I first discovered masturbation around 6 years old. I had no idea there was anything wrong with it and I simply called it “getting butterflies”. I remember at 8 being asked in my baptismal interview if anyone touched me on my private areas or if I touched myself. This caused anxiety within me. Was it okay to wipe? Was it okay to touch my private parts while bathing? I felt shame about everything. My masturbatory practices were a bit different. It did not require any touching. It happened from exercise and playing on the monkey bars so I didn’t put two and two together. When I started my period I questioned my virtue if I used a tampon. I was very concerned about my purity and virtue to the point of obsession yet I never viewed my “butterflies” as anything wrong.
When I turned 12 I went in for my recommend interview and for the first time realized my “butterflies” were a sin. It was through a back and forth discussion about whether anyone had touched me in a way that aroused sexual feelings or if I ever touched myself to arouse those feelings. It was that moment that I realized that my butterflies were wrong, a sin, and I was no longer pure. I couldn’t get myself to admit to it, and technically I wasn’t “touching myself” so in that moment I lied. With temple recommend in hand leaving that interview as a fragile 12 year old girl, I felt unworthy to enter the temple and I immediately pledged to myself to stop the habit. I went months without it but eventually did it again.
Finally around age 14, I went in to see my bishop to tell him. The shame was eating at me to the point where I told myself if I ever did it again I would kill myself. Thankfully I never attempted. But I look back and feel so enraged that I let myself feel so guilty and shamed over something so natural that isn’t even in the bishops handbook as something that requires confession to a bishop or church discipline. During the interview he gave me ideas for how to avoid the temptation etc which was helpful. However he asked some additional explicit questions did I put my fingers inside, did I think about boys, did I fantasize, did I watch any materials, what made me want to masturbate, etc. (There was more discussion that I do not remember because I have blocked it from my memory). He did not tell me I needed to refrain from partaking the sacrament or stop attending the temple. It seemed to be something to stop, but not too serious. However, I still felt my struggle with masturbation made me unworthy if I couldn’t stop, because he never said otherwise.
The experience was so uncomfortable for me that I dreaded future interviews even when I had not masturbated. I avoided getting my temple recommend renewed through my teen and single adult years if I hadn’t refrained from masturbating for at least 6 months. I never fessed up to it again when asked outright because I did not want to be asked further prying questions again. This caused anxiety and shame over being dishonest. I realize now I shouldn’t have ever been asked these things and my anxiety and feeling the questions were inappropriate were warranted. I went into every interview with severe anxiety. The other struggle was that I was an elite athlete and my orgasms were easily triggered simply by working out, so I would spiral into feelings of shame over exercise.
I am angry that the shame around this natural thing made me feel such negative feelings about myself to the point of contemplating suicide and feeling unworthy to attend the temple and the enjoy the blessings there. Even as a grown woman, now married in the temple and very active, I dread my interviews because of these experiences. Now that I have a daughter of my own my view has changed drastically. I do not want her growing up believing that natural exploration of your own body is a sin next to murder. I will not allow her to be interviewed alone. I will not let her grow up feeling that her body is shameful or that masturbation is a sin. I will not let her be groomed into thinking discussing her sexuality with a middle aged man behind a closed door is normal or okay. She will know she can leave at any point and choose not to answer any question she is uncomfortable with.
My husband and I have recently called out our Bishop during interviews, and reported his behavior to our Stake President because he asked follow up questions to the chastity questions during our temple recommend interviews. Our Stake President assured us he should not be asking additional questions regarding masturbation or our sex life and was glad we brought it to his attention. These questions need to stop and all Bishops need proper training to ensure these detailed discussions with youth about sexuality behind closed doors end.