My first experience with church leaders asking me about pornography or masturbation happened when I was about 12. I had always been curious about sexuality since most of my friends in middle school were not members and they looked at pornography regularly. My bishop asked me if I looked at pornography or masturbated when I interviewed to become a deacon. I had looked at stuff, but had never masturbated. After he went into more detail what that meant I became more curious and asked my friends at school if they did it. Of course they did, so I went home and tried it. Throughout the next few years I continued to have meetings with bishops and they would continue to ask me questions about pornography or masturbation. The self esteem issues began around age 15. I had been listening to church leaders in my interviews and classes talking about how masturbation and sexual sins were some of the worst things you could ever do, and slowly I began feeling like I was less than everyone else in church (because I didnt believe anyone else was dealing with it). Luckily I had really great friends, so I didnt ever show signs of the self hate, but in secret I always felt like I was not deserving of the good things in my life. I figured that anyone who found out about what I was doing would never want to talk to me again. I never wanted to have a serious relationship, because I felt like I would not be able to control myself with the girl, and as long as I was masturbating by myself in secret it would be better than ruining someone else’s salvation. I was actually able to stop looking at pornography for two years, simply because I felt like it between ages 16 and 18, but I started again when I went to college. There were times where I had felt like suicide could fix my issues, because I was always worried I would take things too far with someone else or that I would never be able to break my “addiction” (which is what my leaders would call me looking at porn 1 a week or less).
When I was on my mission I did really well not looking at pornography. I messed up a couple times, but my first mission president was an amazing man who never made me feel less than anyone else because I messed up. My second mission president came in with 6 months left in my mission. Numbers dropped, and he decided it was because there was a pornography problem in the mission. I was a zone leader at the time, and had helped revive two dying zones in the mission because I was hard working and a good leader to others. When the president decided that pornography was the problem he interviewed every single missionary and went as in depth as he possibly could with any problems people had with it. I admitted to him that over a 20 month period I had looked at porn 4 times. He ripped into me, telling me that I was a terrible missionary, and asked me how I could possibly preach the gospel to others when I was filled with this sickness. Luckily I had an amazing companion, who when I told him what happened with the president he basically said the president could screw off, because we were doing amazing work for the people.
After my mission, I realized that the most common response from bishops was “try not to do it again, pray when you get tempted.” I decided that I didn’t need to go talk with them anymore if I slipped up and would just take care of it with God. Once I started dating my now-wife though, we messed up after about 6 months of dating and had sex. When I went and talked with my bishop the interview just went way too in depth. He asked me if I orgasmed, if she orgasmed, how many times we had sex, where we had sex, what positions we were in. I do not think that he had any weird motives behind the questions, but I did not think the extra questions were necessary since I had already established that we had sex. I was then forced to go to the BYU honor code office as part of my repentance process, which again I thought was unnecessary and that I could just handle it between me and the Lord.
My wife and I dated for a long time, but after the first time we were pretty good about not slipping up. My self-esteem issues were a big problem for us though, because in my head I was a terrible person who committed sexual transgressions all the time (I would masturbate maybe once a week). I became very lazy with our relationship because in my head I always felt that she would leave me because of my problems (luckily my wife is the most amazing woman in the world and she never did).
As I look back on my experiences, I have realized that the biggest issues with pornography or masturbation have been caused by the church itself. If my bishops had not gone in depth into masturbation when I was 12, I probably wouldn’t have tried it so often. If I had not been made to feel like a terrible person because I looked at pornography, I wouldn’t have looked at it as often as I did (it was a stress reliever for me). If I wasn’t made to feel like a second class citizen to everyone else because my issue was brought up at every possible chance, I would’ve enjoyed my teen years more than I did. My wife and I could’ve gotten married much sooner than we did, as the only thing holding us back was the repentance that we felt we needed to go through to make up for what we had done. My whole life I have felt shame. I have purposefully ruined relationships, because I “knew” I would never be good enough for me. I have since left the church, and slowly I have been gaining back my self confidence. I believe the bishops need to stop asking these questions, but I also believe the church in general needs to stop laying so much emphasis on restrictions to sexual behavior.