Because We Preach Repentance

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by Akls Meteo

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon as I sat on the hill at the south end of BYU campus.  The grey clouds reflected the storm that raged in my heart.  My thoughts turned, as they often did during these tumultuous college years, to taking my life.  I thought I would find peace in meeting with my bishop.  I thought repentance would heal me and help me to forsake my sins.  I had just walked out of his office, and my burden only seemed a hundred times heavier.

I was in my mid teenage years when I had discovered something new that no one had ever told me about before.  I didn’t even have a name for it.  I had a sexual energy that no one had told me I would experience.  All I had ever learned told me that I must be the only one experiencing this.  Sex was something to be overcome, vanquished with the natural man.  Not only that, but it was a man problem.  Women didn’t have sexual energy.  So I must be the only one.  Now I had an outlet for that energy.  It felt good, both physically and emotionally.  For a brief moment, it made me happy.  But then I discovered the name.  There it was in the For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet, listed underneath the category deemed the sin next to murder: masturbation.

I was in a very literal phase of my faith development, as many teenagers are, and I really felt like I had practically committed murder.  I was damned if I didn’t repent, but repentance requires a forsaking of sins.  As hard as I tried, I couldn’t do that.  The more guilty I felt, the more this simple thing ruled my life.  What could have been a healthy release of sexual energy became a disruption to my health, my happiness, and even my college studies.

Early in my first semester at BYU I finally mustered up the courage to do something about it.  It took everything I had to walk into my bishop’s office and confess to him.  Looking back I can’t help but laugh at this traumatic experience in my life because BYU bishops probably spend the majority of their time dealing with confessions of masturbation.  But in the state of mind I was in at that moment, this felt like a life or death situation.  Unfortunately my bishop did not see that.  After asking multiple questions about details that made me uncomfortable to share, he dismissed my great burden by saying, “Well, when you feel the urge, just don’t touch yourself anymore.  Is there anything else?”  He didn’t get it.  I was a perfectionist.  I had control over everything in my life and I lived almost perfectly according to everything the church taught me.  This was something I couldn’t control, no matter how hard I tried.  Just don’t touch myself?  Gee, why hadn’t I thought of that?

I left his office before he could say anything else and stormed out of the building as tears and rain collided down my face.  Repentance never worked for me.  Trying to repent only made my problem worse.  I never did overcome my “sin” until I was married and had a different outlet for my sexual energy.  This has led me to believe that it wasn’t a sin after all.  When I think of that eighteen-year-old girl crying in the rain, thinking about ending her life, I wish I could put my arms around her and tell her that she’s okay.  I wish I could tell her that her sexual feelings are normal and healthy.  I wish I could tell her that she is not the one who needs to repent.

I can’t go back and tell myself that, but I can stand up now for all the literal-minded, perfectionist teenage girls and boys that are growing up in the church and reading in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet that sexual sins are next to murder, and that arousing sexual feelings in yourself is one of those sins.  I can’t talk to that young girl, but I can talk to the Church.  You taught me that repentance is necessary to heal from pain and mistakes.  You taught me that I must first recognize my sin and feel godly sorrow for it, then confess my sin, and then forsake it.  You taught me especially, that if I have made a mistake that has hurt someone, that I need to make it right with them.  You taught me this because you loved me and wanted the best for me.  I listened because I loved you and I trusted you.

Now, because I know it is important to you that we preach repentance, I must call you to repentance.  I only do this out of love for you.  It’s time to recognize your sin and feel sorrow for it.  The way you use guilt and shame in teaching youth about sex is wrong.  Masturbation isn’t a sex addiction, but the guilt resulting from calling it a sin, especially a sin next to murder, can lead to it being an addiction.  Sex is a natural human appetite that sustains life and causes pleasure.  Eating is also a natural thing that sustains life and causes pleasure, but we don’t tell our youth to only wait until marriage to eat.  We don’t tell them that the only one who can feed them is their spouse.  That would be extreme, and moderation works much better.  We teach them to learn about their bodies, to take control of their own healthy eating.  A little pleasure eating is fine.  Too much of it can lead to an addiction and eventually cause pain.

Why can’t we teach about sex this way?  Why do we have to be extreme when it comes to sex?  Expecting our youth who are ready to experience sexual pleasure in their teens to wait until their twenties or thirties is extreme.  For some, their sexual energy needs to go somewhere.  If it is not expressed appropriately, it will turn to depression.  It can also be used as a tool to empower our youth to understand their bodies.  If they understand their sexuality, they will be better able to preserve their sexual affection for someone they want to fully commit themselves to.  We can teach them that it is okay for sex to be part of their lives, only part of it, not the whole of it.  If our Heavenly Parents made our bodies the way they are, don’t you think they intended sex to be a part of teenage life?

The way we are currently teaching our youth about sex and masturbation is hurting them.  It’s time to recognize that, to feel the sorrow that moves us in a better direction.  Now here’s the hard part that I know you are not always good at doing.  Publicly confess that you were wrong and forsake your teachings on this matter.  I know it’s hard.  I’ve stood outside the bishop’s door, wondering if I could get through it myself.  I know you can do it.  It’s time to think about the people you are hurting.

