As someone who blogs about Mormonism, I hear a lot of stories from people about the negative impact the religion had/has on their mental health. One thing that I’ve noticed comes up a lot is how toxic the LDS Church’s masturbation teachings are for teenagers. Despite masturbation being a perfectly healthy and harmless habit, most Mormon teens (especially boys) deal with intense shame and guilt that lasts well into adulthood because of what they are taught about it. Here’s a compilation of experiences from current and former Mormons.
“Nobody ever talked about masturbation in my largely Mormon circle of friends, except to make disparaging jokes or comments. My mission was delayed by a few months because I admitted to my bishop that I masturbated occasionally. The stake presidency told my mom, who wouldn’t talk to or even look at me for a week. I felt like dying. I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. The Church’s toxic, dogmatic teachings on masturbation were a cause of low self-esteem and self-hatred in my life.”
“The Church’s teachings about masturbation caused me more harm than anything else. Because of guilt surrounding masturbation, my self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem were in the negatives my whole adolescence and early adulthood. I still struggle to make eye contact in conversations. It destroyed me. It has severely crippled my life in all aspects and I am still trying to claw my way out.”
“Even before I did it I was accused of it constantly. Around freshman year of high school I started masturbating. I felt like I was Satan, and my step-mom called me a future child molester/ rapist constantly — saying I would either become a pedophile or rapist since I looked at porn and masturbated. That accusation never let up until I moved away.”
“I spent years thinking I was unworthy – of not just God’s love, but good things like healthy relationships, help with homework, etc. — because I masturbated. If things went wrong, I blamed myself. I’d say things like, “Of course this happened, you’re disgusting and evil.”
I was able to stop masturbating for a couple of years a few times. However, my focus on abstaining from it and the shame of it all caused other problems. When I wasn’t following the Church closely and I would try to be intimate with women, the first few times were almost always unsuccessful, as I had to warm up to the idea and get past a mountain of guilt. Even when my wife and I were married in the temple, I had to wait a bit for the nerves and guilt to subside to have things work.
My wife has a fear of exploring sexual things because of the teachings of the church. She was sexually abused by her first husband who used the church’s teachings to keep her in line.”
“From age 12 to my early 20s, I absolutely hated myself for my semi-regular “relapses” with masturbation. It had been drilled into me by my parents and my bishops that this was a very serious sin, so I reached the logical conclusion that I was a horrible person for not being able to “overcome” it. I also thought I was the only person in the world who was doing this.
I remember forcing myself to sleep on the floor, with my jeans and sneakers on in an attempt to make myself as uncomfortable as possible so I wouldn’t feel stimulated. I remember crying myself to sleep when it would happen despite my Herculean efforts to resist temptation. I remember passing the sacrament or going to the temple feeling like I was about to be struck down at any moment for participating unworthily and blaspheming against God. I remember pacing back and forth in my backyard feeling like I might throw up as I tried to summon the courage to confess to my dad, worried that he wouldn’t love me anymore. I also remember feeling like a coward for not being able to bring myself to tell. I remember other times when I did summon the courage to tell my bishop, then faking sick so I would miss sacrament meeting and my family wouldn’t know I couldn’t partake, then the feeling of exhilaration after he pronounced me “clean”, and the absolutely crushing feeling of despair that would overwhelm me when I “messed up” again. I remember wishing I had never been born, wishing that I could kill myself without going to outer darkness. And I remember the night that I wished I had the courage to castrate myself to put an end to it all.
I remember feeling like the most wicked, dirty, and evil missionary in the field for serving and blessing people unworthily. It was about halfway through my two years that I finally just gave up. I just stopped trying. I resigned myself to hell and decided that it was my destiny to end up in the telestial kingdom so I might as well stop hating myself and enjoy my time on earth. I think that was the beginning of me taking my self-worth into my own hands.
This all would sound ridiculous and dramatic to someone outside the faith, or perhaps to someone inside it who didn’t get the same teaching that I did, but I took the Church very seriously. I put 110 percent of myself into it which is why it was so destructive to me that that I felt like a failure, a sinner, and a pervert every day for 12 years.
My self esteem was essentially non existent until I began to unravel the lies. Discovering others who have suffered because of the Church, and realizing that the church is a complete fabrication allowed me to stand up for myself and begin to create a sense of self-worth. It’s been about a year since I officially took my first steps out of Mormonism, and today I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been, and things get better every day.”
“I thought I was the worst person. I was so sure I was the only one in my seminary class, in my quorum, who masturbated. And yes, I fully bought in to the “third worst sin after denying the holy ghost and murder” teaching.
