Not to be confused with Penectomy or Penis removal.
"Orchi" redirects here. For the village in Iran, see Orchi, Iran.

Castration (also known as neutering) is any action, surgical, chemical or otherwise, by which a biological male loses use of the testes (orchiectomy). This causes sterilization, i.e. prevents them from reproducing; it also greatly reduces the production of certain hormones, such as testosterone.

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. The estrogen that the females produce becomes obsolete with this surgical procedure.

The procedure may be purposely performed on humans variously as a punishment, or to decrease the libido of sex offenders. In animals, castration is intended for favouring a given desired development of the animal or of its habits, or preventing overpopulation.


The practice of castration has its roots before recorded human history.[1] Castration was frequently used for religious or social reasons in certain cultures mainly South Asia, Africa, and East Asia. After battles in some cases, winners castrated their captives or the corpses of the defeated to symbolize their victory and seize their "power". Castrated men — eunuchs – were often admitted to special social classes and were used particularly to staff bureaucracies and palace households: in particular, the harem. Castration also figured in a number of religious castration cults. Other religions, such as Judaism, were strongly opposed to the practice. The Leviticus Holiness code, for example, specifically excludes eunuchs or any males with defective genitals from the priesthood, just as castrated animals are excluded from sacrifice.

Eunuchs in China had been known to usurp power in many eras of Chinese history, most notably in the Later Han, late Tang and late Ming Dynasty. There are similar recorded Middle Eastern events.

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.

Either surgical removal of both testicles or chemical castration may be carried out in the case of prostate cancer.[2] Testosterone-depletion treatment (either surgical removal of both testicles or chemical castration) is used to slow down the cancer, greatly reduce sex drive or interest in those with sexual drives, obsessions, or behaviors, or any combination of those that may be considered deviant. Castration in humans has been proposed, and sometimes used, as a method of birth control in certain poorer regions.

Male-to-female transsexuals often undergo orchiectomy, as do some other transgender people. Orchiectomy may be performed as part of a more general sex reassignment surgery, either before or during other procedures. It may also be performed on someone who does not desire, or cannot afford, further surgery.


Involuntary castration appears in the history of warfare, sometimes used by one side to torture or demoralize their enemies. It was practiced to extinguish opposing male lineages and thus allow the victor to sexually possess the defeated group's women.


Edward Gibbon's famous work Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire reports castration of defeated foes at the hands of the Normans during their invasions of Sicily and Italy. Castration has been used in modern conflicts, such as the Janjaweed militiamen currently (as of 2005) attacking citizens of the Darfur region in Sudan, often castrating villagers and leaving them to bleed to death.[3]

In the medieval kingdom of Georgia, the pretender Demna was castrated by his uncle George III of Georgia to ensure the supremacy of George's branch of the family.[4]

Another famous victim of castration was the medieval French philosopher, scholar, teacher, and (later) monk Pierre Abélard. He was castrated by relatives of his lover, Héloïse.

Bishop Wimund, a 12th-century English adventurer and invader of the Scottish coast, was castrated.

In medieval England those found guilty of high treason were hanged, drawn and quartered, which often included emasculation or removal of the genitalia.

William Wallace, the Scottish resistance leader, was castrated as part of his execution, for resistance to English rule.

Wim Deetman has been criticised by the Dutch parliament for failing to include evidence of castration[5] in his report on sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic Church, when children were 'punished' by castration in the 1950s for reporting sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.

In 1952, Alan Turing, the father of computer science and also the inventor of Turing machine was criminally prosecuted for homosexuality and chemically castrated as a sentence by British governemnt.


According to legend, during the reign of the legendary Emperor Shun and Yu in China, in 2281 BC castration was passed into law as a punishment, which remained so until the reign of Gaozu of Tang (589–600 AD). However, it was still practiced after his reign.[6] According to historians, it was incorporated into Chinese law during the Zhou Dynasty.[7] It was one of the five physical punishments that could be legally inflicted on criminals in China.[8]

Records of castrations in China date to the Shang dynasty, when the Shang Kings castrated prisoners of war.[9][10] During the reign of King Mu of Zhou the Minister of Crime, Marquis Lu, reformed the law in 950 BC to make it easier for people to be sentenced to castration instead of death.[11] As long as the practice existed in In China, not only were the testicles merely removed but castration included the severing of one's entire genitalia. Both organs were cut off with a knife at the same time.[12]

In Han dynasty China castration continued to be used as a punishment for various offences.[13][14] Sima Qian, the famous Chinese historian, was castrated by order of the Han Emperor of China for dissent.[15] In another incident multiple people, including a chief scribe and his underlings, were subjected to castration.[16]

