Solitary Vice [masturbation]
By Dirk Anderson
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Seventh-day Adventist prophetess Ellen G. White proclaimed solitary vice [also known as "self-indulgence", "self-abuse" or masturbation] caused a wide range of dangerous diseases and serious afflictions:
"Children who practice self-indulgence [masturbation] previous to puberty, or the period of merging into manhood or womanhood, must pay the penalty of nature's violated laws at that critical period. Many sink into an early grave, while others have sufficient force of constitution to pass this ordeal. If the practice is continued from the age of fifteen and upward, nature will protest against the abuse she has suffered, and continues to suffer, and will make them pay the penalty for the transgression of her laws, especially from the ages of thirty to forty-five, by numerous pains in the system, and various diseases, such as affection of the liver and lungs, neuralgia, rheumatism, affection of the spine, diseased kidneys, and cancerous humors. Some of nature's fine machinery gives way, leaving a heavier task for the remaining to perform, which disorders nature's fine arrangement, and there is often a sudden breaking down of the constitution; and death is the result."1
According to the above quotes, the following health problems are caused by masturbation:
Modern medical perspective on solitary vice
Dr. Bill Lloyd explains the modern medical perspective on masturbation:
"The old myths that masturbation leads to insanity, stunts your growth, [etc...] are simply that, myths, which probably originated in the puritanical atmosphere of the Victorian age.
In 1966, researchers Masters & Johnson revealed the practice to be virtually universal in North America, cutting across all boundaries of sex, age, race, and social class. In 1971, Goldstein, Haeberle & McBride determined masturbation to be the most common form of sexual activity among humans. Recent studies have shown 95% of men, and 89% of women have practiced masturbation.
There is no scientific evidence masturbation causes blindness, insanity, or any of the diseases named by Ellen White. Anyone with common sense can reason that masturbation can be no more harmful than the act of sex itself! Physicians at the highly regarded Cleveland Clinic explain the health safety of masturbation:
"In general, the medical community considers masturbation to be a natural and harmless expression of sexuality for both men and women. It does not cause any physical injury or harm to the body, and can be performed in moderation throughout a person's lifetime as a part of normal sexual behavior."6
Even among Seventh-day Adventist physicians (with the exception of a few) there is now a near universal belief that masturbation does not cause the above illnesses.
Where did Mrs. White learn of the dangers of Solitary Vice?
In 1864, Mrs. White published her first book on health reform, Appeal to Mothers. The Seventh-day Adventist people were no doubt looking forward with great anticipation to learn what "light from Heaven" they would receive on health. Imagine their disappointment when they discovered the entire book was devoted to warning SDA parents of the dire consequences of masturbation! In this book Mrs. White claimed her medical knowledge on the dangers of self-abuse came from visions she "saw":
"The state of our world was presented before me, and my attention was especially called to the youth of our time. Everywhere I looked, I saw imbecility, dwarfed forms, crippled limbs, misshapen heads, and deformity of every description. Sins and crimes, and the violation of nature's laws, were shown me as the causes of this accumulation of human woe and suffering. I saw such degradation and vile practices..."8
There can be no doubt Mrs. White claimed her knowledge came straight from heaven. Attached to the same book was an anonymous 29-page essay on "Chastity" citing medical authorities who agreed with the prophetess. Among those quoted were famous health reformers of that era, such as Sylvester Graham, L.B. Coles, James Jackson, and the phrenologist O.S. Fowler. So closely did the views of these individuals parallel those of Ellen White, the publishers felt it necessary to add a note denying prior knowledge on her part! They asserted...
"...she had read nothing from the authors here quoted, and had read no other works on this subject, previous to putting into our hands what she has written. She is not, therefore, a copyist, although she has stated important truths to which men who are entitled to our highest confidence, have borne testimony."9
Given the fact she plagiarized many of her other writings, and given the fact that her writings so closely mirrored the views of the others, it is probable they were the real source of her message.
Origin of solitary vice myths in the 1800s
Before 1700, medical references to the harmful effects of masturbation were scarce. In the eighteenth century, two works, Ononia: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences... (by an anonymous author) and Swiss physician Samuel Tissot's Treatise on the Diseases Produced by Onanism introduced concepts that Sylvester Graham later adopted and helped to popularize.
