Compulsion, Anguish, and Castration

Author :- David Ley April 7, 2021, 11:52 a.m.
Compulsion, Anguish, and Castration

“I was willing to chop my testicles off to save the marriage. I was prepared to do it because it made my wife comfortable.”

Men who believe that they are sex addicts are desperate to find some way to control their sexual desires, sometimes taking their desperation to extraordinary lengths.

In March 2021, the City of Atlanta suffered a tragic mass killing, as alleged perpetrator Robert Aaron Long used firearms to kill eight people in “Asian massage parlors” and was apprehended en route to Florida to further target unknown locations associated with the production of pornography. Long, who had spent several months in residential sex addiction treatment, was described by police as having acted “to remove temptations.” Self-identified sex addicts — the condition is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — view themselves as victims, and frequently rage against the actions of sex workers, pornography makers, and people who “inspire lust.” But instead, some rage against themselves, and take extreme measures to contain their own sexuality.

In Out of The Shadows, the book that literally began the modern sex addiction treatment industry, Dr. Patrick Carnes described the tale of a government educational official who lost his career and marriage following a scandal of “pimping and prostitution” (133). This government official was subsequently treated at Johns Hopkins University and was placed on medication and hormone treatment to chemically castrate his sexual desires. (This individual, a formerly highly religious man whom I interviewed in The Myth of Sex Addiction, stopped these medications a short time later, and subsequently rejected the label of sex addict.) This was neither the first nor the last male to seek extreme physical and medical interventions to remove his sexual urges.

In 2008, Shad Meshach published On Becoming A Eunuch: My Story of Sexual Addiction and How I Overcame It. In the 48-page book, he describes his long history of counseling for his sexual urges, and various ineffective interventions, even including a “chastity suit.” Meshach shares that surgical castration was ultimately the only option for him: “I know it is the only solution that can provide a permanent and effective cure for many men out there who are struggling with their own sexual bondage, so that their hope for a normal and healthy life may be restored.”

Since 2007, a small group of researchers has conducted research with a group of men known as “eunuchs” and “wannabe eunuchs,” who pursue voluntary castration (removal of testicles), “penectomy” (removal of penis), or emasculation (the physical removal of both penis and testicles). Not surprisingly, there is a site (eunuch.org) to further discussion and connection for these individuals, featuring hundreds of threads discussing self-identified sexual addicts seeking castration as a cure. Some individuals on the forum are happy with their desire to pursue castration, though little research exists to predict which factors contribute to satisfaction. 

Research that has been conducted on these individuals consistently finds fascinating reasons why they pursue voluntary interventions (distinct from court-ordered chemical castration of convicted sexual offenders):

  • Libido reduction is the most common reason, including:
    • Men who sought removal of their testicles in order to “equalize their sexual desire with that of their wives, who no longer felt sexual." One described that he “wanted his sexual drive to be equal to his wife.” (Johnson, Brett, Roberts, and Wassersug, 2007).
    • Men who seek to control or eradicate sexual urges they fear.
  • Sexual fantasy: Men who fetishized and eroticized the fantasy of having their genitals removed. This motivation was at play in the case of Armin Meiews, the notorious “Roetenburg Cannibal.”
  • Men who felt their sexual urges were condemned by their religious faith: "[O]veractive libido interfered with his Christian walk,” or “I’ve always thought that I penectomized myself as a penance for past sexual sin … I was taught that sexual fun was sinful and degrading.” (Vale, Siemens, Johnson & Wassersug, 2013)
  • Men who were homosexual or bisexual: In one study, gay and bi men made up 61.2% of those who had engaged in voluntary castration, and 77.7% of those who fantasized about or desired castration. (Johnson & Irwig 2014). Though it's unclear from the data, it seems likely that homosexuality and religious condemnation may interact, as men raised in cultures that condemn homosexual urges are at increased risk of self-identification as sex addicts and other forms of sexual self-rejection. 
  • Men who had grown up on farms and witnessed the castration of farm animals
  • Men who had been sexually abused as children
  • Men who had been threatened with castration as children, as punishment for masturbation or sexual behavior: “My mother caught me in the living room … I was having a good time playing with that thing down there that felt good when I touched it. As I recall she … became unglued. She took me into the kitchen, pulled my shorts down around my ankles. She picked up a knife and gripped my little boy thing in the other hand. She asked me If I wanted her to cut it off because I was playing with that thing.” (Vale, Siemens, Johnson & Wassersug, 2013)
  • Men who sought removal of their testicles in order to “equalize their sexual desire with that of their wives, who no longer felt sexual." One described that he “wanted his sexual drive to be equal to his wife.” (Johnson, Brett, Roberts, and Wassersug, 2007).
  • Men who seek to control or eradicate sexual urges they fear.

