Chemical castration has been all over the news lately. R. Kelly’s lawyer Ed Genson claimed he had Kelly “get shots” to kill his libido; the Michael Jackson chemical castration theory has resurfaced following the release of the documentary Leaving Neverland; and a spate of countries like Italy, Mexico and Kazakhstan are calling for the chemical castration of rapists and pedophiles who offend in their respective countries.
If you’re unfamiliar, chemical castration is the process of using pills or injections to dramatically lower libido. In many countries like the U.S., Sweden, South Korea and Canada, it’s used as a court-directed treatment to curb the sexual urges of convicted sex offenders and keep them from reoffending. In eight U.S. states, they can either choose to have it done in exchange for a shorter sentence, or are chemically castrated as part of legally mandated programs.
It really works, too — when administered to men with violent or uncontrollable sexual behaviors, it’s been shown to slash recidivism from 50 percent to between 2 to 5 percent, and tends to be much more effective than therapy or other pharmaceutical interventions. Most often, chemical castration is administered by a doctor who prescribes injections of testosterone-blocking drugs like Lupron or Zoladex. And while their castrating effects are reversible once the drugs wear off, they’re not without their side effects. For example, annihilating a patient’s testosterone can cause menopause-like symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and osteoporosis, and some men who are chemically castrated even develop breasts.
Understandably, chemical castration isn’t something most men want, which is why it’s often used as a punitive measure. However, a small, but increasingly vocal group of non-offending men who pose no risk to themselves or society are doing everything they can to get it done. Online communities like Reddit, PsychForum and Quora are full of men who seek advice for how to do it and what life without a libido is truly like.
This begs a very interesting question: Why would a non-sex offender with a perfectly functional penis and their whole life ahead of them gleefully choose to neuter themselves?
We’re Not Worthy
There are many reasons a man who isn’t a dangerous sex offender might want to chemically castrate himself. In some cases, a health problem like prostate cancer or frequent and uncontrollable boners makes drugs that block testosterone a medical necessity. In others, the desire stems from gender dysphoria or the desire to transition from male to female (testosterone-reducing drugs are frequently used for this purpose, with chemical castration being a common — and often relieving — side effect). And if you’re a pre-teen with an angelic, high-pitched singing voice, taking away your testosterone will preserve its delicate, glass-shattering frequency well into adulthood. (Michael Jackson allegedly had this done, but there’s no proof.)
However, many men also seek out chemical castration for a more surprising and insidious reason: they’re dissatisfied with their sex lives. Multiple Reddit threads written by men looking for advice to chemically castrate themselves cite prolonged virginity, sexless marriages or not having an outlet or a supportive community for homosexual desires as the impetus for impotence, with the general consensus being that being horny and lusting after people is nothing more than a giant waste of time. Some men, like 23-year-old college student Allen (not his real name), take that sentiment a step further — he wants to wipe himself off the sexual map because he doesn’t feel worthy of a libido. Being a eunuch, he tells me, is what he deserves.
Allen first became interested in castrating himself after reading about it online. He’d heard it turned guys into neutralized, libido-free workhorses whose lives improved in the absence of a sex drive, which was exactly what he figured he needed to forget about Jessica. Hell, it would help him forget about all women. Hopefully forever. Then he could focus on school. And life. And not think about girls.
Jessica was just the latest heartbreak in a string of recent rejections he’d faced in a short period of time. First, there was the girl who’d told him to “fuck off” at the bar after he complimented her dress, followed by an endless barrage of Tinder girls who didn’t swipe the same direction he did. Then there was Jessica, who’d acted into him but was apparently just being polite.
It grossed him out that he was so upset by this, he tells me. He didn’t want to be one of “those creepy dudes” who felt entitled to women, but he also didn’t understand why none of them could see that he was a nice guy. “It was just obvious to me that love, or sex, or dating, or any sort of romantic attention was not for me,” he explains. “I spent so much time thinking about these things — which I was never going to get — that I truly, truly disgusted myself. Every time I’d get an erection, I’d feel sick to my stomach because it reminded me of how undeserving I was of using it. I just wanted it to go away.”
A lot of other men feel the same way. In an archived post on r/confession, UselessAcount20 writes about his desire to destroy his libido himself — not because he’s a danger to anyone, but because he feels like his looks and inexperience make him a sexual failure. “I don’t want to have sexual desires anymore,” he writes. “I’m a ugly piece of shit. I don’t deserve to be loved by anyone… I’m 18 and still a kissless virgin.”
