#TBT Sex Ed History – Plain Facts and Even Plainer Cornflakes: John Harvey Kellogg and Sex

While many contemporaries regarded Dr. John Harvey Kellogg as a respected visionary, modern depictions tend to paint him as masturbation-obsessed wackadoodle. But Dr. Kellogg was so much more than that – he was a racist, eugenicist, masturbation-obsessed wackadoodle who had some admittedly good advice about dietary fiber. 

Starting in the mid 1870s, John Kellogg and his long-suffering brother Will Keith Kellogg ran a long-term medical facility in Battle Creek, Michigan. While there, JH Kellogg treated patients with a holistic, Seventh-Day Adventist-inspired approach, prescribing dietary and behavioral changes alongside medication. 

During their tenure, John and Keith created food that could be easily digested by the facility’s patients with gastrointestinal issues. There most famous invention, of course, was the cornflake. To John Kellogg, the cornflake had huge medical potential – it was nutritious, easily digested, and completely unarousing. It kept you healthy, it kept you regular, and it was part of a bland diet that was perfect for preventing masturbation. 

That’s right. Masturbation. Or, as Dr. Kellogg called it, “the solitary vice.” Believing masturbation to be dangerous, potentially fatally so, he sought out a number of ways to prevent it. One of his tips was to only eat bland, unstimulating foods. Like his cornflakes. 

Over the last decade, there’s been a popular myth that the famous Kellogg’s cornflakes were specifically created for their supposed libido-dampening properties. This isn’t exactly the truth. The primary goal was to create a food that was healthy. But the added benefit of this it being a great addition to a robust anti-masturbatory diet, combined with Kellogg’s other outlandish claims, is what naturally captures the imagination.

Two decades before the cornflakes were even invented, John Kellogg had already written extensively about the dangers of masturbation and the methods of prevention in his “Plain Facts for Old and Young.” The second edition, which seems to have been the most popular, was published in 1879. It dedicates three full chapters and 220 of its 512 pages to masturbation. 

It’s not all masturbation. John Kellogg also muses on flirtation, fashion, and the evils of marriage between two people with a significant difference in height. He consistently preaches against anything vaguely stimulating or pleasurable, including sugar, coffee, and comfortable pillows. Some of my personal favorite plain “facts” that are absolutely incorrect include:

  • Masturbation can cause, among many other things, clammy hands, acne, and mock piety.
  • Like masturbation, nocturnal emissions or “wet dreams,” are highly dangerous and can cause laziness, melancholy, and weak knees.
  • If you want to prevent nocturnal emissions, keep a regular schedule, go the bathroom before bed, and avoid feather pillows and beds at all costs. Sleeping on the floor is a great way to prevent nocturnal emissions which can, as we all know, cause back pain. The floor probably won’t, though. You’ll be fine.
  • Women should stop having sex around age 45, and men around age 50. If someone over this age has sex, they will likely turn to crime. 

If you can’t tell by the sugar in cornflakes and the existence of Fruit Loops, John Kellogg didn’t have much of an influence on the Kellogg company after its creation and subsequent lawsuit with his brother. I don’t want to speculate too much here, but I think he would lose his cornflake-munching mind if he walked into a modern grocery store and saw Tony the Tiger or Toucan Sam smiling at him, right under his own last name. And thank Snap, Crackle, and Pop that he didn’t live to see competitor General Mill’s Trix Rabbit, or we would have probably gotten a sixth edition of “Plain Facts” with a whole chapter dedicated to that silly rabbit and his unquenchable lust for cereal.