Animal Passions

By Dirk Anderson, Apr., 2024

If you are a child, this page is NOT for you! Click here to go back

Nineteenth century health reformers regarded "animal passions" as a serious physical, mental, and spiritual health concern. This term was used to describe urges or desires, particularly of a sexual nature. These reformers believed that indulging in such passions strengthened the animal nature of humans, drained vital energy from the body, and resulted in moral, physical, and spiritual degradation.

The doctrine of vital force taught that animal passions depleted essential energy required by the higher brain. As such, indulging in sexual activity or thoughts could lead to spiritual weakening, while simultaneously amplifying one's animalistic tendencies, resulting in a more base, depraved, and potentially criminal mindset. Abstaining from sexual activity or any form of arousal was considered a path toward spiritual growth and elevation. Therefore, spirituality and sexuality were seen as opposing forces—engaging in sex diminished one's spiritual state, while abstaining from sex promoted spiritual growth.

In the mid-1860s, after obtaining her health teachings from Dr. Caleb Jackson, Mrs. White took a radical stance against anything that she thought might possibly stimulate even the least amount of sexual desire. She taught her followers that certain foods, hot drinks, and activities, like going to the theater, could strengthen the animal passions. This doctrine became a core part of Ellen White's health teachings.

In 1870, she warned her followers:

The indulgence of the appetite in first eating food highly seasoned, created a morbid appetite, and prepared the way for every kind of indulgence, until health and intellect were sacrificed to lust. ...stimulating drinks, as tea and coffee, create unnatural appetites. The system becomes fevered, the organs of digestion become injured, the mental faculties are beclouded, while the baser passions are excited, and predominate. The appetite becomes more unnatural, and more difficult of restraint. The circulation is not equalized, and the blood becomes impure. The whole system is deranged, and the demands of appetite become more unreasonable, craving exciting, hurtful things, until it is thoroughly depraved.1

To claim that tea and coffee ultimately result in a downward progression until a person becomes thoroughly depraved seems preposterous to a modern audience. In fact, many SDAs are likely drinking a cappuccino while reading this article. However, it was received with alarm and grave concern by those who supposed Ellen White was conveying God's special message of warning for the last days.

Mrs. White also adopted the health reformers' view that marital excess drained vitality from the body. She adopted their stance on masturbation, which she wrote "lessens the strength of the vital powers" and was a "soul-and-body-destroying vice" that resulted in "utter shipwreck of body and mind."5

In addition to all these restrictions, she also recommended that parents burn their children's novels:

Put your novels into the fire. Make a great bonfire of all the novels you have. Let them not come into the hands of your children. Let every novel be consumed.2

In addition to book-burning, Mrs. White advised her followers to avoid theatrical performances which could arouse their animal passions...

The youth who walk the streets are surrounded with handbills and notices of crime and sin, presented in some novel, or to be acted at a theater. Their minds are educated into familiarity with sin. The course pursued by the base and vile is kept before them in the periodicals of the day. Everything which can excite curiosity and arouse the animal passions is brought before the young in thrilling and exciting stories.3

And, of utmost importance, avoid viewing pictures of nude females...

Exciting love stories and impure pictures have a corrupting influence. Novels are eagerly perused by many, and, as the result, their imagination becomes defiled. In the cars, photographs of females in a state of nudity are frequently circulated for sale. These disgusting pictures are also found in daguerrean saloons, and are hung upon the walls of those who deal in engravings. This is an age when corruption is teeming everywhere. The lust of the eye and corrupt passions are aroused by beholding and by reading. The heart is corrupted through the imagination. The mind takes pleasure in contemplating scenes which awaken the lower and baser passions. These vile images, seen through defiled imagination, corrupt the morals and prepare the deluded, infatuated beings to give loose rein to lustful passions. Then follow sins and crimes which drag beings formed in the image of God down to a level with the beasts, sinking them at last in perdition.4

Notice the downward chain started by reading a romance novel or seeing artistic expressions of the female form:

  • Corrupt passions are aroused
    • The morals are corrupted
      • Lustful passions are given loose rein
        • Sins and crimes follow
          • Ultimately the soul ends up in hell

SDA parents must have been terrified as they read these frightful warnings about meat, coffee, novels, the theater, and nude portraits. Indulging in these could start a chain of events that could land their children in perdition!

