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August 16, 1985

The Destroying Angel: Sex, Fitness and Food in the Legacy of Degeneracy Theory, Graham Crackers, Kellogg's Corn Flakes and American Health History

Author Affiliations

Loyola University of Chicago

JAMA. 1985;254(7):966. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360070112036

This is an interesting, erudite, carefully researched history of antisexualism in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries. The author claims that in those years the degeneracy theory triggered an intense long-lasting campaign against masturbation, on the grounds that it was the cause of most of the ailments seen by physicians. He points out that while promoting sexual abstinence, a health-reform movement advocated temperance, vegetarianism (to eliminate carnal passion, allegedly resultant from eating flesh), and fitness through regular exercise. A proponent of this theory was Sylvester Graham, a popular speaker and an evangelist in the midst of an epidemic of cholera in 1830. He promoted harmonious health protection from cholera and many other diseases through the eating of his dried whole wheat bread (later modified and called "Graham crackers").

Although Graham later declined in popularity, his doctrine of sexual purity and exercise and his Graham bread diet was