Solitary Vice [masturbation]
By Dirk Anderson, last updated 2021
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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:
Origin of Solitary Vice Myths in the 1800s
Before 1700, masturbation was not regarded as a health concern. In 1710, an anonymous book published in London, Ononia: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and All its Frightful Consequences Considered, warned of the spiritual and health dangers of "self pollution." In 1758, Swiss physician Samuel Tissot, in his book Onanism Dissertation on Diseases Produced by Masturbation, warned that masturbation could impair memory and cause consumption, incontinence, jaundice, and loose teeth.5 Sylvester Graham later adopted these teachings and helped to popularize the idea within the United States that masturbation was immoral and damaged one's health.6
In 1834, Sylvester Graham published his infamous Lecture to Young Men warning of the dangers of "self-abuse" or "self pollution." In his book Graham noted that masturbators could be identified by their symptoms:
"...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."7
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."8
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."9
Another health reformer with ideas similar to Graham was William Alcott. He claimed secret vice caused a host of medical problems:10
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."11 Two years later, Ellen White wrote that the hard studies of masturbators were "lost through their sieve-like memory."12
In 1839, Léopold Deslandes published a book warning that masturbation can cause "pains in the body, neuralgia, impairment of memory, and insanity."13 American physician Samuel Gregory, in his 1847 book, Facts and Important Information for Young Women on the Subject of Masturbation, warned that "Masturbation does more than any other cause, perhaps than all other causes combined, to people our lunatic asylums."14 Nearly all these "health reformers" believed masturbators could be identified merely by observing the appearance of the body, face, and head. Thus, by the mid-1800s, without any actual medical evidence, a large number of Christians had come to assume that masturbation was harmful to both the body and the spirit.
What was the Source of Inspiration for Ellen White's Warnings about 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..."16
There can be no doubt Mrs. White claimed her knowledge came straight from heaven. Attached to the same book was an essay on "Chastity" quoting various "health reformers." Those quoted included Sylvester Graham, L.B. Coles, James Jackson, Mary Gove Nichols, and the phrenologist O.S. Fowler. Ronald Numbers explains: "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!"17 The publishers explained:
"...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."18
Given the fact she plagiarized many of her other writings, and given the fact that her writings on masturbation so closely mirrored the views of the others, it is probable those other authors were the real source of inspiration for her writings on this subject.
Modern Medical Perspective on Masturbation
Beginning in the mid-1960s with Masters and Johnson, researchers have found that masturbation was the most common form of human sexual activity. More recently, research has confirmed that masturbation "is nearly universal among males and...a majority of females."19 A survey in England found 92% of young women masturbate.20
In addition to it being practiced by nearly all humans, 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!
Dr. Michael Ashworth explains:
With so many people doing it, medical science would certainly have had a lot of opportunity to determine if the practice causes any medical problems, and in fact, no blindness...infertility, mental illness or other problems large or small have ever been attributed to masturbation.21
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. Not only does masturbation have no bad effects, it is probably much healthier than trying to suppress the strong sexual impulses that many men, particularly adolescents, feel. Masturbation provides an important, safe outlet for these impulses, and may well keep men from unsafe practices, such as sex with prostitutes, adulterous affairs, or coercive sex, that is to say rape.22
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."23
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.
Health Benefits of Masturbation
Rather than being damaging, masturbation actually has many health benefits. Modern medical research has demonstrated that masturbation has the following benefits:28
There is also some evidence it improves the sex life for women. One study of women found that "masturbators had significantly more orgasms, greater sexual desire, higher self-esteem, and greater marital and sexual satisfaction, and required less time to sexual arousal."29 As for men, Healthline has reported that a "2016 study found the risk of prostate cancer decreased by about 20 percent in men who ejaculated at least 21 times a month."30 Unless one is riddled with guilt due to false religious teachings regarding masturbation, there are no significant health risks associated with masturbation. In fact, the evidence suggests masturbating may be a healthy activity.