O.S. Fowler

O.S. Fowler, M.D.

Fellow health reformer O.S. Fowler believed that whatever stimulates the passions provokes an individual to other vices, leading to a downward progression. He explained that the least indulgence was like paddling a canoe down the Niagara rapids. Anything that could possibly kindle sexual passions should be avoided, because it could lead to terrible results. He believed marriage partners should hold their sexual urges in check and save sex for procreation. He believed that "secret vice" was ruining children. He believed three-fourths of all ailments men suffered were due to masturbation, and nine tenths of all mental problems stemmed from sex draining the vital powers. He taught that when vital powers were lessened by sexual activity or even sexual thoughts, people could not cultivate their higher faculties. Instead, they become more like animals. He viewed the expenditure of vital energy on sensual passion to be akin to "physical, mental, and moral suicide."6

Likewise, SDA physician J.H. Kellogg believed marital excess and masturbation would exhaust one's supply of vital energy. He opposed behaviors that might stimulate sexual passion, decrying the "vile pictures...which hang in many of our art galleries" that are a "means of evil."7

Backed by Ellen White's testimonies and J.H. Kellogg's backing, the health reformers' doctrine of vital force soon became a core doctrine within Seventh-day Adventism. By 1885, Ellen White could declare that health reform had become a central part of SDA theology:

The health reform, I was shown, is a part of the third angel's message and is just as closely connected with it as are the arm and hand with the human body.8

Mrs. White banned meat from those who were preparing for translation, because, after all, what could be more arousing to the animal passions than eating an animal? (See Meat of the Adventist Health Message). Ellen White envisioned a holy, vegan people, who eliminated all animal passions from their hearts:

Meat should not be placed before our children. Its influence is to excite and increase the force of the lower passions, and has a tendency to deaden the moral or higher powers. Grains and fruits prepared free from grease, and in as natural a condition as possible, should be the food for the tables of all who claim to be preparing for translation to Heaven. The less feverish the diet, the more easily can the passions be controlled.

I was instructed that the use of flesh meat has a tendency to animalize the nature, and to rob men and women of the love and sympathy which they should feel for everyone.

Not only this, but they are injuring their families by placing upon their tables a feverish diet which will increase the animal passions of their children and lead them to care but little for heavenly things. The parents are thus strengthening the animal, and lessening the spiritual, powers of their children. What a heavy penalty will they have to pay in the end! And then they wonder that their children are so weak morally!9

The Seal of God was no longer just about keeping Sabbath. Health reform became in integral part of those who would receive the seal of God. When all SDAs adopted the vegan diet, when all sexual desires were finally eliminated, then the Lord could safely place his seal upon his perfected Sabbath-keeping people.

Ellen White's health reforms were not universally accepted in the SDA sect. Some sect members in Iowa rejected the reforms and Dr. Kellogg. Mrs. White warns them that they have not only rejected Kellogg, but God, because "the Lord Himself has been sending you line upon line, precept upon precept."10 Thus, Mrs. White informs sect followers that her health reform teachings originated with the Lord, and to reject them is to reject God. SDAs must adopt a bland vegan diet, avoid marital excess, masturbation, and anything else that might stimulate sexual desire or thoughts. Women must take care to refrain from anything that might excite their husband:

Let the Christian wife refrain, both in word and act, from exciting the animal passions of her husband.11

To avoid arousing the passions of men, she advised SDA women to cover themselves from head-to-toe. She even started wearing trousers underneath her dresses so that not even her naked ankle could be observed. Mrs. White appears shocked that some women were so bold as to expose their naked ankles to men:

It is a common thing to see the dress raised one-half of a yard, exposing an almost unclad ankle to the sight of gentlemen, but no one seems to blush at this immodest exposure. No one's sensitive modesty seems shocked for the reason that this is customary. It is fashion, and for this reason it is endured. No outcry of immodesty is heard, although it is so in the fullest sense.12

One can sense Ellen White's concern that seeing a female's naked ankle might possibly arouse the base passions of SDA men, inciting them to engage in marital excess with their wives or even worse, solitary vice, thus diminishing their vital power, sinning against God, and placing themselves into an early grave. Thus, it is evident that Ellen White adopted the false theories of deluded health reformers and foisted these upon her followers as testimonies, "line upon line," straight from the throne of God. For the better part of a century, SDA couples were terrorized by the thought of sexual excess. Women were burdened with the necessity of severely curtailing their husband's natural desires, restricting their own sexual desires, and wearing clothing covering their bodies from head to toe. It is no wonder that SDAs were known as SADventists!