Some legends say that Genghis Khan was castrated by a Tangut princess using a knife, who wanted revenge against his treatment of the Tanguts and to stop him from raping her.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

When the Chinese overthrew Mongol rule and established the Ming dynasty, many Mongols were castrated and turned into eunuchs.[24]

During the Miao Rebellions (Ming Dynasty), Chinese commanders castrated thousands of Miao boys when their tribes revolted, and then distributed them as eunuch slaves as gifts to various officials.[25]

The sons and grandsons of the rebel Yaqub Beg in China were all castrated. Surviving members of Yaqub Beg's family included his 4 sons, 4 grandchildren (2 grandsons and 2 granddaughters), and 4 wives. They either died in prison in Lanzhou, Gansu, or were killed by the Chinese. His sons Yima Kuli, K'ati Kuli, Maiti Kuli, and grandson Aisan Ahung were the only survivors in 1879. They were all underage children, and put on trial, sentenced to an agonizing death if they were complicit in their father's rebellious "sedition", or if they were innocent of their fathers crimes, were to be sentenced to castration and serving as a eunuch slave to Chinese troops, when they reached 11 years old, and handed over to the Imperial Household to be executed or castrated.[26][27][28] In 1879, it was confirmed that the sentence of castration was carried out, Yaqub Beg's son and grandsons were castrated by the Chinese court in 1879 and turned into eunuchs to work in the Imperial Palace.[29] The last remaining Imperial eunuch, Sun Yaoting died in 1996.

Conquest Dynasties

Many of the nomadic non-Chinese peoples who founded states in China after invading originally did not have eunuchs as part of their culture, but adopted it from the Chinese.


The Khitan adopted the practice of using eunuchs from the Chinese and the eunuchs they used were non-Khitan prisoners of war. The Khitan adopted the practice of using eunuchs from the Chinese and the eunuchs were non-Khitan prisoners of war. The Khitan were a nomadic Mongolic people and originally did not have eunuchs as part of their culture.[30] When the Khitan founded the Liao Dynasty they developed a harem system with concubines and wives and adopted eunuchs as part of it. The eunuchs were not Khitan and they came from two sources, all of their eunuchs were captured ethnic Chinese from the Central Plains. The Khitan captured Chinese people who were already eunuchs at the Jin court when they invaded of the Later Jin Dynasty. Another source was during their war with the Chinese Song dynasty, the Khitan would raid China, capture Han Chinese boys as prisoners of war and emasculate them to become eunuchs. The emasculation of captured Chinese boys guaranteed a continuous supply of eunuchs to serve in the Liao Dynasty harem. The Empress Dowager Chengtian played a large role in the raids to capture and emasculate the boys.[31]

The Khitan Empress Dowager Xiao Chuo (Chengtian) of the Khitan Liao state took power at age 30 in 982 as a regent for her son. She personally led her own army against the Song Chinese in 986 and defeated them in battle,[32][33][34][35][36] fighting the retreating Chinese army. She then ordered the castration of around 100 ethnic Chinese boys she had captured in China, supplementing the Khitan's supply of eunuchs to serve at her court, among them was Wang Ji'en. The boys were all under ten years old and were selected for their good looks.[37][38][39][40]

The History of Liao 遼史 described and praised Empress Chengtian's capture and mass castration of Chinese boys in a biography on the Chinese eunuch Wang Ji'en.[41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51]


Records show that the Vietnamese created eunuchs through castration in a painful procedure by removing the entire genitalia with both penis and testicles being cut off with a sharp knife or metal blade. The procedure was agonizing since the entire penis was cut off.[52][53][54][55][56][57][58] The young man's thighs and abdomen would be tied and others would pin him down on a table. The genitals would be sterilized with pepper water and then cut off. A tube would be then inserted into the urethra to allow urination during healing. Any facial hair such as the beard would fall off and the eunuch's voice would become like a girl's.[59] The eunuchs served as slaves to the Vietnamese palace women in the harem like the consorts, concubines, maids, Queen, and Princesses, doing most of the work.[60][61][62][63][64][65] The only man allowed in the Palace was the Emperor, the only others allowed were his women and the eunuchs since they were not able to have sexual relations with the women. The eunuchs were assigned to do work for the palace women like massaging and applying make up to the women and preparing them for sex with the Emperor.[66][67][68][69]

