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Were Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Really Invented to Stop Masturbation?  AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

There’s a legend surrounding one of the most ubiquitous breakfast foods: that the humble cornflake was created to reduce sexual desire and stop masturbation among the human population — a sort of an aphrodisiac that was also part of a complete breakfast.

But were corn flakes really advertised, or even secretly conceived, as what many sources refer to as an “anti-masturbatory morning meal?” The truth is somewhat mixed.

The Invention of Corn Flake Breakfast Cereal

Corn flakes were invented by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and first appeared on the market in the early 1900s, confirms Snopes. The Kellogg’s corn flakes were not billed for their cold-shower qualities, but rather as an easy-to-digest health food.

Indigestion was a common complaint among Americans of the late 19th century. Morning meals at the time often consisted of heavy foods like meat and potatoes, and Kellogg’s cereal was conceived as a healthy breakfast alternative that required little preparation.

The breakfast cereal was test-run for its digestibility among patients the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, owned by John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother Will. The sanitarium was the site of many of the Kellogg brothers’ early experiments in nutrition and medicine, some of which — like the corn flakes or the patients’ diet of granola — were relatively benign. Others, such as his 15-quart-per-minute enema machine, were less so.

Like the advertising, the Kellogg Company’s original corn flakes patent from 1895 doesn’t mention any anti-masturbation purposes either. Its conception is much the same: the flakes are “highly nutritive and of an agreeable taste,” easy to prepare, and particularly suited for “sick and convalescent persons.”

Dr. Kellogg’s Health Food Crusade Against Masturbation

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So there was no explicit mention of masturbating in the original documentation. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the idea never crossed Mr. Kellogg’s mind. In addition to doctor and nutritional advocate, Kellogg was a devout member of the Seventh Day Adventist church. These characteristics were intimately linked—a healthy diet was not merely a matter of well-being, but virtue for him.

As a strict Seventh Day Adventist, Kellogg ate a vegetarian diet and opposed almost all “illicit commerce of the sexes” — including between married couples. He theorized that what one ate was directly linked to sexual desire, and by extension, the practice he called “self-pollution” and “the solitary vice.” He may have gotten much of these ideas from another zealot-inventor of different snacks: Sylvester Graham, creator of the first graham crackers.

The doctor’s pseudoscientific ideology is outlined in his 1887 book, Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life. A whole chapter is dedicated to masturbation, attributing the practice to a number of sources, one of which is “exciting and irritating” food and drink. This included alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods. A bland diet possibly prevented unwholesome urges, according to Kellogg. The plain foods that he encouraged included fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk.

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So Kellogg did indeed believe that bland foods were not only nutritionally but spiritually wholesome, and could prevent the urge to masturbate. If he actually created corn flakes for that purpose, however, he kept it to himself.

Watch: 7 fascinating facts about the most important meal of the day

A lover, fighter, and freelance writer, María Cristina hunts down buzzworthy stories by day and trains to be a championship kickboxer by night. As a full-time digital nomad, she's lived everywhere from Chicago to Mexico City to Medellín to Bali -- but Austin, Texas will always be home.
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