Like most children do, at the age of 11 or 12 I began feeling sexual urges within myself. I’ve come to learn that these urges are normal and are a part of our bodies maturing into adulthood in preparation for sex. But, what I didn’t know at the time was that anyone else ever felt the urge to masturbate like I did.
At the age of twelve I was being interviewed to receive the Aaronic priesthood. The bishop asked if I had ever masturbated/touched myself inappropriately. He proceeded to tell me that it is a sin and was very serious. I lied and told him I didn’t. I remember when he asked me about masturbation that I felt immediate shame and guilt and self loathing. I knew that I was lying to god and that he was upset with me. I knew that I was filthy in his sight but the shame inside me was too much to share. I dreaded the bi-annual bishops interviews after that time
At fourteen I lied again.
At sixteen I lied again. I hated the sexual desires I had from time to time. I felt unworthy to even be at church, to pass the sacrament. In my mind no other kid was going through what I was. I was the only sinner there.
I remember certain lessons from the bishop and other church leaders reviewing the church’s standards for youth. We reviewed modesty in dress, the word of wisdom, etc. and inappropriate touching of ourselves or others. We would discuss this at length and quotes from the prophets about Satan entertaining our minds. I remember specifically being taught that my mind was a stage, and I was in control of who was on that stage at any given time. If I had inappropriate thoughts then I was letting Satan into my stage. Oh, the guilt and shame I felt.
At eighteen in preparation for a mission I was asked by a bishop about masturbation. I told him the truth that I did succumb from time to time. He asked that I read the book The a Miracle of Forgiveness. I read it and felt sick. My sin was next to murder! I hated myself and tried for years and years to pray away my sins! I even began wearing shorts to bed to try and make it harder for myself if I awoke aroused. Six months later I was approved to go on a mission.
On my mission I continued to have “episodes” from time to time. I felt disgusting and unworthy but I told my mission president about it in interviews. He was a sweet and kind man and very understanding. I remember at the conclusion of my mission in my final interview telling him I didn’t find myself worthy to go into the temple after my mission. He said that the temple was a place for people trying to become perfect, not for those that were already perfect. I felt better. He also said I would be able to overcome my challenges once I was married. I felt strength in that.
As a young college student I continued to struggle. I knew I was a good, loving, kind and honest man but I hated this aspect of my life. Sometimes I thought it would be better if I weren’t around. I never wanted to take my life but I felt so much shame that my fasting and prayers for years weren’t answered. I knew I hadn’t truly repented either because I was taught that if you repent and sin again all of your sins come back onto you.
I dated and ended up marrying a beautiful woman who I absolutely adored. Life was good and we were happy. Sex was good but occasionally I would still feel the desire to masturbate too. Ugh. Why didn’t this desire go away like my mission presidents said it would? I hid this secret from my wife because of the shame and guilt I felt. Eventually I began looking at pornography as well. We gave birth to beautiful children, we attended church and served in callings, we had struggles in our relationship too, but nothing that seemed unusual at the time. Eventually though I felt disgusted in myself and told my wife about my issues. She was devastated. I understood her devastation and tried to give her space and time to heal. We slept in separate bedrooms, we stopped being intimate. She told me that my actions were the same as infidelity. This was similar to what some church leaders told me as I admitted my faults to the bishop and stake presidency. I was told I couldn’t take the sacrament for six months. My wife thought I should have been excommunicated. Eventually after years of trying to resolve our marriage through me going to counseling, attending twelve step courses to overcome my addictions, we divorced.
I don’t fault my ex wife for her views on masturbation and pornography. I understand it’s a very emotionally draining concept to understand for most women. But, I was a loving father, husband, a devoted friend to all, I truly care for all I come into contact with, but I was viewed as less than in the eyes of the church. I was a sinner. I had committed adultery of the heart. And, I lost my family.
I carry on now, I’ve since learned that I was normal in so many ways. I was not a sinner but a normal kid who was taught guilt and shame that caused me to lie and think that the lies were better than admitting I was a heathen out loud to god or my wife. I wish I could go back and change it all, and tell my younger self that I’m not a sinner, that it’s a normal action for most kids, that it’s okay.
It is NOT okay for grown men, behind closed doors, alone, to ask sensitive children if they touch themselves! This will never be okay. The consequences of these questions are many. I’m living the consequences of these harmful interviews and these harmful teachings.