Other men like New_Theon_Greyjoy echo these sentiments, but package them in their own depressing interpretations about who is and who is not deserving of intimacy. “Sex is only for the top alpha males and the women they use,” he writes in a post looking for chemical castration advice. “And I’m not an alpha male. Lusting after women who I can never even hope to have is pointless, wrong and a waste of time.” One chemical castration patient even gushed that women became nothing more than objects to him, like “desk lamps,” unless they “said or did something interesting.”
Posts like these get mixed responses online. Some commenters beg the OPs to reconsider, present rational arguments against castration, advocate for the women in the equation and gently suggest therapy over total testosterone recall. Others commiserate, praise them for being brave enough to take such an extreme step and encourage them to move forward safely. “Please do this,” a commenter named Ratnip on a PsychForum thread writes in response to a post from a man considering chemical castration as a solve for his sexless marriage. “Let me know when you get started, and I’ll give you support.”
“Getting started” isn’t exactly easy, though. As psychiatrist Renee Sorrentino of Massachusetts’ Institute for Sexual Wellness tells me, chemical castration for non-sex offenders is both prohibitively expensive and exceedingly rare. The drugs themselves can cost around $1,000 a month for men whose insurance won’t pay for them, and few doctors are trained to manage their patients’ sexual urges and monitor their mental health at the same time. In fact, Sorrentino says that’s why she’s one of just three psychiatrists offering chemical castration in Massachusetts.
Most of the patients she administers are afflicted with paraphilic disorders or problematic sexual behaviors like pedophilia or the impulse to rape, but she says about 20 percent of them ask to be treated for desires that don’t necessarily cross legal boundaries or pose a threat to anyone other than the patient themselves. However, if they feel their desires have significantly derailed their lives, and they haven’t responded to less invasive treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy or SSRIs, Sorrentino says she’ll consider granting their chemical castration request. “Sometimes patients have sexual urges or behaviors that keep them from maintaining jobs or relationships,” she says. “In those cases, if there’s informed consent and some psychosocial dysfunction related to their sexual urges, chemical castration is ethical to do.”
Sorrentino gives the example of one particularly memorable client who had a compulsive (but non-threatening) desire to sleep with prostitutes outside of his marriage. According to an interview he gave with The Cut, he completely — and gleefully — lost the ability to get an erection after she treated him with Lupron. He still had sexual thoughts every now and then, but they were far less frequent, and he felt he could control them. In fact, once his testosterone was being managed, he actually started to feel worthy. “I feel like more of a man now,” he explained. “It was the only way to save my family. … It wouldn’t bother me if I never had sex again for the rest of my life.”
However, while it’s not uncommon for her patients to request chemical castration to control that kind of urge, Sorrentino says she’s never encountered a patient who wants to do it for the reasons that Allen or any of the other men listed above claim. “To me, those seem like deeply psychological or psychiatric symptoms that don’t necessarily sound testosterone-based, so I’m not sure chemical castration would be the right course,” she says. “It’s really intended for men who are having dangerous or problematic sexual urges, not people who are looking to punish themselves for not being sexual enough. I’d recommend anyone feeling that way about themselves see a psychiatrist or another mental health professional before they take more drastic measures.”
Not everyone who wants to be chemically castrated is so convinced that mental health solutions are a better option, though. Some men lie to their doctors about how uncontrollable their urges actually are just to get the drugs, while others, like Allen, attempt to do it themselves. After pouring over chemical castration forums and Reddit threads to find out how other guys were doing it, he settled on a dangerous and sedating cocktail of DXM cough syrup, an acne drug called spironolactone and a generous dosage of Paxil, an antidepressant known to cause side effects like erectile dysfunction and low libido. All three were easy to get: DXM is found in nearly every over-the-counter cough syrup, and he already had the acne and depression to warrant the other scrips from a doctor (who he conveniently neglected to tell about his little plan). “I wanted it that bad,” he tells me, laughing at the lengths he went to destroy his own libido.
Now, after three months on this self-prescribed course of drugs, Allen says he’s finally — blissfully — impotent. “I’ve had a few slip-ups, but I rarely think about sex or get the urge to masturbate anymore,” he tells me, explaining that while he still feels attracted to Jessica and other girls, his body doesn’t respond with the enthusiasm it used to. “It’s really difficult for me to get hard now, which is a relief,” he says. And even though his liver, stomach and increasingly irregular heartbeat stage regular protests against this regimen, he says he’s never felt more himself. “There are side effects I’m sure I’ll have to deal with at some point, but for now, it’s so much easier for me to focus on school and my friends because my sex drive isn’t there to distract me,” he says. “I’ll admit I feel a little numb, but I also haven’t been this carefree since I was a kid.”
