I turned 12 and was given a copy of the “For the Strength of the Youth” pamphlet as I entered the Young Women’s program. Shortly after, I was interviewed by our bishop (a kind man, who was the father of a friend of mine) in preparation for a temple trip the youth were doing. I honestly can’t remember what he specifically said to me in regards to chastity during that interview, all I can tell you is the effects of it devastated me for the next decade.
At 12, I had no idea what the term “masturbation” meant. Once I was alerted to it in the pamphlet by the interview, I looked it up and realized with growing horror that I had been unknowingly committing a sin “next to murder”. I felt sick, and dirty and unworthy. A private activity that I had done without shame or second thought, for several years was a vile sin? I immediately resolved to stop, with the plan to return to the bishop having conquered my habit, to seek forgiveness.
The following years were a merry go round of abstinence and relapse, shame and self-loathing. I had a calendar that I marked for every day I could be chaste. The days I succumbed were blacked out in marker. Try as I might, I could not completely quit. The shame and guilt built and built, but I could not bring myself to face my friend’s dad to confess. Instead I wrote several anguished letters, which I never sent. In my young mind, I was going to have to stand before God and my family some day and confess to this sin. I also believed that my relatives who had passed away might be watching and seeing my actions. These beliefs messed with my mind in ways I didn’t even fully understand, and many years later it affected marriage relations with my spouse. All this – because I masturbated a few times a month. Yes, a few times a month.
I avoided bishop’s interviews like the plague. I never again returned to the temple as a youth due to my belief in my unworthiness. I carried these burdens and unhealthy associations with normal human sexual pleasure into my marriage. Luckily, I was married to a man who had grown up with a much healthier view of masturbation that I had. He helped me unravel some of my shame and insecurities, but it wasn’t until we had been married for 10 years and were beginning our journey out of the church that I told him the full story of my teenage struggles. Leaving the LDS faith, and their harmful ideas about human sexuality behind has made me able to brush off the last vestiges of sexual shame that I had been hanging on to.