my wife and I have recently been able to make more progress in talking freely but it has taken 10 years and a lot of patience on her part.