Samuel Tissot, wrote in 1758 that the ill side-effects of masturbation included everything from pimples to rheumatism, muddleheadedness and headaches and hemorrhoids.
In 1834, Sylvester Graham's Lecture to Young Men was the first of its kind and launched a whole genre of medical tracts on masturbation, known then as "self-abuse" or "self pollution."
In his book Graham noted that the symptoms were easy to recognize -- victims were usually shy, suspicious, languid, unconcerned with hygiene, jaundiced. According to Graham, a masturbator grows up...
"with a body full of disease, and with a mind in ruins, the loathsome habit still tyrannizing over him, with the inexorable imperiousness of a fiend of darkness."10
Graham tells readers acne is caused by masturbation, and this leads to morbid results:
"...ulcerous sores, in some cases, break out upon the head, breast, back and thighs; and these sometimes enlarge into permanent fistulas, of a cancerous character, and continue, perhaps for years, to discharge great quantities of foetid, loathsome pus; and not unfrequently terminate in death."11
It is very likely that Mrs. White was familiar with Graham's teachings. In fact, many of Mrs. White's "inspired" health reform teachings appear to mirror Graham's reforms.
Mary Gove Nichols
Mary Gove Nichols was a disciple of Graham. She was a health reformer who advocated hydrotherapy and a vegetarian diet. She lectured throughout the Northeastern United States, including Ellen White's home town of Portland, Maine. In 1839, she published an 18-page pamphlet, Solitary Advice: An Address to Parents, describing the many dangers of masturbation. In addition to causing insanity, she claimed the following diseases were caused by this vice:
"Dyspepsy, spinal disease, headache, epilepsy... Impaired eyesight, palpitation of the heart, pain in the side, and bleeding at the lungs, spasm of the heart and lungs, and sometimes sudden death... almost every form of disease may be produced by it."16
Another health reformer with ideas similar to Graham was William Alcott. He claimed secret vice caused a host of medical problems:17
James C. Jackson
Another health reformer concerned with secret vice was Dr. James Jackson. The Whites spent considerable time at Jackson's health institute and were familiar with his writings. In 1862, he wrote considerably on the subject of masturbation in his book The Sexual Organism and its Healthy Management. Mrs. White had a copy of this book. Among many other physical, mental, and spiritual maladies supposedly caused by masturbation, Jackson wrote that masturbators "are proverbial for sieve-like conditions of memory."18 Two years later, Ellen White wrote that the hard studies of masturbators were "lost through their sieve-like memory."19
White is wrong about masturbation
For a period of time (1700-1900), Western medical wisdom viewed masturbation as draining vital energies and somehow related to mental illness. The tide started to turn in 1898, when Dr. Hoisholt and Dr. J.W. Robertson dismissed "masturbational insanity" as a "popular superstition" at a meeting of the medical society of California.20 During the 20th century medical and scientific research proved the concerns over masturbation to be unfounded. Despite numerous research studies, no link has ever been found between masturbation and the diseases cited by Ellen White, Graham, and others.
One proof of the harmlessness of this practice can be found in Ellen White's Battle Creek neighbors, the Daigneau family. She wrote a public testimony to the entire Battle Creek Church warning them that the Daigneau boys, Charles and Samuel, "have gone to great lengths in this crime of self-abuse; especially is this true of Charlie, who has gone so far in the practice of this sin that his intellect is affected, his eye sight is weakened, and disease is fastening itself upon him."21 While this must have been an embarrassment, the health of the boys did not appear to be imparied. Charles managed to live to age 71 without going blind or insane. Samuel became a Michigan state senator, enjoyed a life of "remarkably good health," and died at the ripe age of 82.22
Is masturbation an "abomination?"
Mrs. White calls solitary vice an "abomination" and warns of its "exceeding sinfulness." By so doing, she adds her own laws to the Bible. While the Bible warns against impure thoughts and sexual immorality in general, it is silent on masturbation. In the list of sexual abominations found in Leviticus 18, adultery, homosexuality, incest, and bestiality are condemned, but there is no mention of masturbation. If masturbation were indeed "an abomination," then one would absolutely expect the Bible to list it along with the other sexual abominations! The Bible's silence on this subject speaks volumes.
