I was first asked by my bishop if I engaged in masturbation when I was 11-years-old, in a worthiness interview prior to be ordained a deacon. I had never heard the word. At that time, he told me that if I didn’t know what I meant, I probably didn’t have a problem. It made me feel stupid, like I should have known what it was. This same bishop continued to ask me the question each time I met with him, which was at least yearly. At some point early on, he decided to tell me what it meant. I don’t remember his exact description, but I remember afterwards being fearful to even touch my private areas – believing that if I touched any of those areas and it felt good, I was sinning and displeasing God (who would be watching me). I took it so seriously, that I wouldn’t wash those private areas for most of my teenage year, as the warm water and contact from my hand felt good, and then caused feelings of shame and guilt – which were far more intense than concerns about hygiene caused. This was not something that I could talk to my parents about because I had been instructed over and over again not to EVER speak ill of the “lord’s anointed.” To question the bishop, even to my parents, was not appropriate.
I also was taught that God knew our thoughts, and that they were counted against us just the same as actions were. Add to this the teaching that adultery was 2nd only to murder, and that righteous parents should prefer that their children die before losing their virtue. These teachings, in combination, made me terrified that I might slip up, think ever so briefly about sex, and commit a sin comparable to murder. Meanwhile, I was suppressing the testosterone that was flowing though my body, and refusing to touch myself except to use the bathroom. The natural result was that, because I refused to consciously allow these thing, my subconscious would take over and all these “horrible” things would happen in my dreams. This caused me to wonder if 1) dreams counted the same as thoughts, 2) if I need to confess to priesthood leaders, 3) if it meant I would not be able to go on a mission and would cause associated disappointment and shame to my family, and 4) if I was already damned to hell, so what did anything else matter.
I personally don’t know that my bishop was a predator or a pervert. I believe he felt instructed to ask the questions that he did. But he had no right, no training, and no idea of the guilt, shame, and self-loathing that he would impose upon me. My parents surely didn’t realize that to disallow questioning or criticism of priesthood leadership, even to them, left me alone, scared, fearful, injured, and filled with contempt for myself. Future leadership (pre-mission) never asked me specifically about masturbation again, asking only generally if I lived the law of chastity. But, given my past, that question was just as horrible. Initially relieved, and in order to avoid further embarrassment, unwanted attention, and more detailed questioning, I answered that I did live the law of chastity. But I didn’t believe it about myself. Now, I was not only unchaste, I was also a liar – not honest with my fellow men. These, and other resulting / associated beliefs about myself, became the reason that bad things happened to me, that I couldn’t feel the spirit, that my mission success was limited, that my marriage was a struggle, etc., etc.
These decades of damage could be stopped for current and future youth if “the brethren” would listen and make the very simple changes that this movement is about. There is so much harm being done. It needs to stop.