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Oatmeal Does What?

Nearly twenty-five years ago, when I was studying for my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. in sexology, I had to learn a certain amount of history as it pertained to cultural beliefs about sexuality. I learned it – though I had no picture of why some of it might be particularly useful. But because of my study of history, it turned out that I got to have a private chuckle a few days ago.

But, before the chuckle, here’s the bit of history that came to mind.

In the early 20th century, there was a strong cultural urge to suppress sexual self-stimulation. The most creative (if not diabolical) minds developed many inventions to curb this practice of masturbation – some of them quite “pinchy.” They had a fairly righteous agenda in mind. But, the entrepreneurs of the time also spotted a ripe opportunity in the hysteria.

All it took was the widespread circulation of the equivalent of today’s “urban legend” that hot cereal, when consumed at breakfast, stimulated the urge to masturbate. Enter John Harvey Kellogg (of Battlecreek fame) with his line of cold cereals and a certain Sylvester Graham of Graham Crackers. These dry morsels of food (served with cold milk) certainly could not be accused of stimulating the libido – and, as it turned out, also claimed the supposed moral high ground of suppressing it. And so, a few fortunes began.

With the colder weather setting in, lately I had been serving my eight-year old son oatmeal for breakfast. When he and I happened to be alone at the kitchen table, he said, “Mom, I don’t think I want oatmeal for breakfast any more.”

“Why not, do you want something else?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“This cereal gives me erections.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, I’ve got one right now.”

“Oh, sweetie. That’s just your body’s way of checking that your penis is working fine. It will do that from time to time while you’re awake and four to six times at night while you’re sleeping.”

“Really?”

“Yep, really. So, it’s not the cereal, though there are some famous men who thought so and made a bunch of money telling other people that it did.”

“OK, Mom.”

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