Ellen White and Marital Excess
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In order to understand Marital Excess you must first understand the nineteenth century concept of vital force. Dr. Ronald Numbers describes how vital force works:
"According to Adventist pioneer John Loughborough, vital force was "that power placed in the human body, at its birth, which will enable the body, under favorable circumstances, to live to a certain age." Since the initial endowment was limited, and since each sexual act used up an irreplenishable amount, it behooved those who coveted a long life to keep their sexual activities to a minimum."1Mrs. White apparently acquired her knowledge of vital force from popular health reformer Horace Mann, whose writings on vital force closely resemble hers:
|Ellen White, 1876||Horace Mann, 1853
Man came from the hand of God perfect in every faculty of mind and body; in perfect soundness, therefore in perfect health. It took more than two thousand years of indulgence of appetite and lustful passions to create such a state of things in the human organism as would lessen vital force.2
Man came from the hand of God so perfect in his bodily organs...so surcharged with vital force, that it took more than two thousand years of the combined abominations of appetite and ignorance...to drain off his electric energies and make him even accessible to disease.3
Health reformers in the 1800s considered sex to be very draining upon the vital energies. Seventy-day Adventist physician Dr. J.H. Kellogg wrote in 1877:
"The reproductive act is the most exhaustive of all vital acts."4
Mrs. White warns that God will hold marriage partners accountable for expending their vital energy:
"They do not see that God requires them to control their married lives from any excesses. But very few feel it to be a religious duty to govern their passions. They have united themselves in marriage to the object of their choice, and therefore reason that marriage sanctifies the indulgence of the baser passions. Even men and women professing godliness give loose rein to their lustful passions, and have no thought that God holds them accountable for the expenditure of vital energy, which weakens their hold on life and enervates the entire system."5During the Puritanical era of the 1800s the ideal spiritual woman manifested little interest in sexuality. Writing in 1871, German neurologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing pronounced, "Woman, ...if physically and mentally normal, and properly educated, has but little sensual desire." Dr. Kellogg has a similar quote in his 1877 book:
"I should say that the majority of women, happily for them, are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind. ... The best mothers, wives, and managers of households know little or nothing of sexual indulgences. Love of home, of children, of domestic duties, are the only passions they feel. As a general rule, a modest woman seldom desires any sexual gratification for herself."6
Mrs. White advises us that it is the duty of the ideal wife to restrain the desires of her husband:
"Sexual excess will effectually destroy a love for devotional exercises, will take from the brain the substance needed to nourish the system, and will most effectively exhaust the vitality. No woman should aid her husband in this work of self-destruction. She will not do it if she is enlightened and has true love for him. The more the animal passions are indulged, the stronger do they become, and the more violent will be their clamors for indulgence. Let God-fearing men and women awake to their duty. Many professed Christians are suffering with paralysis of nerve and brain because of their intemperance in this direction.
"It is not pure, holy love which leads the wife to gratify the animal propensities of her husband at the expense of health and life. If she possesses true love and wisdom, she will seek to divert his mind from the gratification of lustful passions to high and spiritual themes by dwelling upon interesting spiritual subjects. It may be necessary to humbly and affectionately urge, even at the risk of his displeasure, that she cannot debase her body by yielding to sexual excess. She should, in a tender, kind manner, remind him that God has the first and highest claim upon her entire being, and that she cannot disregard this claim, for she will be held accountable in the great day of God."7
It is questionable whether encouraging the husband to refrain from sexual activity actually benefited the spirituality of the husband. One could argue the constant repression of his natural sexual desires for his wife may induce the husband to lust even more than he would have had his needs been fulfilled by his wife.
Mrs. White's statements seem somewhat bizarre from a modern medical perspective. There is no evidence that normal, frequent sexual activity takes away vital nourishment from the brain. The defender of Sister White may suggest that she was talking about abnormally extreme frequencies. Just exactly how frequent did Mrs. White view as excessive?
