We moved to a new ward when I was 13 and I discovered masturbation shortly after that. I didn’t discuss it with anyone, but I gleaned enough context around the topic from friends and the church’s teachings on sex that I felt guilty and felt the only way to repent was through confession to the bishop.
I had a regularly scheduled priesthood advancement interview with the bishop before my 14th birthday.
I hardly knew the bishop. He was old and unapproachable. I felt very nervous, but I mustered up the courage to tell him that I “played with myself”. He looked at me sternly and told me it was called masturbation and that it was a sin. He asked when it started and how often I did it. I said it was an accident in the shower about 9 months previous and it was often since then.
Out of the blue he asked if I was masturbating with other boys. I was shocked. No, I was not. I didn’t want anyone else to know I did this. About that point in the conversation I felt horrible and I don’t remember the rest of what he said. I just remember feeling very small and very dirty.
Then the bishop said I needed to tell my dad and that woke me up from my mental shutdown and brought on anxiety. The bishop went and got my dad while I agonized in his office.
My dad came in and I had to confess to my dad in front of the bishop. I felt humiliated! I stopped talking and listening, and the bishop had some conversation with my dad while I sat mute.
My dad drove me home and we went to my parents’ room where he told my mom. I was already sobbing uncontrollably when we got in the room. I don’t remember what my mom said either. Just that she sat by me on the bed and comforted me. And my dad “disappeared.” I have a vague recollection of him pulling away and being behind me on the other side of the room.
The unspoken message I internalized from the bishop and my dad was that I was gross and disgusting and didn’t deserve their love or acceptance.
We moved again, and in one of my bishop interviews I confessed because I had been masturbating. Eventually that bishop gave me a printout titled “Steps to Overcoming Masturbation.”
He specifically pointed out the suggestions of “sleep with your hand tied to the bedpost,” and a segment touting “a very effective technique called aversion therapy” followed by the suggestion that when you feel the urge, “think of having to bathe in a bathtub full of worms, and eating several of them as you do the act.”
I tried these things a lot. They didn’t help me stop. But they were extremely damaging to my sense of self and planted in my mind the idea that I was disgusting and awful.
I had deep depression throughout high school over this. There were times when I would prefer to stay in bed all day and not face the world…until my mom dragged me out of bed.
I got into an obsessive cycle with masturbation. Wanting to masturbate, but resisting it, finally giving in, totally shaming and beating myself up to the point of depression and self-loathing, and then turning back to wanting it because it was one thing that made me feel good and made the depression go away temporarily.
I’d confess to the bishop every time my 6 month interview came up and get told that I was a sinner and needed to stop.
This self-loathing and internal disgust has stayed with me for years. My lack of self-worth had a significant impact on the relationship with my wife and was a contributing factor in our eventual divorce.
I have been in therapy for many years costing thousands of dollars. I feel that the therapy, study and introspection is finally starting to pay off and I am gaining a measure of self-compassion with feeling of worthiness.
I recently learned that my dad masturbated as a youth and even some while married. He never told me this while he was alive. I can’t confirm by asking him, so I can only imagine he had been through similar experiences of shaming and self-loathing that I went through, and it kept him silent.
He missed an opportunity to normalize my behavior and provide me a measure of love, compassion, and empathy that I was desperate to have as a youth, but only found years later as an adult.
My kids will not get the same treatment that I received.