I was 11 when I discovered masturbation while changing into my pajamas one night. I continued to do it almost every night before I went to sleep, as it felt really good and helped me fall asleep more quickly.
Several months later, my father called me into his room for a monthly interview; we had had this custom for as long as I could remember and I enjoyed talking to him about what was going on in school and with my friends. This time, however, was different. He told me about something called masturbation, a sin that happened when you “play with your privates”. I instantly had the horrible realization that I had been sinning, and I now felt incredibly dirty. He asked if I had been masturbating, and I nervously shook my head but couldn’t say anything. He asked me again in a more accusatory tone and I was forced to confess that I had done it a few times before bed. I remember that he was kind and calm in explaining how what I had been doing was a sin, and telling me I would be able to stop doing it. I trusted my dad, and was sure that he was telling me the right thing.
I remember trying really hard for not to masturbate for the next couple of weeks; I managed not to do it every night, but I often had a hard time falling asleep without doing it. When it was time for another interview with my dad, I told him that I hadn’t done it as much as before but I had still done it several times. I don’t remember everything he said, but I’ll never forget the look of disgust on his face or the anger and disdain in his voice. One thing I do remember him saying was “If you can’t stop doing this then you’re going to have to talk to the bishop.” I could tell from the way he said it that talking to the bishop was not a good thing.
I became terrified of having to meet with bishops for our biannual interviews. If it had been a week or two since the last time I masturbated when I had an interview, I felt like it was ok for me to not tell the bishop about it. If they asked me specifically about masturbation, I could tell them that I “used to” have a problem with it, justifying that I had finally put it behind me. One time, I had slipped up just days before an interview with the bishop. I knew I wouldn’t be able to face him, so I faked being sick. I felt so much anxiety about the whole thing that I ended up using masturbation to soothe myself while everyone was at church, which only increased the guilt I felt.
A pattern soon developed: I would go a couple of weeks without masturbating before finally relapsing and feeling guilty. To help deal with the guilt, I became incredibly invested in the church, and would read my scriptures every night. I was dedicated to proving to God that I was worthy and that I could overcome my issue. Deep down, I was terrified of not being worthy to go on a mission or to get married in the temple.
The time between my relapses increased, but my guilt did not. I finally stopped masturbating for good about 6 months before leaving on a mission. I woke up one morning after having the first wet dream of my life, as an 18 year old, feeling just as guilty and shameful as if I had masturbated. When it came time for my mission interview, I told my stake president that I had struggled with masturbation in the past, but felt I had put it behind me. He told me I had repented and was worthy to serve, so I went on a mission. I did not masturbate a single time from age 19 until I stopped attending after experiencing a faith crisis many years later.
Even though I had stopped masturbating, the guilt and shame never went away. They followed me through me mission and returned home with me. I told new bishops about old sins in the hope that confessing would finally alleviate the shame and guilt I felt. After one interview with a bishop who seemed dismissive towards me for feeling guilty about things so far in the past, I told myself I would never talk about those things with a bishop again. I never have, and I will never let my children talk to bishops about these things either. The guilt and shame from sexual worthiness interviews defined my entire adolescence. They affected my courtship and still affect my marriage to this day.
I also want to point out that missionaries perform worthiness interviews on potential converts as well. As 20 year old a missionary, a 16 year old girl I was interviewing for baptism confessed that she had broken the law of chastity. I felt extremely uncomfortable with the situation, and did not ask any other questions other than if she felt like she had repented. I now feel extremely awful that I was in a situation where I had to ask sexual questions to a minor. Protect LDS children, protect LDS bishops and stake presidents, protect LDS missionaries, and protect investigators. Worthiness interviews are a damaging practice that needs to be done away with.