As a young boy going through puberty, I didn’t know what was going on with my body. I was changing. I remember when I was very young how painful my erections were, and I didn’t know what it meant or why it was happening. I’m sure they talked about it in the maturation program at school, and I vaguely remember reading a pamphlet with my mom about puberty. But it had been hammered into me already that you don’t show anyone your privates, and you don’t touch them, and you don’t talk about it. As I got a little older, masturbation was brought up again and again more frequently in deacon’s quorum, teacher’s, and priests. Even in the Priesthood sessions of conference. I equated having an erection as masturbating, and I knew it was evil and that I was evil.
I felt so much shame about having erections, that when I was 17 I confessed to my bishop. I didn’t really know what it was that I was confessing. I just knew that what my body was doing was wrong, and I felt terrible about it and wanted to be absolved of my sin. I didn’t want to be graphic, so when I talked to my bishop I was as vague as possible and hoped that his power of discernment would understand what I was trying to say. He just asked if I’d ever acted on my feelings and I said no. He said, “Well, then I think you’re going to be alright.”
As hard to believe as it is, I never masturbated until I was 28 years old and leaving the church. How many men can honestly say that? Only later did I hear from friends that they’d been doing it all along. But for me, anything sexual, anything related to sex, made me very uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I felt shame and guilt for getting erections, as unprovoked as they were. I remember in 8th grade thinking I was an addict or something. I prayed a lot, read scriptures, fasted. I tried to do all the right things, but I was very depressed. I was bullied at school. I had only a few friends. I got fat. But above all, I felt like I wasn’t worthy of the priesthood I’d been given. I even delayed my patriarchal blessing because I thought I wasn’t worthy because my body was a healthy, normal teenage body with hormones that was severely sexually repressed and sensitive to ANYTHING remotely sexual, including watching a PG movie where people kissed.
I felt a lot of shame and guilt over wet dreams. If you’re not having sex, masturbating, or participating in any other sexual activity, all that stuff your body is making has to come out, and it will eventually. Even Boyd K. Packer acknowledges that in his disgusting Little Factories pamphlet. All through my teenage years and into my mission, whenever it happened I felt so ashamed and guilty. But that wasn’t my fault. That was a healthy young body doing what they’ve been programmed to do for millions of years.
When I was 14 I was so depressed that when I’d cry myself to sleep at night, I’d imagine cutting my wrists and bleeding out on the kitchen floor. Then, not wanting my mom to see me in the morning like that, I fixated on jumping off an overpass within two miles of my home. I’d just walk there and jump off one night after everyone had gone to bed. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with all these powerful emotions I felt.
When I got married I didn’t struggle necessarily with the act of sex, but I still had a very limited view and concept of what sex was. I wasn’t willing to experiment much at all because somewhere along the way in my path through Mormonism I’d picked up that there was a lot of stuff that was off limits. The reason it was off limits was that it was a mockery to God to use sex for anything short of creating vessels for spirit bodies to possess and fulfill the plan of salvation. Because of that, any fantasies I had, and urges I had, any desires I had to try anything that I saw or heard about on TV, movies, talking with friends, etc, had to be put aside. I was a rule follower. I took my covenants seriously. I did my best to comply with what I believed were the Lord’s expectations for me. And through that strict obedience I was left with shame and guilt for things beyond my control and a limited view of sexuality.
I learned from the LDS church that everything sexual is evil, next to murder, and if you’re not married you are in grave sin. The lines were blurred so much about what was intended that anything associated with sex became sex. I’m 30 years old and I feel like I’m just now discovering my sexuality, and sometimes still struggle with letting go of the guilt and shame that was programmed into me at church. What a damaging thing for a church to do, to impose shame on children for sexual development that is natural and unavoidable. Or pushed me to consider suicide as a better alternative. Or to make me feel unworthy before the god I feared and followed strictly for simply going through puberty. Or to have to tell an adult who I hardly know that I have erections and I feel bad about it. That is not acceptable.