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Voluntary eunuchs: Why do some men choose castration?

Paradoxically, some do it for erotic reasons.
One of Ashurnasirpal II's royal attendants (a eunuch). Alabaster bas-relief from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, Iraq. 9th century BCE.
Credit: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin
Key Takeaways
  • An international team of researchers interviewed 208 men who voluntarily chose to have their genitals removed.
  • When asked why they elected to undergo castration, about half of respondents expressed a desire to achieve their "preferred self." Others sought it out for erotic reasons.
  • About a quarter of the castrated men specifically cited living on a farm and witnessing animal castration as their primary impetus.

Throughout much of China’s multiple-millennia dynastic period, some men chose castration — having their penis and testicles removed — in order to serve as high-ranking imperial civil servants. Unable to father children, these officials would not be tempted to seize power and start their own dynasties, or so the thinking went.

Castrations were also conducted in Europe, albeit for a different reason. Most prominently in Italy, select boys were rigorously trained as singers, then castrated before puberty in order to prevent changes to the larynx (“voice box”), thus preserving a feminized, higher-range, soprano voice. While some “castratis,” as they were called, had a say in their radical alterations, unfortunately, many others did not.

Though rare, some men living in developed countries today freely choose to have their genitals removed. Between 2016 and 2017, an international team of researchers interviewed 208 of them via the Eunuch Archive online community. The scientists described what they learned in a study recently published to the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Why choose castration?

When asked why they elected to undergo castration, about half of respondents expressed a desire to achieve their “preferred self.” They weren’t interested in transitioning to the female gender; they simply didn’t enjoy having a penis. Some were enticed by a “smooth genital appearance.” Others also stated that they had no interest in sex, and thus no need for a penis.

On the other hand, about 13% of interviewees eroticized castration, seeking it out for sexual reasons. Paradoxically, the idea of losing their genitals was a turn-on.

Another 13% referenced being turned toward the procedure by a relationship partner or another castrated individual. A further 10% of respondents perceived psychological benefits from castration, liberating themselves from mind-altering hormones.

“In the Eunuch Archive community, this is often called a ‘eunuch calm’ which has been loosely defined as having both reduced libido and less reactive aggression,” the researchers wrote.

What set these men toward castration in the first place? Many vaguely referenced “media sources,” be it horror movies, books, magazines, the internet, or even the Bible. “A large proportion of voluntary eunuchs were raised in a devout Christian household, so they may have come across castration in the Bible,” the researchers noted. (A section of Matthew 19:12 in the Gospels reads, “There are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake.”)

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About a quarter of the castrated men specifically cited living on a farm and witnessing animal castration as their primary impetus. “This response is consistent with the fact that 27.9% grew up in a rural setting where farm animal castration is a common practice,” the researchers commented. “As an aside, this proportion is approximately two times the proportion of U.S. residents who live in rural areas.”

A smaller proportion of interviewees, slightly less than 5%, also mentioned being influenced by playing with male action figures lacking genitals.

Medical castration

While the number of men voluntarily choosing castration is relatively small across the developed world, as many as 600,000 in North America are living as eunuchs for medical reasons, primarily prostate cancer. Testosterone, the principal male sex hormone, contributes to the cancer’s spread, so shutting it down in the testes via chemical (pharmaceutical drugs) or physical (removal) means saved lives.


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