In one anonymous post, a "wannabe eunuch" sought a cure for his sex addiction, saying: "I have come to think more and more that my life would be better without my out-of-control libido.
I'm not interested in chemical castration
I want them off with a sharp knife." Sex addiction is a consistent theme in the psychology and self-report of those who pursue voluntary castration. As a wealth of research has shown, self-identification as a sex addict is heavily driven by moral and religious conflict over one’s sexual desires, behaviors, and fantasies. Gay and bisexual men are highly likely to be labeled as sex addicts or to self-identify as sexually addicted when they seek help in religious settings where their non-heterosexual desires are seen as sinful or abnormal. Vale, Siemens, Johnson & Wassersug (2013) found that men who had grown up with highly devout, religious parents were far more likely to have actually obtained genital ablation/castration, compared to those who just fantasized about it.

In 2015, an essay in The Cut described “What It’s Like to Be Chemically Castrated.” The article suggested that as many as 20% of the men who seek chemical castration with the drug known as Lupron (coincidentally, the same medication used currently to inhibit puberty in transgender-identified children) are doing so to self-contain sexual desires the men feel they cannot control. A 62-year-old Massachusetts man sought chemical castration after his wife discovered his history of visiting prostitutes. “Identifying as a sex addict, he felt the only way to stop his behavior—and save his 45-year marriage—was to medicate his body into submission.” “I would have done anything to stop,” the man said, referring to his sexual urges like they were a drug high he couldn’t stop himself from chasing. "I need to cut out the behavior, then we can do all the analysis you like,” the man reported he’d told his therapist, before finally being referred for chemical castration. “I was willing to chop my testicles off to save the marriage. I was prepared to do it because it made my wife comfortable.” After that, he reported, “My wife was happy because she knew she didn’t have to worry about me when I wasn’t in her sight.”

For many individuals seeking castration, a complex brew of religious dogmatism and sexual shame feeds their desire for self-mutilation. Many cite Biblical teachings, in support of their thinking:

Jesus said, ‘For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who can receive this receive it’ (Matthew 19:12).

‘If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. You should enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire’ (Mark 9:43).

Early Christians practiced “Christian castration” to maintain chastity, and to renounce erotic desire. This practice was termed the “Skoptic Syndrome.” In February 2018, John Piper pondered the question: “Did Jesus recommend castration to break sex addiction?” Piper, a longtime Christian pastor with millions of followers, wrestles with this complex question. He declares that Jesus did not mandate castration, but neither did he prohibit it. He suggests that there are several different paths towards faithfulness to religious sexual values, and further invites the possibility that Jesus’ words were metaphorical. Rather than physical castration, he considers that Jesus may have been arguing for a “radical call to chaste celibacy.” But he cautions against taking steps that have “permanent and unknown personal effects.”

A unique study in 2016 used transcranial magnetic stimulation to temporarily suppress libido in a laboratory setting, finding the technique was effective at reducing the degree to which highly sexual individuals sought sexual experiences in the week following treatment. However, at this time, the only evidence-based treatments for the constellation of sexual behavior problems commonly known as “sex addiction” are cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. Although some medications such as SSRIs and Naltrexone are sometimes used for treatment, to reduce craving or suppress libido, these are experimental, off-label uses of the medications.

When people are struggling with feelings of self-control, self-loathing, and fear of their sexual urges, a desire to excise them is normal. My colleague Doug Braun-Harvey refers to this as the desire to enact an “eroticectomy.” But such castration, whether physical or psychological, is an act of desperation, not a therapeutic one. In therapy with individuals experiencing such fears that only extreme steps can help them, we focus on treatment that slows things down and explores the moral and relational conflicts that make such desperate acts seem necessary and then work to build greater self-compassion. Effective treatment builds on self-awareness, shame reduction, self-control, and acceptance of one’s sexuality in a healthy manner. Castration, the ultimate act of erotic self-denial, has no place in modern sexual health treatment. 

Sincere appreciation to Dr. Thomas W Johnson for assistance and support in researching this unique phenomenon. 

Originally posted on Psychology Today.

Cover photo by Pixabay