Just don’t do it: the cornerstone of the Mormon religion.
When I was thirteen, I was visiting my friend from church. She had an eleven-year-old brother. While I was visiting, his parents caught him rubbing his crotch up and down the pantry door. He had obviously just discovered how amazing it felt.
My friend and I watched as her brother was taken into the living room and sat down for a talk. We listened through the closed door. It was all so funny to us. What was he doing that for?
He could have simply been told that it was something to do in the privacy of your bedroom. He was instead told that it was not right. He was told that, ‘You just don’t do it.’
I left my very first and only Silver Bullet vibrator in a bedroom in a large share house in Kensal Green, North London. It was 2009 and I had been happily flipping my own bean for about four years. I did not realize my diminutive implement of happy endings was missing until I was in Manchester. I had expected to find it while
unpacking my suitcase in the bedroom of the house in which I would be living and working as a nanny. I owed rent to the place in London and did not have the money. I could hardly call up Patrick the creepy live-in landlord and ask if he had come across my vibrator while cleaning out my side of the bedroom. It was not all that large or expensive and I think the one double A battery that made it work had run out. I had become a little addicted to its magic as it had helped curb my initial intense homesickness and sexual frustration.
I grew up in a Mormon household. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There’s a musical about us. The church had guidelines for every aspect of your life. One of the things that is considered wrong and unholy in the eyes of the Lord was masturbation.
Yes, that delightful, harmless and disease-free past time was considered gross. This is so funny and inexplicable to me now that I stand before you, a proud and defiant apostate of the church. Apostate is just a fancy way of saying that I decided, through a process both of transgressions and thinking for myself, that perhaps the church was not as great or good for me as my parents and relatives had tried to make me believe.
There is a little pamphlet that you get as soon as you turn twelve. It is called ‘For the Strength of Youth’. Inside the pages is some very lovingly written information that invites you to dress modestly and save yourself, your sexy parts and feelings for your husband or wife. It says you are not to arouse sexual feeling in your own body. In the pamphlet you are told that Homosexuality and Lesbianism is a serious sin. You are told same-sex attraction saddens the Lord.
Everything fun makes God sad. The person upstairs created all this stuff and then said, ‘Don’t touch any of it.’
I never understood why the church told young people not to masturbate. Did you really want to be so very ignorant about what made you feel sexually wonderful on your wedding night? Wouldn’t it be better to have the vocabulary and confidence to say what you needed, to steer your brand-new spouse around the map of your body?
I moved out at sixteen. I hesitated seven years before discovering the joys of self-love. The guilt surrounding sex is something that I found difficult to unlearn.
I got a job on Hamilton Island, a tropical destination of the wealthy. The job involved cleaning up fancy apartments after rich young adults had partied and puked and left grand amounts of alcohol behind. Because, when you are rich like that, you waste shit. The other cleaners and I would collect the bottles and sneak them back to our rooms.
I was still a virgin at this stage and rumour had it that Hamilton Island had the highest rate of STDs in Australia. I decided I was not losing my V while on an island full of people who may or may not have the disease that gives you cluster warts on your genitals.
It was there, with the warm breezes and sounds of the ocean floating through my window, that I slowly entered the wonder and majesty of self-reliant sexual pleasure. It was all very tentative at first, just a small and nervous hand caressing the stomach and slowly, very freaking slowly it moved towards the front of my underwear, over the knickers, until I found the spot that made my heart start humming, and a feeling that was so good: it amazed me that I had been made to feel so bad about it and put off doing it for so long. You could say that my working holiday on a tropical island was also a sort of honeymoon for myself.
It was not just that it felt good. Learning to make my own body feel sexually aroused was a huge deal. My body up until that point had never really felt like my own. It always felt like it was being shared or dissected and my insides moved around or added to. My body was a slab of malfunctioning meat and it was not unusual for it to be stripped down and stared at by multiple medical professionals at a time. When you are a kid with a body that is fascinating scientifically, it is easy to feel like you have no control over what happens to you and the skin you are in. While on that tropical island I discovered that I had way more control over my body than I was led to believe. Learning how to make this body sing a little and learning what caresses worked was like a whole new world.
After that I became aware that it was great for calming my nerves or helping me fall asleep. What an invention of the human nervous system. To think all through uni, I thought if I did anything like this, it indicated I could not get a boyfriend. I thought fluffing my own cream puff indicated that I was doomed to die alone, just as all those horrendous Mormon dances had me believing. It did not prove anything except independence.
All that wasted time reading the Book Of Mormon in preparation for the end of days. All that time spent believing that Jesus is going to come to earth a second time and you better be on the right sexual side when he arrives. What a wasted adolescence. I wonder if I would not have been so sad had I known that secret all along, how to make myself feel like the Second Coming.
Jessica Knight is a writer and performer based in Melbourne. In 2018, she was the recipient of a Creative Victoria grant to create a show entitled Mormon Girl based around her experiences being raised Mormon, losing her religion and gaining freedom from sexual repression and shame.