By the early 1900s, the vital energy theory was refuted by science and the so-called health reform movement fizzled out. It was eventually proven that people who had frequent sex outlived those who refrained, effectively killing the vital force theory. While Ellen White wrote prolifically about it during her early years, she was silent on the subject in her final years. If only God had told her in the 1860s what science would discover in the 1900s, it would have substantiated her prophetic claims. Alas, it has done the opposite.

Ellen White on Provacative Art

Fearing for the souls of her followers and desiring to protect their vital force, Mrs. White made many restrictions that modern generations find odd or extreme. For example, in 1890, Mrs. White warned her followers about the dangers of nude art, seemingly fearful of its corrupting influence:

Exciting love stories and the specimens of nude art displayed in art galleries, have a corrupting influence. The imagination becomes defiled. Then follow sins and crimes which drag beings formed in the image of God down below the level of the brutes, and sink them at last in perdition.13

One problem with this statement is that there is no substantial empirical evidence to suggest that viewing nudity in fine art leads to corruption, crime, or any other negative outcome. Nude art has been prominent in nearly every human culture since the dawn of time. Throughout history, it has been appreciated for its aesthetic, symbolic, and emotional qualities. While some individuals may find it uncomfortable or repulsive, there is no scientific evidence it leads to corruption and crime.

Close-up of Adam and Eve on the cover of the Teal Family Bible

Close-up of Adam and Eve
on the cover of the Teal Family Bible

Close-up of Adam and Eve on the cover of the Teal Family Bible

Engraving of Adam and Eve
inside the Teal Family Bible

It is interesting how Mrs. White dealt with the subject of God creating Adam and Eve naked. This was no doubt alarming to her, because if sect members came across these verses in Genesis or while reading her many commentaries on the Bible, it may trigger them to imagine an unclothed person, which could arouse their animal passions, sending them on a downward progression to perdition. She solved the problem by inventing "garments of light" to cover their naked bodies:

The garments of light which had enveloped them disappeared when they sinned against God.14

A beautiful soft light, the light of God, enshrouded the holy pair.15

The sinless pair wore no artificial garments; they were clothed with a covering of light and glory, such as the angels wear. So long as they lived in obedience to God, this robe of light continued to enshroud them.16

In her versions of the Creation story, Adam and Eve are walking around wearing fake clothing made of light. Thus, whenever SDAs read the first chapters of Genesis and see the word "naked," instead of imagining a naked young couple and having their animal passions ignited, their minds would imagine a couple modestly clothed with holy light. Problem solved. Where did she get this idea? Perhaps from the footnotes in her parent's Teal Family Bible, which stated:

It is the Qpinion of St. Chrysostom and others, that the bodies of Adam and Eve were arrayed in a luminous garment, that they needed no covering of artificial with regard to his body, it was arrayed in light, after the similitude of him who in scripture is said to dwell in light, and to clothe himself with light as with a garment.17

Curiously, on the front of this popular "family" Bible is a picture of Adam and Even naked, as can be seen in the picture on the right.18 Inside the book is yet another engraving showing Adam and Eve naked. Hopefully, the Bible did not fall open to this page when she supposedly lofted it in vision! Otherwise, it may have corrupted the Advent believers and led them into a life of crime!

