Dear Mom and Dad, teach me about sexuality and consent #MormonMeToo
Dear Mom and Dad,
Years ago, as a girl of 15, I made a new friend. You would remember her. She had just moved to our town and was in the grade above me. She was in one of my classes and I was flattered at the attention from an older kid (with a drivers license and a car!). The novelty of having a friend that could drive us around town was fun and exciting. Eventually, this friendship became smothering to me as she wanted to be together all the time and she drove away my other friends. She was very physical and would say ‘I hope you don’t mind my touchiness, kissing on the cheek is part of my culture’. One time when I was sleeping over at this friend’s house she was high (I never did any drugs), and kissed me on the mouth. It was my first kiss; I didn’t know how to react and froze up. I did nothing. Then she lay on top of me. I thought maybe it was a result of the drugs and she didn’t mean to and it would all go away. I was so uncomfortable about it and felt shame but had no idea what to do. Later there were more incidents where she touched my stomach and breasts. In my naivety I froze up and did nothing. I regularly invited my friend to church, hoping somehow she would be converted and the situation would be fixed. But my mental health took a serious dive. In my depression and self-loathing, I cut myself with a razor and burned myself with incense to dissociate from my mental pain.
Eventually the Bishop stepped in. I had invited my friend to Girls’ camp. Late one night she crawled into my bed even in a room full of girls. I had on my tightest sports bra, but she still touched me. While driving home from girls camp, I tried to sleep in the car as many teens do. The bishop was driving. He must have noticed how she kept touching me during the ride (my face, hair, etc.). The next day was Sunday and he called me into his office for an interview and asked about it. I told him everything. He told me that I needed to tell you and that part of my repentance process would be to not take the sacrament for a few months. That night I told you a general idea and also told you about the depression and cutting and burning. You told me that I could no longer associate with that friend (which, frankly, came as a relief, even though I felt I had no other friends anymore), and that the depression and self loathing were from sin. That was an unfortunate way to term it. I spent more than a decade of my life clinically depressed and believing that I hadn’t repented sufficiently since God hadn’t taken away the pain and darkness. That week was the first time in my life I had suicidal ideation, and I even prayed that I could die.
A similar situation happened later with a boy with whom I had a rather abusive brief relationship. I was desperate to be loved and was flattered at his attention. Unfortunately, he thought it was funny to do things like grab my breast, pin me and give me a hickey on the neck, and at one point picked me up and held me over the edge of a bridge and pretended to drop me so I would have to grab tightly to him to save myself. He was much bigger and stronger than me. This was right before I left for college at BYU, I never told you about it.
At BYU the bishop gave the kind of talk that YSA bishops give about having to come to him to confess and repent of our misdeeds so we could be clean. I really wanted that. The way he talked about was “If you have been involved in x, y, or z, come confess and repent and we’ll get you straight with God.” There was no discussion about the different ways you can be involved. Culpability seemed entirely independent of intent and desire. So I went and told him about the boy touching me. I was given the book “Miracle of Forgiveness” and told to study it and read all the scriptural references. In it, I read that it would be better for me to die than to be unclean. I felt like a worthless human being. I wasn’t allowed to take the sacrament for a few months. I developed bulimic tendencies that year of college, that I struggled with on my own until the time right before I went to the temple.
Looking back at these experiences I have wondered how I could be so backward in my thinking. None of the sexual touching that happened to me as a teen was invited or initiated by me. I feel compassion for my youthful ignorance and lack of self confidence. I was a quiet compliant child who didn’t know the first thing about setting and maintaining boundaries, even to protect my own bodily autonomy. I also didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what happened to me and how I felt about and those few times I talked about it no one asked the right questions. Why didn’t you teach me this?! How can a child know how to create and maintain healthy boundaries when they don’t know what that looks like? All I knew about sex was that it was so taboo that we never even said the word in our house. Why didn’t you talk to me about it? All I knew about interacting with other people was that I was supposed to ‘be nice’. Why didn’t you tell how to speak out and that there are times when I should be contrary and loud and speak up? I assume you were doing the best you could and didn’t know any better yourselves.
Now that I feel I know a little better, I am teaching my own kids about sexuality, with a comprehensive discussion at age 8. We will talk about it in our home. I will do my best to teach them appropriate terminology and to know that they are the only one who gets to decide who they allow to touch them and when. I will encourage them to speak out loud and strong to set boundaries within their relationships and to honor boundaries set by their peers. I will warn them about grooming and predatory behavior. I will try to help them claim their own internal authority and confidence that they can know when niceness is appropriate and when rudeness becomes necessary. Most of all, I will teach them that when someone violates their boundaries they are not at fault! They are not worthless human beings if someone touches them or abuses them! They don’t have to repent! Healing is called for in such cases, not punishment. And if they inherit my depressive tendencies, they will learn healthy coping strategies and get treatment rather than be told it is a consequence of sin. I hope as these kinds of teachings spread, they will help our family and community be stronger and healthier.
To the LDS Community in general, and the Exponent community specifically:
Dear ones, we have hope here at the Exponent that the coming days will bring real discussions where we look together for ways to systematically protect the vulnerable from sexual assault and exploitation. As these discussions happen in your homes, in your wards, in your associations, we invite you to bring them here. We are asking for open letters from survivors sharing their wisdom, and posts from professionals sharing theirs. A guest post may be published with whatever degree of anonymity that you prefer. The Exponent is built upon the premise that it is important and valuable for women to share our stories. We are asking now for those stories, but also for wisdom and knowledge and expertise.
The Exponent Blog