Sixty-six-year-old Bill (a Quora poster who agreed to talk to me if he could stay anonymous) hasn’t been so lucky. He became interested in chemical castration after years of living in “bumfuck Arkansas” as an in-the-closet gay man who was finding it increasingly difficult to meet guys as he aged. That really took a toll on his self-esteem, and he’s been solitary for longer than he’d like. “It’s hard enough to meet up with men where I live, but it’s even harder when you’re my age,” he says. “With all these apps now, it’s like you get one gray hair and you’re toast. I’d rather be proactive and take myself out of the game so I can leave that part of my life behind.”
Bill tells me he wanted to do things the “natural way,” so he tried chemically castrating himself with a combination of homegrown weed and licorice (which, according to this Gizmodo article is a pretty effective libido killer if you eat way more of it than you’re supposed to). So far, however, he’s only been able to achieve a mild case of erectile dysfunction. “My erections are marginally weaker, but it hasn’t stopped the consuming thoughts,” he says. “I’m trying to find a doctor who will help, but for now, I still want what I can’t have.”
An Imperfect Solution
The substances Bill was using were probably too weak to get the full effect, but still, his experience highlights a glitch in the matrix. While chemically castrating themselves with drugs or universally hated natural candies might temporarily tame their boners or turn the volume down on obsessive thoughts, it doesn’t fix men’s loneliness or their deep-seated insecurities. It’s not a Band-Aid for heartbreak; nor is it capable of removing the enormous social weight we put on men to be virile, sexually experienced fuck automatons. In fact, whether they’re a violent offender or not, chemical castration can’t solve any of the problems that lead to their problematic urges, behaviors or insecurities in the first place. All it can really do, says Sorrentino, is keep violent, uncontrollable or dangerously compulsive sexual desire at bay.
That’s helpful if you’re someone who fits that bill, but it’s probably not so much if you’re just using it to avoid the inconvenient truths and occasional pains of being a guy who’s trying to figure out how you fit into the murky, often fraught world of sex and relationships.
Still, the men who have it done genuinely seem to be happier without their sex drives. “To be on medication was incredible,” says one Reddit Ask Me Anything poster who volunteered to chemically castrated himself as part of a clinical drug trial. “Losing my libido transformed me into being prolific in so many other ways.” The fact that many men also take SSRIs and other antidepressants alongside their chemical castration drugs probably doesn’t hurt — they can treat psychiatric symptoms and give people an increased feeling of control over their emotions, says Sorrentino.
Their testimonials aside, though, is it really better to numb the pain and awkwardness of sex and dating — the same pain and awkwardness we all feel sometimes — or to work through it in the hopes that you come out stronger in the end? In a culture hellbent on popping pills and finding quick fixes for everything from exercise to romantic heartbreak, the answer, for men like Allen, is probably going to be the former. “I’m not really interested in what societal forces contributed to me feeling this way,” he explains. “I just know it’s better for me not to feel it.” This redditor agrees, arguing that everyone, not just convicted sex offenders, should have the right to take themselves out of the game if the game is too tough to play. “People shouldn’t have to suffer while they watch the rest of society benefit from being more attractive and confident,” he writes in a thread on r/changemyview. “Why deal with something so pesky as sexual desire if nothing will ever come of it?”
That we live in a culture that puts so much pressure on men to be sexual that castrating themselves seems like the only option for escape is, of course, indicative of a much more insidious problem: the toxic gender role that says a man’s worth is based not only on the potency of his sexuality, but the form and the function of his cock. Coupled with #MeToo, the movement to make men more accountable for how they exact their desires, and the gradual unmasking of many male heroes as repugnant sexual predators, it’s not hard to see how the double standard of being too sexual and yet simultaneously not sexual enough could make a guy like Bill or Allen want to tap out altogether.
But, as Sorrentino says, that feeling is really okay. “It’s up to the patient to decide what’s too problematic for them to deal with,” she says. “I don’t think chemical castration is necessarily the right option for everyone who has a problem, but either way, it’s important for men to seek psychiatric help to better understand their desires for it.”