I masturbated only once (yes, ONCE) as a young man growing up in the Church. I was 14 years old. I didn’t really understand what I was doing or feeling, but my LDS upbringing made me quickly realize that I had committed a line never to be crossed, not even once. I was so horrified and ashamed that it was ten years till I “gave in” again.
Other than repeated confessions to my bishop at my mandatory six month worthiness interviews, I told no one. Not my parents, not my brothers, not my best friends. I thought I was one of very few young men who had committed this perversion. The shame I felt from keeping this secret of being a “serious sinner” completely dominated my adolescent life. Not a single day went by that I did not remember my unworthiness many times. I cried myself to sleep several times each week for years.
I was terrified of being around my bishops because they knew my dirty secret. I was terrified of my impending mission, knowing that I had not kept myself unspotted of the world. I thought I was one of the only missionaries on my mission who had ever masturbated. My sense of unworthiness pervaded my mission and kept me from ever feeling confident and comfortable in the work.
I felt sick to my stomach as I went to the temple because I felt unworthy. It wasn’t until I had graduated from BYU and started seeing a psychologist that I learned the truth about human sexuality and started to understand the abuse of the system I had been through. People who knew me would tell you I was a model kid. I never got into trouble. I never skipped church, seminary, or school. I read the Book of Mormon several times on my own. I was an accomplished violinist. I graduated second in my high school class and received a full National Merit scholarship to BYU. I participated in church lessons and served as a Sunday school teacher and choruster.
I was not perfect, but I tried to be kind to others and be thoughtful of others’ needs. I never swore or told dirty jokes, even when my friends did. I called my mother to bring me home rather than watch a rated-R movie at a sleepover. I wasn’t too self righteous, but I tried to gently encourage my friends to be good.
Even though I was doing almost everything right and trying to be my best, my self esteem was shattered as a youth. The knowledge that I had committed the sin next to murder overwhelmed me everyday. I felt humiliated and ashamed each week at church. Even though I had nothing new to confess, I was retraumatized every six months at my semi-annual worthiness interview where the bishop asked me if I was looking at pornography and masturbating. I knew that he knew about the one time I gave into temptation and masturbated years earlier, and I felt unworthy and embarrassed. Even youth who are almost “perfect” can feel violated and broken by these interviews. Even bishops who approach these subjects as tactfully as possible can unknowingly traumatize members by asking them personal, sensitive questions regarding their bodies and sexuality.
There is no reason to conduct mandatory worthiness interviews, especially for youth who are just trying to learn how to manage their emerging sexual feelings. Lives can be devastated and permanently scarred.