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Growing up in the Mormon church, expressing your sexuality—having sexual feelings of any kind—is seen as taboo. No dating until 16, no sex until marriage. Obedience, modesty and chastity are foundational values. If I borrowed a two-piece swimsuit from a friend, I’d wear a large T-shirt over it in the pool. When I was 9, I had to repent after being caught masturbating.

I always struggled with my conservative upbringing. I knew even in high school that I was polyamorous and bisexual, even though I didn’t have the words to describe those feelings at the time. I’d make promises I couldn’t keep, buy lotemax eye drops like telling my boyfriends I wouldn’t kiss girls. Those relationships never worked out because I couldn’t be honest with myself or them. I regretfully cheated on people. I felt like there was something wrong with me.

In my experience, shame is like a sunburn: hot and tender to the touch, but eventually the dead skin starts to slough off. You end up rubbing and picking at it. It’s a shedding process, of other people’s beliefs and judgements. It’s uncomfortable. But you shed and shed until your new skin comes through.

I first started picking at my sunburn when my older sister, who had already left the church, started taking me to African dance classes. I felt simultaneously embarrassed and excited looking at myself in the mirror, thrusting my open hips and making wild expressions. As I got older and left the church myself, I started collecting experiences that made me feel more like myself.

There was the freedom and childlike nature of my first skinny dip with friends; it felt like we’d never left the Garden of Eden. Then there was a trip to Maui, where I got my first taste of being with multiple partners at once. I moved to Oregon, and then Colorado, finding like-minded people along the way and building a community that accepted the real me. For the past year, I’ve been with two loving, long-term partners.

Still, I wasn’t out to everyone, including my parents. I felt like there were two versions of myself, the one my family and social media knew, and the one who lived in the shadows, away from the judgement of religion and society. I knew I couldn’t keep living like that. I needed to combine those two versions to truly be whole.

I recently told my parents about my lifestyle, and though I was nervous and had my doubts, they supported me. But even if they hadn’t, the relief I felt from not having to hide anymore was worth it. I finally feel united in my image and intentions.

The key to living past shame is trusting that sharing what’s in your heart with the people around you can never be wrong in the long run. If you really want to feel alive, start telling the truth. I’ve been sexually liberated for a while, and now I feel psychologically liberated too. I’m no longer plagued by the sting of shame whenever talk of relationships comes up. I feel whole and happy in my new skin.

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