In the Lê Dynasty the Vietnamese Emperor Lê Thánh Tông was aggressive in his relations with foreign countries including China. A large amount of trade between Guangdong and Vietnam happened during his reign. Early accounts recorded that the Vietnamese captured Chinese whose ships had blown off course and detained them. Young Chinese men were selected by the Vietnamese for castration to become eunuch slaves to the Vietnamese. It has been speculated by modern historians that the Chinese who were captured and castrated by the Vietnamese were involved in trade between China and Vietnam instead of actually being blown off course by the wind and they were punished as part of a crackdown on foreign trade by Vietnam.[70][71][72][73][74][75][76][77][78][79][80][81][82][83]

Several Malay envoys from the Malacca sultanate were attacked and captured in 1469 by the Lê Dynasty of Annam (Vietnam) as they were returning to Malacca from China. The Vietnamese enslaved and castrated the young from among the captured.[84][85][86][87][88]

A 1472 entry in the Ming Shilu reported that when some Chinese from Nanhai county escaped back to China after their ship had been blown off course into Vietnam, where they had been forced to serve as soldiers in Vietnam's military. The escapees also reported that they found out up to 100 Chinese men remained captives in Vietnam after they were caught and castrated by the Vietnamese after their ships were blown off course into Vietnam. The Chinese Ministry of Revenue responded by ordering Chinese civilians and soldiers to stop going abroad to foreign countries.[89][90][91][92] China's relations with Vietnam during this period were marked by the punishment of prisoners by castration.[93][94]

A 1499 entry in the Ming Shilu recorded that thirteen Chinese men from Wenchang including a young man named Wu Rui were captured by the Vietnamese after their ship was blown off course while traveling from Hainan to Guangdong's Qin subprefecture (Qinzhou), after which they ended up near the coast of Vietnam, during the Chenghua Emperor's rule (1447 - 1487). Twelve of them were enslaved to work as agricultural laborers, while the youngest, Wu Rui (吳瑞) was selected for castration since he was the only young man and he became a eunuch attendant at the Vietnamese imperial palace in Thang Long. After years of service, he was promoted at the death of the Vietnamese ruler in 1497 to a military position in northern Vietnam. A soldier told him of an escape route back to China and Wu Rui escaped to Longzhou. The local chief planned to sell him back to the Vietnamese, but Wu was rescued by the Pingxiang magistrate and then was sent to Beijing to work as a eunuch in the palace.[95][96][97][98][99][100]

The Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư records that in 1467 in An Bang province of Dai Viet (now Quảng Ninh Province) a Chinese ship blew off course onto the shore. The Chinese were detained and not allowed to return to China as ordered by Le Thanh Tong.[101][102][103][104][105] This incident may be the same one where Wu Rui was captured.[97]


In 1778, Thomas Jefferson wrote a bill in Virginia reducing the punishment for rape, polygamy or sodomy from death to castration.[106]


Aqa Mohammad Khan Qajar, who established the Qajar Dynasty in Iran (in 18th century), was a victim of castration by officers of the previous kingdom. When he conquered Lotf Ali Khan, the last king of the Zand Dynasty, Qajar had Lotf Ali Khan castrated in revenge.

Slave trade

Early on in Korea, castration consisted of daubing a boy's genitals with human feces and having a dog bite them off.[107] During the Yuan Dynasty, eunuchs became a desirable commodity for tributes, and dog bites were replaced by more sophisticated surgical techniques.[108]

In the over 13 centuries of Arab slave trade in Africa at least 28 million Africans were enslaved and shipped to the Middle East. Whilst it is claimed by some that a vast majority of the male Black slaves, estimated around 80%, were castrated, this makes little sense as slaves were a commodity and used for breeding purposes in order to increase slave owner's stock as they would with cattle. In circumstances by which slaves were castrated, this was often "based on the assumption that the blacks had an ungovernable sexual appetite," but European slaves were also usually castrated, often by non-Muslims to bypass Islamic prohibitions. European "castration centers" existed in Central Europe and other areas beyond Islamic rule, from which eunuchs were then imported.[109]

'The Calipha in Baghdad at the beginning of the 10th Century had 7,000 black eunuchs and 4,000 white eunuchs in his palace."[109] The Arab slave trade typically dealt in the sale of castrated male slaves. Black boys at the age of eight to twelve had their scrotum and penis completely amputated. Around 9 out of 10 bled to death during the procedure, but the high price brought by eunuchs on the market made the practice profitable.

Preventive measure

"Voluntary" chemical or surgical castration has been in practice in many countries—reports are available from American and European countries in particular for over eighty years (chemical for circa thirty)—as an option for treatment for people who have broken laws of a sexual nature, allowing them to return to the community from otherwise lengthy detentions. The effectiveness and ethics of this treatment are heavily debated.