My parents convinced me I had a porn addiction. They tried to get me to go to the addiction recovery meetings. I refused out of shame and embarrassment. But I did go through the program’s workbook. It really goes the extra mile to make you feel like you’re the lowest of the low and completely powerless on your own.
I was told that because I looked at porn, I was on a slippery slope that would lead to eventual marital infidelity. I would become more and more degenerate looking for dirtier porn. And that by viewing porn I was degrading all women everywhere and that I would start to see women as objects for my pleasure. (None of this has happened yet, by the way.)
Whenever I was praised, I always thought “Yeah, but…” in the back of my mind. “Yeah, but you don’t know what I’m really like. When I’m alone I become a monster.” (Because I masturbated.) I genuinely thought I was a sick, bad person, and that a good person would push away their unclean thoughts and save those sacred feelings for marriage, not abuse the holy power of procreation.”
“I grew up in California where Sexual Education is offered in school. When I was in 7th grade, I learned about masturbation for the first time. Going home that week I attempted to masturbate and failed in my attempt, but it did feel good. A couple of months later, I was at a stake combined youth activity. During the meeting the stake leadership talked about masturbation and how it was one of the worst sins that one could commit. I remember sitting in this meeting breaking out in a cold sweat realizing that I had damaged my chances to progress in the Mormon Church.
The thought of confessing this sin to a bishop scared me because I feared the information would be given to my parents and my home life would get worse. I later learned what real masturbation was and I realized that since I was going to hell anyway, I might as well do it until I decided to confess to a bishop. I remember breaking out in cold sweats during priesthood meetings and general conference because the topic of masturbation would come up and I would feel worse about myself. This led me to lying in every single interview. I remember crying and pleading for God to help me.
I decided that if I could stop masturbating, I would confess my sins to the bishop. I stopped for a couple days until I had a wet dream. When I woke up and realized what had happened, I cried and literally wanted to kill myself because there was nothing I could do to stop this act from happening. I started to leave the Church in my early to mid-twenties. I’m now approaching my late twenties and only recently have I stopped thinking about killing myself. For over 16 years I wanted to kill myself because of a decision I made when I was a child.”
“When I was 16 I couldn’t stop masturbating. It was just too hard, and I was too weak. Guilt destroyed me. I was doing something second only to murder (thanks Alma and “For the Strength of Youth”). I considered suicide after I had been clean for a while, but I was too scared that suicide itself might keep me out of the celestial kingdom. I was going to hell, and I was too weak to stop myself.
Then I read about eunuchs in a fantasy book. I had to consult a dictionary to learn that it referred to castrated men. I became obsessed with the idea. This was the perfect cheat code! I could kill my sex drive while remaining alive to repent! Sure, my voice would get higher and I’d become much more effeminate. I’d be giving up my own family some day. So what? I was going to solve the one temptation I couldn’t beat on my own! Maybe celestial marriage would be hard or impossible, but I could make the second or third tier within the celestial kingdom easily without a sex drive! Good enough! God would be so impressed at my sacrifice.
I made plans to drive myself to the hospital, do it in the parking lot, and rush in before I bled out. Fortunately I chickened out. I felt like I was choosing hell, and I’d spend eternity regretting that weakness.
Sometimes I look at my kids and wife and think with horror on what could have been. It’s scary, you know?”
“I spent my entire teenage years convinced I was damned and that there was something about me that was fundamentally defective.”
“My ex-Mormon husband refuses to this day to take care of his own urges. This causes problems in our relationship because I am his only source of sexual gratification. It makes it difficult and causes resentment on the occasions where I’m not in the mood. He feels left out to dry and I feel used mainly for his own gratification on these occasions. I don’t want to feel obligated to have sex with my husband. I want it to be something we do for each other and with each other. I would much rather he take matters into his own hands on the occasions he is looking only for a quick release. He is approaching 40, by the way.”
“I masturbated sometimes as a child and young teen, but I didn’t even realize what it was, because based on what I heard at Church, I thought ONLY BOYS COULD MASTURBATE! Seeing as I’m a girl, I was oblivious. When I, shockingly late, put together what I was doing with the term “masturbation”, I felt extra disgusting because my next assumption was that I was clearly the only perverted girl in the world doing it, since it’s almost not mentioned in conjunction with women in church!”
“I pretty much thought I was the scum of the earth. I didn’t start masturbating until I was 15, and within a year I had broken down and told my bishop. I struggled with my self-image for years because of it. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I finally shook off the shame and realized it wasn’t a bad or unnatural thing.
Until then, every time I masturbated I would just sit and feel guilty about it. wondering how many of my dead relatives were watching me make a spectacle of myself.”
Stuff Worth Checking Out
The Pulpit Podcast, #59: The Touching Truth