top of page
Recent Posts
Featured Posts

Kellogg's Crusade

Published December 4, 2017

Updated March 24, 2021

“Within every elaborate lie, a kernel of truth.” – Marisha Pessl

Circumcision opponents have created the impression that foreskin removal became popular in America because a 19th century physician recommended it as a cure for masturbation. Comedian and television host Adam Conover explained:

Though religious circumcision has been practiced in the Middle East for millennia, it wasn’t popular in the U.S. until the puritanical 19th century, when, among other things, sex-phobic doctors promoted it as a way to stop your kids from committing their favorite sin... One prominent advocate of [circumcision] was (and they’re not making this up) John Harvey Kellogg. Victorian prudes like Kellogg just straight up hated sex, and thought that by pruning your peter, they could prevent your base, lustful instincts. [1]

This intactomyth - that Kellogg is responsible for the popularity of circumcision in America - has been repeated so often within the intactivist community that it has become gospel. It’s time to unravel the story and look at the actual facts.


John Harvey Kellogg was an American physician, inventor and author, best known as the creator of the Corn Flakes breakfast cereal. Kellogg directed a sanitarium where he promoted his holistic views. [2]


Kellogg promoted sexual abstinence and discouraged sexual activity. His views on a proper diet were apparently influenced by a puritanical desire to reduce sexual arousal. Kellogg became obsessed with masturbation, especially by children. He advised parents on bedding and sleep positions, lest the wrong position lead to “perdition.” [3]


Yes ... but it’s more complicated than circumcision opponents would have us believe. Kellogg never promoted routine circumcision of all boys, and he had no interest in performing the procedure on infants. He endorsed it solely for the purpose of inflicting genital pain on boys who were caught masturbating.

Let’s take a look at a statement from Kellogg's 1877 medical advice book that intactivists have bookmarked:

A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed. [4]

Notice a few things about this paragraph. Kellogg didn’t promote foreskin removal for medical benefits. He saw no intrinsic value in removing the foreskin. He saw circumcision merely as a pretext to inflict pain. That’s why his instructions specified that a boy should not receive any anesthesia. He wanted to convert a boy's attitude about his genitals from thoughts of pleasure to thoughts of pain.

Kellogg also promoted the infliction of genital pain on girls, believing it could deter female masturbation. He wrote that he “found the application of pure carbolic acid (phenol) to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement.” In some cases he recommended clitoridectomies to stop the behavior. [3]


Fortunately the medical establishment came to realize that masturbation is a normal activity. Kellogg’s sadistic advice was largely ignored. Fourteen years after Kellogg’s book was published, Peter Remondino promoted universal circumcision; but in his 320-page book, Remondino never mentioned Kellogg. Ironically Remondino reported that many people considered circumcision “liable to induce masturbation, excessive venereal desire, and a train of other evils.” [5] [emphasis added]

So why did circumcision become popular? To find the answer we leap 40 years into the future to World War I, where American troops were confined to trenches for long periods of time. Unable to bathe, several soldiers suffered infections that required circumcision. After the war many returning soldiers had their newborn sons circumcised, and the procedure was increasingly promoted to improve male hygiene. [6] There was no official tracking of the circumcision rate in the United States until the mid-20th century.


In every falsehood there's a kernel of truth. In his fanatical attempt to prevent children from masturbating, did Kellogg advocate circumcising boys? Yes. Was he responsible for the rise of infant circumcision in America? No. John Kellogg would have supported neither infant circumcision nor the use of pain relief. He would have vehemently rejected the AAP recommendation that masturbation is normal behavior and children should not be discouraged from stimulating themselves. [7] Even Jason Fairfield, a longtime anti-circumcision activist and member of the Blood Stained Men, acknowledges these facts. [8] Intactivist appeals to Kellogg are nothing more than attempts to poison the well. It seems that many circumcision opponents would rather tilt at windmills than take an honest look at the medical benefits of newborn circumcision.

[1] Adam Conover, The real reason you're circumcised; Adam Ruins Everything; TruTV; December 6, 2015

[2] "Dr. John Harvey Kellogg - Inventor of Kellogg's Corn Flakes"; University of Texas San Antonio Health; Updated June 8, 2017

[3] Therese Oneill, “John Harvey Kellogg's Legacy of Cereal, Sociopathy, and Sexual Mutilation”;; May 24, 2016

[4] J.H. Kellogg, M.D., Plain Facts for Young and Old; Segner & Condit; 1877

[5] P.C. Remondino M.D., History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the Present; F.A. Davis; 1891; p 218

[6] Larry V. Cheldelin M.D., Your Baby’s Secret World: Four Phases for Effective Parenting (A Professional and Practical Guide); Branden Pub Co; December 1, 1982; p 32

[7] “Masturbation”; Healthy Children; from “For Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12”; American Academy of Pediatrics; updated November 21, 2015

[8] Jason Fairfield tweet - May 29, 2020


Follow Us
Search By Tags
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page