You once made a young girl think that her life was worthless and out-of-control because she couldn’t stop doing something that could have actually been good and beneficial to her.  You made her think that she needed to repent for a mistake that you had actually made.  You made her feel like she was the only one who had ever experienced this.  But I know now that she was not the only one, that in fact she was among many youth who have been hurt by the way you have taught us about sex and masturbation.  You are wrong, you are hurting people.  It’s time to repent.

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10 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    I agree with you, Guest, and I’m sorry that Church preaching against masturbation was so traumatic for you. I think this is a false, damaging teaching.

    Interestingly, I’ve often seen it argued on the blogs that nobody’s teaching that masturbation is a sin next to murder. But as you pointed out so well, it’s right there in FtSoY: “In God’s sight, sexual sins are extremely serious. They defile the sacred power God has given us to create life. The prophet Alma taught that sexual sins are more serious than any other sins except murder or denying the Holy Ghost (see Alma 39:5).” (FtSoY, p. 36). There’s no differentiation between sexual intercourse and masturbation there. It’s not at all surprising that this comes across in how it’s frequently taught that masturbation is just about as bad as murder.

    (Here’s a link to the PDF of FtSoY:

  2. Similar Story says:


  3. Melody says:

    Thank you for your courage and willingness to share this, especially among women readers who may very well share similar experiences. This is a difficult and highly personal subject for most of us. The church’s approach toward masturbation, though improving somewhat over the years, still needs help. This post beautifully illustrates why it needs help and even offers suggestion for how. Thanks again.

  4. Caroline says:

    Guest, thank you for sharing your honest story. It’s heartbreaking to read how devastated and depressed you were because of the church’s rhetoric on the subject of masturbation. I too have serious concerns about this rhetoric, and I plan to somehow — not sure how yet — mediate them with my own children. Make offhand comments that touching oneself is a normal part of development? I don’t know. But I do know that I do not want my kids to ever ever ever feel like you did. Nor do I want them to feel that they have to confess such things to a bishop.

  5. Pinkrose says:

    I think the missionaries were somewhat surprised when I asked what the Church’s views on masturbation were, after they taught about the Law of Chastity. Their answer was a little vague, but it basically boiled down to: The Church discourages it, but no one really talks about it.

    I think I will have to work it into a Law of Chastity talk someday, right along with pelvic exams, testicular exams, breast exams, and prostate exams. That’s going to be a fun talk.

  6. Cruelest Month says:

    Thank you for bringing attention to such an important topic. The shame induced by the false teachings on masturbation leads people away from Christ instead of towards him. I think of it as akin to labeling burping or hiccups as a sin next to murder. What a crazy making teaching! It surprises me that more Mormons aren’t addicted to pornography.
    The Church eventually shifted their position on birth control as families and leaders ignored apostolic counsel and chose to plan families with the welfare of all family members in consideration. Hopefully as more families teach children normal principles of development, fewer young men and women will subject themselves to inappropriate conversations about their personal habits with clergy. Especially at BYU where the high demand for bishops taxes a limited pool of talent. Many are called who have no gift for pastoral care. Encouraging untrained middle aged men to talk to young people about how of often they touch themselves, how it feels. Etc… Wildly inappropriate!!
    Hoping that as families change their teachings the doctrine will follow.

  7. Izzy says:

    I needed to read this a while ago….I needed to hear this because I wasted so many years of my life caught up in feelings of self-loathing, shame and guilt. It held me back in life. It retarded my spiritual growth. It damaged my self confidence. Thank you for speaking true. I’ll add my voice to yours and pray that this message may reach those who need to hear it most.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Guest. Like Caroline, I worry about this a lot in teaching my children. I hope things will change soon and I think people naming the problem and their feelings as you have here will help.

  9. Juliathepoet says:

    Thank you for explaining this so well. I have written about a number of youth who have had shaming experiences who have pushed them into suicide attempts. This is something that we can’t ignore.

  10. Nonnermuss says:

    Thank you for your courage and your message. I feel like I could have written this myself, save for a few details. The difference being when I got up the courage to talk to my bishop, he made me come in for regular counseling to overcome my habit and I also had to refrain from taking the sacrament for three months. Every week I went to his office alone and we discussed whether I had masturbated. Why did I do it? What did I feel I got from it? Was it emotional or stress-triggered? What time of day did I most often do it? Where? Did I ever use aids or objects? It was immensely uncomfortable, and while being accountable did help me to curb my habit, it was more out of the shame of having to either admit to my bishop I’d slipped up or lie to his face. I believe, even today, that he sincerely was trying to help me overcome my bad habit. But it just added a horrible and humiliating dimension to it all. At the time I don’t think I grasped how inappropriate the whole situation was, but now it seems so obviously and patently wrong to put a teenage girl in that situation.

    My own relief came during a tortured, tear-filled and hours-long prayer for forgiveness (I had those often). I finally felt an answer, and I felt it was from my Savior, telling me he knew I was doing the best I could and it was enough. That He knew this was not something I would or could overcome just yet, and that that was alright and I was still loved and valued and worthy. That was a powerful experience.

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