I am one of the lucky ones that didn’t experience inappropriate questions from my bishop when i was under 18. I’m not so lucky, however, as I experienced systemic abuse from organized abuse that is part of my family history. I thank God that I, for whatever reason, never associated that I was doing something wrong by exploring my own body in my youth. Discovering my sexuality was forced on me at an early age, something I wouldn’t even admit was sexual abuse until I was 26 years old.
The hyperfocus of sex and non-discussion in a normal way (like encouraging parents to talk to their kids, like masturbation is a normal phase of sexual exploration) did create a culture where sexual abuse was kept secret and swept under the rug. Someone in my family told a bishop of abuse that had happened. That bishop told this sibling to NOT tell my mom. Sometimes I wonder, had the bishop done the opposite if my abuse could have been prevented. If my mother would have been able to get our entire family the right kind of help.
As an adult, I did experience inappropriate discussions with ecclesiastical leaders. I didn’t know what the word masturbation meant. Not until I was a freshman in college, attending my first single’s ward FHE in Logan, Utah. The bishop welcomed us and eventually led the discussion to talk about sexual sins. He told the ENTIRE group of college kids “and masturbation? don’t do it ok?”
I leaned over to my friend and mouthed, “what is that?”
I didn’t know something that I’d been doing on occasion was “wrong.” And again, I thank God that I didn’t internalize any shame because I didn’t know. No one told me. A few years later I discussed with a friend what the big deal was with masturbation. They told me, “it’s considered self harming.”
Self Harming? This was said to the girl who used to cut herself. Who was struggling with an eating disorder. Throw this on top of what I considered real self harming, because I’m already doing that anyway.
When I was 19 I had been sexually active with a boyfriend but I felt horrible. I felt like the boy (who was serving a mission and who I would later marry) would find me disgusting and be disinterested in me if he knew how physical I was getting with this boyfriend. So I had my first experience with sexually explicit questions.
This bishop was kind when I expressed that I didn’t want to say what happened between us. He offered to let me shake my head yes or no of certain sexual acts. Honestly, I don’t remember the exact questions, I was quite ill with my eating disorder. I just remember thinking how awkward and embarrassing it was. And my relationship with the young man didn’t end at that time but I now felt guiltier and guiltier every time that things went farther and farther between us. The ideas drilled into my head of needing to save my virginity for my future husband, or keeping clean and pure, were ever present.
Before I got engaged to my now husband, I decided to pursue going on a mission. I had a better relationship with the next bishop I’d confess my sexual sins to. He seemed to be eager to cut me off as quickly as possible as I ran off some of the things in the same phrases the last bishop said. He didn’t want to know but with one interview, ONE interview I thought this was normal. I am thankful for such a kind bishop who was so loving toward me and didn’t ask any follow up questions or details. In fact, when he found out the previous bishop told me to read “Miracle of Forgiveness” (which I never read) he cringed and apologized. But the thing was, since I was really embarrassed of “how far” I’d gone with this boyfriend, I withheld telling exactly what had happened with us. This secret would guilt me until the week of my wedding.
As I continued to pursue the idea of serving a mission though, I moved on to the Stake president. With him, I gave even less details. But again, it was the norm right? Thanking God again that this Stake President brushed past that stuff and focused on other things that he recognized as a problem. Ultimately, this Stake President would be a major reason I started getting help for my eating disorder and start becoming who I am today.
But what about the guilt of not telling the whole truth about my sexual sins? I felt like I was unworthy to go to the temple. I felt like I was living a lie. Weddings are supposed to be fun and exciting. I was racked with guilt. I told my husband a few days before our wedding the truth. He asked if I’d fully confessed to my bishop— and I lied, again.
I created a countdown of the year mark of when I’d last been sexual with my old boyfriend, as I heard most people had to wait before entering the temple when sexual sins transpired. For an entire year I felt like I was a liar. I felt like I was such a horrible, unworthy piece of garbage. I honestly don’t know how long I kept this guilt. Well into the first few years of our marriage though.
You see how damaging all of this is? Christ teaches to believe in his atonement. I learned to isolate myself and hide from his love and to not accept myself for who I was. I think back now and find it all rather silly. There are a lot worse things in the world than being intimate with a person I trusted and cared for. My worth is not dependent on my sexual purity. My virginity doesn’t belong to ANYONE. How sick and wrong to teach otherwise.
Please President, Apostles and church leaders. Seek to find understanding and educate yourselves on the damaging effects of one-on-one interviews, sexually explicit questions, and the way sexual sin is taught to youth.
I pray for Christ’s love to touch your hearts. The light in me sees and honors the light in you, Namaste.