Interestingly, she never criticized the Teal Family Bible for having nude pictures of Adam and Eve (who were not clothed with robes of light). This was a popular Bible owned and cherished by many Christians in 19th century America. Apparently, nude pictures were okay so long as they were in the Bible. However, she condemned female nudity in other places:

In the cars, photographs of females in a state of nudity are frequently circulated for sale. These disgusting pictures are also found in daguerrean saloons, and are hung upon the walls of those who deal in engravings. This is an age when corruption is teeming everywhere. The lust of the eye and corrupt passions are aroused by beholding and by reading. The heart is corrupted through the imagination. The mind takes pleasure in contemplating scenes which awaken the lower and baser passions. These vile images, seen through defiled imagination, corrupt the morals and prepare the deluded, infatuated beings to give loose rein to lustful passions. Then follow sins and crimes which drag beings formed in the image of God down to a level with the beasts, sinking them at last in perdition.19

Once again, we find that if someone observes a photograph or painting of a nude woman hanging on the wall (as opposed to being in a family Bible), they may end up in crime. Here again she warns that corrupt passions can also be aroused by reading.

Ellen White Bans Sensual Reading - Quotes Song of Solomon

Ellen White was gravely concerned that "corrupt passions" could be aroused by reading. Interestingly, she writes to SDAs and quotes from Song of Solomon, a fine piece of erotic literature involving various highly sensual encounters between a betrothed (but unmarried) couple. Several times in her writings she quotes from Song of Solomon 2:3. Below she instructs teachers and children with this verse:

Happy will it be for the children of our homes and the students of our schools when parents and teachers shall learn in their own lives the precious experience pictured in these words from the Song of Songs: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, So is my Beloved among the sons. I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste."20


"His fruit was sweet to my taste"

In this passage, the young woman is pictured underneath the man "with great delight." The woman speaks of her lover, saying "his fruit was sweet to my taste." The fruit "apples" is not the best translation of the Hebrew. Hebrew scholar Robert Alter notes that it is more likely to be fruit from an apricot or quince tree. He goes on to explain that "fruit" in the Song of Solomon is "associated with sexual gratification."21 It will be left to the reader to figure out exactly what the young woman was doing with those apricots, but suffice it to say, the passage is sensual.

Hopefully none of Mrs. White's readers caught on to the actual meaning of this passage and got corrupted. Although quoting over 80 times from Song of Solomon, she never quotes from the passages that picture the man and woman in various states of undress, nor from the other passages that describe various sensual activity in graphic and picturesque words. For those SDAs who read her writing rather than the Bible, they were most likely shielded from this sensuality. Hopefully her followers never read the inspired book of Song of Solomon; otherwise, it could have corrupted their imagination, the mind taking pleasure in contemplating scenes which awakens the lower and baser passions, thus defiling the imagination, corrupting the morals and preparing the deluded, infatuated beings to give loose rein to lustful passions, ultimately sinking them at last in perdition!

Hypocrisy on Nudity?


Milan Cathedral, Italy

Since Ellen White regarded "nude art displayed in art galleries" as having "a corrupting influence," and since she believed that pictures of "females in a state of nudity" hung upon walls arouse "corrupt passions," one would think she would do everything in her power to keep this corrupting influence away from herself and her children. However, when she went to Europe, supposedly to do "missionary" work in Christian nations, she visited museums and cathederals with fine art. In 1886, she visited the grand cathedral in Milan. Arthur White writes that she was...

...favorably impressed by 'the windows and walls ... adorned with high-colored pictures, painted by the finest Italian artists. These paintings represent scenes in Bible history and in traditional church history. It seemed to me that I never saw such a gorgeous combination of colors.'22

She was accompanied on this visit by her son Willie and his wife. In the Review she wrote about seeing all of the "exterior with three thousand marble statues" and remarked that she was "impressed with its grandeur and immensity, and the artistic skill displayed in its design and execution."23

What kind of statues were present? What paintings did this gallery display? As can be seen in the one example on the right, a good number of those marble statues that she found so impressive contain some element of nudity. The same is true of some of the paintings inside the cathedral. One can only hope this did not corrupt her son and his wife or influence them to engage in marital excess.


Museum in Nimes, France

Later that same year, Mrs. White and her family were visting more European museums. She and her family travelled to Nimes, France, once again on "mission" work in this Christian nation. She visisted the famous art museum in Nimes. What did she find in this musuem? In a private letter to her grandniece Addie (released in 2014), she wrote of seeing the "statuaries in marble" and mentions being in the "museum which is of the finest work of art."24 What exactly are those statues?

