COMMENTARY | I sat in my Mormon bishop's office, red-faced and silent. I was humiliated and scared; humiliated that I'd told this strange adult such personal things, and scared that he would follow through with his threat of church discipline. Scared that I wouldn't be able to go on a mission and that everyone would know what a failure I was.
My crime? As an 18-year-old adult, I had just confessed that I masturbated. A few years later, after being publicly shamed for my sins, I was still unable to break my "addiction" and came very close to killing myself.
I wasn't alone
In 1982, Mormon Kip Eliason killed himself at the age of 16 because of "the immense feeling of self-hatred" he had, as a result of not being able to comply with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' teachings regarding masturbation. Mormon youth of both genders are taught that it is a sin, and told to confess their sexual sins to their adult male bishops, in one-on-one interviews behind closed doors. Church discipline is not usually prescribed for the sin of masturbation, but bishops are given wide latitude to act as they feel the Spirit dictates.
Mormon youth continue to kill themselves for what they are told are sexual sins, including homosexual attraction. Stuart Matis, a gay Mormon, shot himself to death on the steps of a Mormon meetinghouse in 2000. And according to the LDS church-owned Deseret News, "Utah leads the nation in suicides among men aged 15 to 24," and has the 11th highest suicide rate in the nation among all age groups as of 2006.
It's not just the teenagers, either
Utah also leads the nation in paid Internet pornography use. Mormon church leaders preach guilt and shame to male members, teaching them and their wives that even casual pornography use is a sign of unfaithfulness and will lead to addiction. Because of this, "addiction recovery" is a major industry in Utah, with banner ads across Mormon-themed magazines like LDS Living.
Mormon women aren't spared the dysfunction: 1 in 5 women in Utah are taking prescription antidepressants. The Mormon church teaches that happiness comes from obeying God's commandments as revealed by his chosen church leaders, so appearing to be unhappy can be interpreted as a sign of personal failings.
Speaking of keeping up appearances, according to Beauty Redefined, residents of Salt Lake City in Utah spend ten times the average amount spent in cities of comparable size on "cosmetics, skin care and hair products". Salt Lake residents "seek info on breast implants 74% more often than the national average," and the city has more plastic surgeons per capita than even New York City and Los Angeles.
It's not all bad news
Some Mormons, like LDS actor Kori Swenson, are beginning to see the suicides as a tragedy, and are calling on LDS church leaders to "bring them in from the plains"; that is, to acknowledge a crisis is happening and to respond appropriately. And in the "Bloggernacle," or Mormon blogosphere, members are starting to ask "what the purpose of the Law of Chastity is."
The Mormon church's top leadership, however, has yet to respond to any petitions or requests for apologies, including those of the group Swenson is affiliated with, the Foundation for Reconciliation.