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.[110][111]

In modern times, the Czech Republic practices surgically castrating convicted sex offenders. According to the reports compiled by Council of Europe, a human-rights forum, the central European country physically castrated at least 94 prisoners in the 10 years up to April 2008. The Czech Republic defends this procedure as voluntary and effective.[112] According to Dr. Martin Hollý, director of the Psychiatric Hospital Bohnice in Prague, none of the nearly 100 sex offenders who had been physically castrated had committed further offenses.[113] One serial offender stated that being castrated was the "best decision" he ever made: "On the one hand you have to protect the potential victims and on the other hand I wanted to be protected from myself, I wanted to live like a normal person."[114] Don Grubin, a professor at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience who also runs a chemical castration program backed by the U.K.'s Ministry of Justice, was initially opposed to physical castration. After visiting the Czech Republic, however, he agreed that some form of castration might be of benefit to some sex offenders.[114][115]

Trafficking of boys for prostitution

An article in the Gulf Times revealed a major sex trade in mostly Nepalese boys who were lured to India and sold to brothels in Mumbai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Lucknow and Gorakhpur. One victim was lured from Nepal at the age of 14, sold into slavery, locked up, beaten, starved, and forcibly castrated. He reported that he was held in a brothel with 40 to 50 other boys, many of whom were also castrated. He escaped and made his way back to Nepal. Two Non Government Organizations, one that works with homosexuals in Nepal, and one that works to rescue and rehabilitate trafficked women and children, were co-operating to help and rescue these boys.[116]


In Europe, when women were not permitted to sing in church or cathedral choirs in the Roman Catholic Church, boys were castrated to prevent their voices breaking at puberty and to develop a special high voice. The first documents mentioning castrati are Italian church records from the 1550s.[117] In the baroque and classical music eras these singers were highly appreciated by opera composers as well. Mozart's Exultate Jubilate, Allegri's Miserere and other famous pieces from this period now sung by sopranos and countertenors were written for castrati. Some of the alto parts of Handel's Messiah were first sung by a castrato. Famous castrati include Farinelli, Senesino, Carestini, and Caffarelli. The last castrato was Alessandro Moreschi (1858–1922) who served in the Sistine Chapel Choir.[118] It was not until the late 19th century that the Roman Catholic Church officially condemned the production of castrati.


A number of religions have included castration as a central theme of their practice. These include:

  • The cult of Cybele, in which devotees castrated themselves in ecstatic emulation of Attis: see Gallus.
  • Skoptsy
  • The Valesians.


  • In South Asia, many hijras live in well-defined, organized, all-hijra communities, led by a guru. The power of the hijras as a sexually ambiguous category can only be understood in the religious context of Hinduism. In Hindu mythology, ritual, and art, the power of the combined man/woman, or androgyne, is a frequent and significant theme. Bahuchara Mata, the main object of hijra veneration, is specifically associated with transvestism and transgenderism. All hijra households contain a shrine to the goddess that is used in daily prayer. Hinduism treats the male and female forms of life as complementary, and Lord Shiva, a central figure in Hinduism, combines in himself both eroticism and asceticism. One of the most popular forms of Shiva is Ardhanarisvara, or half-man/half-woman, which represents Shiva united with his shakti (female creative power).[119]


Castration is not a major theme of First Council of Nicea in 325 AD suspended clergy members who practised voluntary castration.

Well-known Christian eunuchs (or alleged eunuchs) include:

  • Origen argues against such literal interpretations of the passages from Matthew and Mark in his First Principles.
  • Bishop Melito of Sardis (d. ca 180), who was a eunuch, according to the church history of Eusebius of Caesarea, though, significantly the word "virgin" was substituted in Rufino's Latin translation of Eusebius.
  • John Wilkes Booth).


Orthodox Judaism[122] forbids the castration of either humans or animals.

In ancient Judaism, castrated animals were deemed unfit for Lev 22:24). Castrated members of the priestly caste were forbidden to enter certain parts of the temple, to approach the altar, or to make sacrifices, although they could eat their share of the offerings (Lev. 21:16–24).


Medical consequences

A subject of castration who is altered before the onset of puberty will retain a high voice, non-muscular build, and small genitals. He may well be taller than average, as the production of sex hormones in puberty—more specifically, estrogen via aromatization of testosterone—stops long bone growth. The person may not develop pubic hair and will have a small sex drive or none at all.