Ellen White was completely wrong about masturbation and led her people astray, causing many to feel terrible guilt and shame for what is actually a normal human behavior.
1. Mrs. White claimed solitary vice causes a wide spectrum of deadly health problems, including blindness, insanity, and even death.
2. Mrs. White claimed she "saw" the dangers of solitary vice in vision from God.
3. Her sentiments on solitary vice appear astonishingly similar to those of other health reformers she admired. So similar, in fact, that the editors of her book felt compelled to put out a statement insisting she was not a "copyist."
4. Although writing often on solitary vice during her early ministry, she is strangely silent on the subject during the last 40 years of her life.
5. Long ago the SDA Church stopped publishing Appeal to Mothers, Ellen White's first book on health reform. One would think a prophet's first book containing "light from Heaven" on health reform would be treasured by her followers! Imagine all the disease and suffering this book could save the world from! Shouldn't it be required reading for all newly converted Seventh-day Adventists?
6. Mrs. White added words to the Bible, by calling masturbation an abomination. She had no right to define it as such when the Bible did not (Prov. 30:6).
7. Her teachings on this subject prove definitively that she was not divinely inspired, but was blindly echoing what other health reformers were saying.
1. Ellen White, Solemn Appeal, 1870, p. 63.
2. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 347.
3. Ibid., p. 404.
4. Ellen White, Appeal to Mothers, 1864, p. 25, 27.
5. Bill Lloyd, M.D., © Copyright 1999, Oxygen Media all rights reserved.
6. © Copyright 2001, The Cleveland Clinic.
7. Our Family Physician: A Manual for Home Usage; Allopathic, Hydropathic, Eclectic, & Herbal, pp. 288-89.
8. Ellen White, Appeal to Mothers, p. 17.
9. Appeal to Mothers, p. 34.
10. Sylvester Graham, Lecture to Young Men, on Chastity, pp. 83, 144-148 (1834).
12. "The Health Benefits of Sex (Part 2) by Al Link and Pala Copeland, Urban Male Magazine, Summer 2000.
13. U.S. News & World Report, Oct 17, 1994 v117 n15 p74(7), "Sex in America".
14. "Masturbation for Good Health" by Robert Pollack, Ph.D., Highlights from Men's Health
15. "Frequent Ejaculations May Counter Prostate Cancer", Apr. 6, 2005, Reuters, By Michael Conlon.
16. Mary Gove Nichols, Lectures to Women on Anatomy and Physiology, (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1846), pp. 176-177. As for masturbation causing insanity, she wrote on page 176: "In the reports of our lunatic hospitals, masturbation, or solitary vice, ranks next to alcohol in producing insanity."
17. William Alcott, The Young Man's Guide (Boston: Lilly Wait & Co., 1833), pp. 312-316.
18. James C. Jackson, The Sexual Organism and its Healthy Management, (Boston: B. Leverett Emerson, 1862), p. 69.
19. Ellen White, Appeal to Mothers, p. 6. The same comment appears later in A Solemn Appeal, p. 60.
20. J.W. Robertson, M.D., "Excerpts from The Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of California," (1898), "Relation Existing Between the Sexual Organs and Insanity, with Especial Reference to Masturbation."
21. Ellen White, Special Testimony for the Battle Creek Church, (1869), p. 21.
22. Ronald Numbers, "Science and Medicine," Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet (NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 200. Some Adventists have claimed that Ellen White did not mean masturbation when she wrote "self-abuse," but this is not the case here. This is a clear reference to masturbation. In nearly instance where she used the phrase "self-abuse," the context reveals she was referring to masturbation (see ApM 25, 27; CG 441, 445, 447, 450, 452; Cch 109; CD 204; CH 616, 619; MM 287; 3SM 286; SA 73, 167, 180; 2T 347, 350, 361, 392, 402, 404, 406, 408, 409, 470. 481; 5T 90; PH 47, 64; PH085 3.2, 4.2, 19.1, 21.1, 24.1, 27.2, 29.2; PH117 73.1; Letter 30, 1870; Letter 39, 1875; Letter 51, 1886).
Category: Shocking Statements
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