As it turns out, many of the statues in the city and the musuem are fully nude! Some, such as the nude male shown on the left, do not even have any strategically placed fig leaves to cover their obviously visible secret parts. Since she wrote that "nude art displayed in art galleries" has "a corrupting influence," was she corrupted? Did she cause her son and his wife to become corrupted? Do her writings reflect that corruption? Why did she tell her followers to shun "nude art displayed in art galleries" while she and her family were soaking up "nude art displayed in art galleries" while on their European vacation/mission trip? Why did she write private letters to family members about the experience being so wonderful and enthralling, while publically she was warning others against doing what she did?

In October of 1886, she reported about her "mission" trip to explore the Louvre in Paris, France, with her son Willie. She wrote of going... "...through the long galleries of art. And those are the scenes, thought I, that charm and fascinate the senses of men and women in this age. Pictures were displayed that the eyes of children and youth and no human eye should rest upon; they were earthly, sensual, devilish, traced by pencil and brush of a hand with a corrupt soul."25 She appears to be describing the nude artwork, which is plentiful in the Louvre. If this artwork was "delvilish" and unfit for the "human eye," then why was she at the Louvre viewing it with her family?

Nudity and Doctors

Ellen White seems to be horrified by the thought of male doctors treating unclothed female patients. She was no doubt highly concerned that viewing an unclothed ill person from the opposite sex might inflame the animal passions of SDA physicians. She writes:

Women should be educated and qualified just as thoroughly as possible to become practitioners in the delicate diseases which afflict women, that their secret parts should not be exposed to the notice of men. There should be a much larger number of lady physicians, educated not only to act as trained nurses, but also as physicians. It is a most horrible practice, this revealing the secret parts of women to men, or men being treated by women. Women physicians should utterly refuse to look upon the secret parts of men. Women should be thoroughly educated to work for women, and men to work for men. Let men know that they must go to their own sex, and not apply to lady physicians. It is an insult to women, and God looks upon these things of commonness with abhorrence. While physicians are called upon to teach social purity, let them practice that delicacy which is a constant lesson in practical purity. Women may do a noble work as practicing physicians; but when men ask a lady physician to give them examinations and treatments which demand the exposure of private parts, let her refuse decidedly to do this work.26

Ellen White proposes that if a man requests treatment from a female physician regarding his "private parts," she should refuse to treat him. Do SDA medical schools and hospitals follow this testimony? Thankfully, no. It would be grossly unethical for a female doctor not to treat a man, or a male doctor to refuse to treat a woman for this reason. She said it was a "horrible practice" for women to reveal their "secret parts" to men, but what did Ellen White do? Being sickly most of her life, she visited physicans with some regularity. She had male physicians for most of her life. In fact, when she went to Our Home on the Hillside, it was doctor Caleb Jackson who examined her (and declared her to be a victim of hysteria), not the sanitarium's female physician, Harriet Austin.

Ellen White Explains How Sex Causes Disease

In 1900, Mrs. White explained the mechanism of how sex (passions indulged) caused disease and mental impairment:

The lower passions are to be strictly guarded. The perceptive faculties are abused, terribly abused, when the passions are allowed to run riot. When the passions are indulged, the blood, instead of circulating to all parts of the body, thereby relieving the heart and clearing the mind, is called in undue amount to the internal organs. Disease comes as the result. The mind cannot be healthy until the evil is seen and remedied.27

Thus, sex causes blood to stop circulating to the entire body thereby causing blood to pool in the internal organs which then causes disease and an unhealthy mind. Really? The SDA corporation should alert medical authorities of this "truth" that is "years ahead of science."


This article does not condemn Mrs. White for viewing nude art in Europe or visiting male doctors when female doctors were available. There is nothing wrong or evil about what she did. The problem is that she incorporated into her writings some of the paranoid sentiments of her day, which her followers then assumed were inspired by God. Furthermore, she failed to live out those hyper-moral restrictions in her own life. She warned others to avoid nude art while she and her family enjoyed it immensely when in Europe. How many SDAs have missed out on the opportunity to go to a museum and view fine art out of terror that they might get aroused and end up in perdition?