Mrs. White Was Completely Wrong about Masturbation
For a period of time (1700-1900), the Western medical establishment regarded masturbation as draining vital energy from the body and a potential cause of 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.31 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."32 While this must have been a severe embarrassment to the family, 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 82.33
Is Masturbation Really an "Abomination?"
Mrs. White calls solitary vice an "abomination" and warns of its "exceeding sinfulness." By so doing, she adds her own laws to those of 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. Examine the evidence:
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! Why is it not 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 because the Bible does 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 teaching.
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. Marjorie Heins, Not in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth, (NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007), 21.
6. Carrie McLaren, "Porn Flakes:Kellogg, Graham and the Crusade for Moral Fiber," Stay Free Magazine, p. 2.
7. Sylvester Graham, Lecture to Young Men, on Chastity, pp. 83, 144-148 (1834).
9. 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."
10. William Alcott, The Young Man's Guide (Boston: Lilly Wait & Co., 1833), pp. 312-316.
11. James C. Jackson, The Sexual Organism and its Healthy Management, (Boston: B. Leverett Emerson, 1862), p. 69.
12. Ellen White, Appeal to Mothers, p. 6. The same comment appears later in A Solemn Appeal, p. 60.
13. Léopold Deslandes, A Treatise on the Diseases Produced By Onanism, Masturbation, Self-Pollution, and Other Excesses, 2nd edition (Boston: Oits, Broaders, and Co., 1839), pp. 60, 243.
14. Samuel Gregory, Facts and Important Information for Young Women on the Subject of Masturbation; with its Causes, Prevention, and Cure (Boston: Geo. Gregory, 1847), p. 11.
15. Our Family Physician: A Manual for Home Usage; Allopathic, Hydropathic, Eclectic, & Herbal, pp. 288-89.
16. Ellen White, Appeal to Mothers, p. 17.
17. Ronald Numbers, Prophetess of Health (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee, 1992), p. 154.
18. Appeal to Mothers, p. 34.
19. Cynthia L. Robbins, MD, Vanessa Schick, PhD, Michael Reece, PhD, MPH; et al, "Prevalence, Frequency, and Associations of Masturbation With Partnered Sexual Behaviors Among US Adolescents," Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(12):1087-1093. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.142.
20. The Gossard Big M Survey interviewed 1,000 women, ages 18-30.
21. Maureen Shaw, "9 Lies about Masturbation We Need to Stop Spreading Immediately," Jan. 7, 2015, extracted Dec. 27, 2021. https://www.mic.com/articles/107722/9-crazy-myths-about-masturbation-debunked.
22. Bill Lloyd, M.D., © Copyright 1999, Oxygen Media all rights reserved.
23. © Copyright 2001, The Cleveland Clinic.
24. "The Health Benefits of Sex (Part 2) by Al Link and Pala Copeland, Urban Male Magazine, Summer 2000.
25. U.S. News & World Report, Oct 17, 1994 v117 n15 p74(7), "Sex in America".
26. "Masturbation for Good Health" by Robert Pollack, Ph.D., Highlights from Men's Health
27. "Frequent Ejaculations May Counter Prostate Cancer", Apr. 6, 2005, Reuters, By Michael Conlon.
28. Jennifer Huizen, "How does Masturbation Affect the Brain?" Medical News Today, Oct. 27, 2020. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/masturbation-effects-on-brain.
29. David Farley Hurlbert and Karen Elizabeth Whittaker, "The Role of Masturbation in Marital and Sexual Satisfaction: A Comparative Study of Female Masturbators and Nonmasturbators," Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, vol. 17, iss. 4, 1991, https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1080/01614576.1991.11074029.
30. Susan York Morris, "Does Frequent Ejaculation Reduce Your Risk for Prostate Cancer?" Healthline, Dec. 4, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/health/prostate-cancer/ejaculation-prostate-cancer.
31. 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."
32. Ellen White, Special Testimony for the Battle Creek Church, (1869), p. 21.
33. 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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