Wacky White Wednsday #7: Masturbation, Part 1

The next few weeks are going to be a series of blog posts about the article titled:

Appeal to Mothers Relative to the Great Cause of the Physical, Mental and Moral Ruin of Many of the Children of Our Time

The 1860s favored long titles. Most of us just refer to this as, “appeal to mothers.” It was written in 1864. I debated posting the entire article, but it’s long. Really long. So we will be picking and choosing which parts to look at. Here is a link to where you can read the article in its entirety.

I encourage you to go and read the whole thing, that you may know by the context that the article is indeed referring to masturbation.

The terms Ellen White uses are to refer to masturbation are “solitary vice” and “self abuse.” These terms were common ones in Ellen White’s era, though they are bit dated now.

First, we’re going to start at the beginning of the article, wherein Ellen White encourages mothers to look at their children for signs that they are masturbating. She goes on for a while. Quite a while.

(For some reason I am having trouble with the formatting. If there is a section break without a comment from me after it, it doesn’t necessarily mean I left anything out. Until I note otherwise, the following paragraphs occur exactly as they are in the original article.)

My Sisters, my apology for addressing you on this
subject is, I am a mother, and feel alarmed for those children and youth who by solitary vice are ruining themselves for this world, and for that which is to come. Let us closely inquire into this subject from the physical, mental and moral points of view.
Mothers, let us first view the results of this vice upon
the physical strength.
Have you not marked the lack of healthful beauty, of strength, and power of endurance in your dear children?
Have you not felt saddened as you have watched the progress of disease upon them which has baffled your skill, and that of physicians?
You listen to numerous complaints of headache, catarrh, dizziness, nervousness, pain in the shoulders and side, loss of appetite, pain in the back and limbs, wakeful, feverish nights, of tired feelings in the morning, and great exhaustion after exercising?
As you have seen the beauty of health disappearing, and have marked the sallow countenance, or the unnaturally flushed face have you been aroused sufficiently to look beneath the surface, to inquire into the cause of this physical decay?
Have you observed the astonishing mortality among the youth?
Said mortality was probably a lot higher when Ellen White was writing this than it is now. At least in developed countries, child mortality is down.
And have you not noticed that there was a deficiency in the mental health of your children? That their course seemed to be marked with extremes? That they were absent-minded? That they started nervously when spoken to? And were easily irritated?
Have you not noticed when occupied upon a piece of work they would look dreamingly, as though the mind was elsewhere? When they came to their senses, they were unwilling to own the work as coming from their hands, it was so full of mistakes, and showed such marks of inattention?
Have you not been astonished at their wonderful forgetfulness? The most simple and oft-repeated directions would be soon forgotten. They might be quick to learn, but it would be of no special benefit to them. The mind would not retain it. What they might learn through hard study, when they would use their knowledge, is missing, lost through their sieve-like memory.
Have you not noticed their reluctance to engage in active labor? And their unwillingness to perseveringly accomplish that which they have undertaken, which taxes the mental as well as the physical strength? The tendency of many is to live in indolence.
Have you not witnessed the gloomy sadness upon the
countenance, and frequent exhibitions of a morose temper in those who used to be cheerful, kind and affectionate? They are easily excited to jealousy, disposed to look upon the dark side, and when you are laboring for their good, imagine that you are their enemy, that you needlessly reprove and restrain them?
And have you not enquired (sic) where will all this end, as you have looked upon your children from a moral point of view? Have you not noticed the increase of disobedience in children, and their manifestations of ingratitude, and impatience under restraint?
Have you not been alarmed at their disregard of parental authority, which has bowed down the hearts of their parents with grief and prematurely sprinkled their heads with grey hairs?
Have you not witnessed the lack of that noble frankness in your children which they once possessed, and which you admired in them? Some children even express in their countenances a hardened look of depravity. Have you not felt distressed and anxious as you have seen the strong desire in your children to be with the opposite sex, and the overpowering disposition they possessed to form attachments when quite young?
As you can see, Ellen White goes on for, um, quite a while. I mean, there’s enough stuff in here that, at some point, any one child is going to end up going through some of these things. Though I am uncertain that any one child would meet all (or even most) of this criteria.
With your daughters, the boys have been the
theme of conversation, and with your sons it has been the girls.
Ellen White is strangely silent on homosexuality. I don’t have an explanation or theory for that, so we will merely note it and move on.
They manifest preference for particular ones, and your advice and warnings produce but little change. Blind
passion destroys sensible considerations. And although you may check the outward manifestations, and you credit the promises of amendment yet to your sorrow you find there is no change, only to conceal the matter from you. There are still secret attachments, and stolen interviews.
Note, too, that Ellen seems to think masturbation is always sexual in nature. It is not. In fact, very young children sometimes do it without even associating it with sex. That part comes later, usually around the onset of puberty. That is why it appears that Ellen is getting off on a tangent when she talks about children having boyfriend/girlfriends. To her, these issues are one and the same.
They follow their willful course, and are controlled by their passions, until you are startled by perhaps
a premature marriage, or are brought to shame by those who should by their noble course of conduct, bring to you respect and honor.
The cases of premature marriage multiply. Boys and girls enter upon the marriage relation with unripe love, immature judgment, without noble, elevated feelings, and take upon themselves the marriage vows, wholly led by their boyish, girlish, passions. They choose for themselves often without the knowledge of the mother who has watched over them, and cared for them, from their earliest infancy.
Instead of blaming masturbation, maybe it would be a good idea to sit down and think about why your child didn’t talk to you about this? Maybe the problem isn’t them, it’s you?
I’m skipping a few paragraphs here, where Ellen White goes on about how awful it is to
a) Marry young (“in their teens” is too young)
b) Have a secret boyfriend/girlfriend. If one forms “attachments,” the parents should always know about them.
Honestly, that is a topic for another blog post, and these things don’t really have much to do with masturbation. Or do they? In the next paragraph, after ranting about A and B for a while, she says:

Mothers, the great cause of these physical, mental and moral evils is secret vice which inflames the passions, fevers the imagination, and leads to licentiousness. This vice is laying waste the constitution, and preparing the young for disease of almost every description. And shall we permit our children to pursue a course of self-destruction?

I mean, by that definition, practically everything is caused by masturbation.

We’ll stop there for now. Next week, we’ll look at some of the consequences of masturbation.

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