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Castration, gelding, neutering, orchiectomy, or orchidectomy is any action, surgical, chemical, or otherwise, by which a biological male loses use of the testes. This causes sterilization, i.e. prevents him from reproducing; it also greatly reduces the production of certain hormones, such as testosterone. It should not be confused with penectomy, which is the whole or partial removal of the penis, nor with vasectomy, which is a procedure to sterilize a male by blocking the vasa deferentia, the tubes which connect the testicles to the prostate.

The term “castration” is sometimes also used to refer to the removal of the ovaries in the female, otherwise known as an oophorectomy or, in animals, spaying. This is similar to male castration, as it causes females to stop producing Oestrogen, and makes them infertile.

Castration in humans


The practice of castration has roots before recorded human history. Castration was frequently used in certain cultures, such as in Europe, the Middle East, India, Africa or China, for religious or social reasons. After battles, winners castrated their captives or bodies of the defeated to symbolise their victory and ‘seize’ their power. Castrated men – eunuchs – were often admitted to special social classes. Eunuchs were also often used to guard harems. Castration also figured in a number of religious cults. Other religions, for example Judaism, were strongly opposed to the practice. Indeed, eunchs in China have been known to usurp power in many parts of Chinese history, most notably in the Ming Dynasty.

African slave traders also frequently castrated their charges in order to increase their commercial value. After denying the victim fluids for a day or two, they would sever the penis and testicles, and use a hot iron to cauterise the wound closed. They would then force the prospective slave to drink so that hopefully the pressure of the bladder would be able to force an opening in the wound for urine. It is estimated that 90% of the slaves so treated died in the attempt, however, castrated slaves were greatly valued and sought both in Europe and in the East, where Christians and Jews formally discouraged the practice but informally were happy to purchase already-castrated slaves from Muslim traders.

In Europe, when women were not permitted to sing in church or cathedral choirs in the Roman Catholic Church, young boys were sometimes castrated to prevent their voices breaking at puberty and to develop a special high voice. These men, known as castrati were very popular in the Eighteenth Century. The practice of employing castrati lasted longest in Italian churches, most notoriously in the Sistine Chapel Choir. [1] [2]

Remains of transsexual and transgendered people from as far back as the Roman era have been uncovered and confirmed to have undergone castration.

Castration in humans has been proposed, and sometimes used, as a method of birth control in certain poorer regions.


Surgical removal of both testicles or chemical castration may be carried out in the case of prostate cancer, as hormone testosterone depletion treatment to slow down the cancer, or as testosterone depletion treatment to greatly reduce sexual drive/interest in those with ‘deviant’sexual drives/obsessions and/or behaviors. [3]

Transsexual women, as well as some transgendered people, often undergo castration. Castration can be done before, during, or in place of sex reassignment surgery.

A temporary chemical castration has been studied and developed as a preventive measure and punishment for several repeated sex crimes such as rape or other sexually related violence. Voluntary chemical or surgical castration has been in practice in many countries; reports are available from Scandinavian and European countries in particular, for the past eighty plus years (chemical for the last thirty or so years) as a an option for effective treatment of child molesters, rapists and sexual sadists, allowing them to return to the community from otherwise lengthy detentions. In the case of chemical castration, on-going regular injections of anti-androgens are required. Physical castration is highly effective as, historically, it results in a 20-year re-offence rate of less than 2.2%, much lower than what was otherwise expected.

Unfortunately, chemical castration seems to be even harder on bone density than is physical castration. Since the developement of Forteo, this severe bone loss has been able to be reversed in nearly every case… At this time there is a limitation on the use of this medication to 24 months, until the long-term use is better evaluated. There is also evidence that voluntary castration is used in modern societies for reasons such as control of libido, body modification, and in some cases of extreme sexual masochism, for purposes of sexual excitement (see paraphilia and apotemnophilia). With the advent of chemical castration, physical castration is not generally reccommended by the medical community.

An underground network of castrators (generally called “cutters”) without medical licenses has formed. Surgery performed by untrained personnel outside a properly equipped medical facility is dangerous, and there have been cases of severe bleeding and other medical emergencies. Alternatively, self-castration (or autocastration) is occasionally performed, though it carries significant risk. Many who desire castration travel to developing countries, where medicine is less tightly regulated, and have the procedure performed by a doctor.

Medical consequences

A subject of castration who is castrated before the onset of puberty will retain his high voice, slight build and small genitals, will not develop pubic hair, and will have a small sex drive or none at all. This practice was used to maintain angel-like voices for choir boys in service of the church during the Middle Ages. In the baroque music era these singers were highly appreciated by the Opera composers as well. Famous castrati include: Farinelli, Senesino, Carestini and Caffarelli. The Last “castrato” was Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) who served in the Vatican church.

In ancient times, castration often involved the total removal of all the male genitalia. This involved great danger of death due to bleeding or infection, and in some states, such as the Byzantine Empire, was seen as the same as a death sentence. Removal of only the testicles had much less risk. That said, the Hijras of India still practice the total removal of the male genitalia.

Castrations after the onset of puberty will typically reduce the sex drive considerably or eliminate it altogether. Castrates can, however, still have erections, orgasms and ejaculations. The voice will normally not change. Some castrates report mood changes, such as depression or a more serene outlook on life. Body strength and muscle mass can decrease somewhat. Body hair may or may not decrease. Castration prevents male pattern baldness. [4]

In China, male castration of a person who entered the caste of eunuchs under imperial times involved the removal of all genitalia, that is, the removal of the penis, testicles and scrotum. The removed organs were returned to the eunuch, to be interred with him once he dies, so upon rebirth, he could become a whole man again. The penis, testicles and scrotum were euphemistically termed as bǎo (寶) in Mandarin Chinese, which literally means ‘precious treasure’. These were supposedly deep fried and then dried in the wind, before placing into silk pouches. Eunuchs suffered from a range of urogenital problems associated with the removal of their sexual organs, and they had their own specialist doctors who catered to their health needs.

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