Ellen White warned others about the "horrible" practice of being treated for private problems by a doctor of the opposite sex, and yet she visited doctors of the opposite sex. Today, SDA obstetricians, urologists, and gynecologists, along with most SDA patients, routinely ignore her antiquated advice because it is both unethical and impractical. And yet, how can they still insist her misguided writings are inspired when they routinely ignore them and when Ellen White did not even follow them herself?

The bottom line is that the fake theory of vital force—which could rightfully be called a doctrine of demons—was abandoned in the early nineteenth century as hopelessly flawed. With it, Mrs. White's dire testimonies about "animal passions" find their rightful place in the trash heap of history.

The "testimony of the Lord is sure [confirmed, established, verified, reliable, faithful, trustworthy]" (Psalm 19:7). The testimonies of Ellen White are not. Therefore, they are not from the Lord.

See also


1. Ellen White, A Solemn Appeal (1870), 102. See also Signs of the Times, Sep. 29, 1881:

Intemperance in eating and drinking leads to the indulgence of the animal passions. And those who, understanding the effect of their course, indulge appetite and passion at the expense of health and usefulness, are preparing the way to disregard all moral obligations. When temptation assails them, they have little power of resistance. This was the cause of Israel's continual backsliding; and it is the reason why there is so much crime and so little true godliness in the world today.

2. Ellen White, Manuscript 145, 1906.

3. Ellen White, Testimony for the Church 25, (1875), 9.

4. Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church vol. 2, (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1885), 410.

5. Ellen White, Testimony 17, (1869), 185-186.

6. O.S. Fowler, Private Lectures on Perfect Men, Women and Children, in Happy Families: Including Gender, Love, Mating, Married Life, and Reproduction, Or Paternity, Maternity, Infancy and Puberty (NY: Sharon Station, self-published 1883), 120. The Whites quoted from Fowler in A Solemn Appeal (1870), 200.

7. John Harvey Kellogg, Plain Facts for Old and Young, (Burlington, Iowa: Segner & Condit, 1881), 465.

8. Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church vol. 4, (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1885), 486.

9. Ellen White, Testimony for the Church no. 17 (1869), 191. Ellen White, Manuscript 50, 1904 (5MR 408). Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church vol. 2, 365.

10. Ellen White, Letter 177, May 7, 1901. To Brethren and Sisters of the Iowa Conference.

11. Ellen White, A Solemn Appeal (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1870), 178.

12. Ellen White, Health Reformer, May 1, 1872.

13. Ellen White, Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene, (Battle Creek, MI: Good Health Publishing Co., 1890), 137.

14. Ellen White, Signs of the Times, Feb. 13, 1896. See also Manuscript 7a, 1896.

15. Ellen White, Christ's Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1900), 310.

16. Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1890), 45. After the fall, the Teal Family Bible explains how the couple became naked: "they were stripped of that robe of glory with which their bodies were adorned as a badge of their innocence and immortality" (note on Gen. 3:7).

17. Teal Family Bible note on Genesis 2:25. See Ronald D. Graybill, PDF of Joseph Teal, The Columbian Family and Pulpit Bible, 1822. Published in PDF form 2021, Ronald D. Graybill.

18. Ibid. In addition to these, engravings of "Noah" and "The Finding of Moses" include nudity.

19. Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church vol. 2, 410.

20. Ellen White, Education, (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903), 261. See also Manuscript 128 (1897) and Letter 79, 1902, to Elder Franke. Notice that Ellen White capitalizes "Beloved" and "His" even though they are not capitalized in the KJV Bible, and this verse is talking about the male partner of the young woman, not Jesus.

21. Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. The Writings, (NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009), 591.

22. Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years: 1876-1891 vol. 3, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1984), 175.

23. Ellen White, Review and Herald, June 1, 1886.

24. Ellen White, Letter 109, 1886.

25. Ellen White, Manuscript 75, 1886.

26. Ellen White, Letters from Ellen G. White to Sanitarium Workers (1911), 13-14.

27. Ellen White, "Words of Instruction to Physicians and Nurses," Manuscript 24, April 3, 1900.

Category: Shut Door
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below