Castrations after the onset of puberty will typically reduce the sex drive considerably or eliminate it altogether. Castrated people are automatically sterile, because the testes (for males) and ovaries (for females) produce sex cells needed for sexual reproduction. Once removed the subject is infertile. The voice does not change. Some castrates report mood changes, such as depression or a more serene outlook on life, although this might not be due to chemical changes but instead emotional changes due to the implications of the procedure. Body strength and muscle mass can decrease somewhat. Body hair sometimes may decrease. Castration prevents male pattern baldness if it is done before hair is lost. However, castration will not restore hair growth after hair has already been lost due to male pattern baldness.[123]

Historically, eunuchs who additionally underwent a penectomy reportedly suffered from urinary incontinence associated with the removal of the penis.[124]

Without hormone replacement therapy (HRT), typical symptoms (similar to those experienced by menopausal women) include hot flashes, gradual bone-density loss resulting in osteopenia or osteoporosis, and potential weight gain or redistribution of body fat to the hips/chest. Replacement of testosterone in the form of gel, patches, or injections can largely reverse these effects, although breast enlargement has also been reported as a possible side effect of testosterone usage.[125]

A study conducted at a mental institution in Kansas, where a large number of male inmates had been castrated, found that the eunuchs lived an average of 14 years longer than the uncastrated men.[126] A similar study of historical eunuchs in Korea's royal court found a 14 to 19 year increase in lifespan compared to intact men of similar socioeconomic background; these eunuchs had a centenarian rate of over 3%.[127]

Psychoanalysis and literary theory

The concept of castration plays an important role in psychoanalysis; see, for example, castration anxiety.

Castration (as a metaphor) also plays an important role in psychoanalytically-influenced literary theory, for example Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence.

In Mexican thriller La Casa del Pelícano, castration is shown as being connected to the Oedipus complex.

Chemical castration

Main article: Chemical castration

In the case of chemical castration, ongoing regular injections of anti-androgens are required. Chemical castration does not actually remove the testicles or ovaries of the subject,[128] nor is it a form of sterilization.[129]

Chemical castration seems to have a greater effect on bone density than physical castration. Since the development of teriparatide, 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.

With the advent of chemical castration, physical castration is not generally recommended by the medical community unless medically necessary or desired, though some have undergone the procedure voluntarily.[130]

Veterinary practice

Main article: Neutering § In males

In male animals, castration involves the removal of the testes, and is commonly practiced on both household pets (for birth control and behaviour modification) and on livestock (for birth control, as well as to improve commercial value).

Parasitic infection

Main article: Parasitic castration

Some parasitic nematodes chemically castrate their hosts. For example, Microphallus pseudopygmaeus chemically castrates its host, the snail Onoba aculeus, and causes it to grow larger than normal.

See also


  2. This paper was presented at the Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast Conference, June 16–18, 1995, at Forest Grove, Oregon, U.S.A. Research for this project was facilitated by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. (Although the link is to a forum, the paper is posted in its full length there since it is not availible online as it was never published. The following links are to papers and articles where the original paper by Jennifer W. Jay was referenced in the bibliography)
  3. 5.Jennifer W. Jay. (1995), The Eunuchs And Sinicization In The Non-Han Conquest Dynasties In China, Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast Conference, June 16-18, 1995, at Forest Grove, Oregon, U.S.A.
  4. "Eunuchs and Sinicization in the Non-Han Conquest Dynasties of China." Selected Papers in ASPAC 1995. Also reprinted in Chinese Culture and Education, Selected Proceedings of the 1995 Annual Meeting of the Chinese-Canadian Academic and Professional Society of Canada, Vancouver, 1995, pp. 25-41.
  5. Jay, Jennifer W
    • University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada
    • Eunuchs and Sinicization in the non-Han Conquest Dynasties of China
  6. [1] [5] Jennifer, W. Jay. The Eunuchs and Sinicization in the Non-Han Conquest of China. A paper presented to the Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast Conference 1995. Not published.]


  • Tuotuo. Liaoshi [History of Liao]. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974 (or Tuotuo, Liaoshi (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974))
  • (Chinese)
  • Patrick Barbier, The World of the Castrati: the History of an Extraordinary Operatic Phenomenon Souvenir, 1996, ISBN 0-285-63309-0
  • Susan Elliott, Reviews in Review of Biblical Literature
  • Travis Nygard and Alec Sonsteby. "Castration." In The Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body, edited by Victoria Pitts, pages 502–507. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.
  • Theresa McCuaig, "Understanding Castration." 2009.
  • (in Chinese) Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  • English language Abstracts of the thesis
      • Research on the System of Imperial Harem in Liao Dynasty
      • Research on the System of Imperial Harem in Liao Dynasty
      • Research on the System of Imperial Harem in Liao Dynasty

External links

  • Castration Through the Ages
  • The Journal of Clinical Endrocrinology and Metabolism
  • Neutering NOT Org Website arguing against the castration of domestic animals
  • Boar taint in pigs selected for components of efficient lean growth rate

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