Mrs. White never defined exactly what excessive meant. In order to find out what she meant, we must determine how the term marital excess was used by the other health reformers of her day, in particular the ones from which she acquired her health teachings. In 1834, Sylvester Graham permitted a maximum of once a month.8 O.S. Fowler, a phrenologist who personally favored sex for procreation only, had stated, "to indulge, even in wedlock, as often as the moon quarters, is gradual but effectual destruction of both soul and body."9 Since the moon quarters every seven-and-a-half days, Fowler was saying that engaging in sex at a frequency of once a week was too frequent! Those high frequencies would destroy the body! Adventist physician J.H. Kellogg seemed to agree with Graham by suggesting marriage partners "limit indulgence to the number of months in the year."10 Kellogg considered daily sex to be dangerous for both partners:
"Another case came under our observation in which the patient, a man, confessed to having indulged every night for twenty years. We did not wonder that at forty he was a complete physical wreck."11
The Whites seem to have agreed with Fowler's frequency for they reprinted his advice in an expanded version of Mrs. White's 1864 book on masturbation, Appeal to Mothers, which was republished in 1870 under the title Solemn Appeal Relative to Solitary Vice, and the Abuses and Excesses of the Marriage Relation.
Scientific research has shown that most married couples engage in sexual activity between 1 and 5 times per week. This is far in excess of the frequency advocated in Solemn Appeal. Interestingly enough, research has shown that men and women who engage in sex frequently live longer than those with less frequent sexual activity.
|10 Ways Sex Improves Health12|
1. Improves Health and Happiness|
Sexually active people take fewer sick leaves, are more gregarious and enjoy life more. This is the finding of Dr Ted Mcllvenna, from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, when he conducted a study of the sex lives of 90,000 American adults.
2. Regulates Hormones
3. Boosts Oestrogen
4. Burns Calories
5. Strengthens Pelvic Muscles
6. Relieves Menstrual Cramps
7. Boosts Your Immune System
8. Reduces Stress
9. Relieves Pain
10. Can Cure Headaches
The recently published Caerphilly study from Great Britain suggests that men who have intimate relations more than once-a-week have lower rates of mortality. After analyzing the death rates of nearly 1,000 men ages 45 to 59, researchers from the University of Bristol and Queen's University of Belfast concluded that men who have more sex seem to live longer. According to the study, having regular marital relations reduces the risk of death by about half.
This analysis was part of a long-term study of chronic disease in which scientists assessed the existence of heart disease in the participants, and also asked them how often they had marital relations. Ten years later, the number of deaths was correlated with the reported frequency of intercourse. Men who said they had sex twice a week had a risk of dying half that of those who said they had sex once a month. Other scientific studies have substantiated this research.13
Since Mrs. White understood intimate marriage relations to be arousing the "base passions," it should be no surprise that she advocated celibacy, particularly for church workers. Not only would marital relations arouse the base passions, but they would also result in children which would distract the church workers from their mission. In 1895 Mrs. White wrote:
"The time has come when a sterile condition is not the worst condition to be in."14When a missionary couple had children, Mrs. White blasted them:
"I was shown that Brother and Sister Van Horn had departed from God's counsel in bringing into the world children. God required all there was of them in His work and both could have done a good work for the Master, but the enemy came in and his counsel was followed, and the cause of God was robbed of the attention it should have had... The time has come when, in one sense, they that have wives be as though they had none."15In another letter she wrote of another missionary couple:
"How much better would have been the influence of both if they had not married, but both have devoted their interests to God's cause; and after they were married, how much better for them to have thoroughly considered the situation and decided that God should have all the powers He had given them in the work of saving souls."16Mrs. White, convinced of the immediate return of Christ, warned that children would soon be taken from their parents by death. Apparently, this is yet another reason not to engage in marital relations:
"Parents give but little attention to them, and in the near future they will be removed by death. Woe unto them that be with child, and give suck in these days, and if our workers were walking close with God, they would feel that it is no matter of rejoicing to bring a child into the world. A blessing is pronounced upon the eunuchs who keep the Lord's Sabbath."17
1. Ronald Numbers, Ph.D., Prophetess of Health, p. 154.
2. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 29.
3. Horace Mann, Dedicatory and Inaugural Address.
4. J.H. Kellogg, Plain Facts for Old and Young, p. 119.
5. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 472.
6. Kellogg, p. 473.
7. Ellen White, Adventist Home, pp. 124-126.
8. Sylvester Graham, Lecture to Young Men, on Chastity, pp. 83, 144-148 (1834).
9. O.S. Fowler, Hereditary Descent, p. 206.
10. Kellogg, p. 487.
11. Ibid., p. 468.
12. Seks itu Nikmat dan Sehat
13. For further study see Michael F. Roizen, M.D., Real Age, (New York: HarperCollins, 1999) p. 131.
14. Ellen White, Letter 15, 1895.
15. Ellen White, MS 34, 1885.
16. Ellen White, letter written from Europe in 1888, as quoted in "Counsels Regarding Parenthood" (DF 360A), a document produced by the Ellen G. White Estate.