Castration is any process that causes an animal to lose reproductive viability. The term is used for humans and many animals, often referring to an intentional surgical or chemical process, but also to accidental loss of function. There are many different methods of castrating an animal, and many different reasons why it may be performed intentionally. Side effects of castration when performed safely and medically monitored are manageable for humans, although other castrated animals are known to demonstrate different behaviors than intact animals.
Human castration has been a relatively common procedure throughout history, particularly for men. While it was once common to remove the entirety of the male genitals, it has become much more acceptable to disable only the testicles. Most men do not consider a vasectomy to be castration, even though it meets the definition, because it does not involve complete removal of the testicles and because it is typically reversible.
Female castration is often a more complicated procedure, and sometimes the term is used as a synonym for female genital mutilation. In fact, removal of the female reproductive organs does not require any external modification. Female genital mutilation bears little relation to being castrated. In most cases, women who are castrated have their ovaries removed, thereby ending their reproductive viability.
While it is commonly said that women and men experience few side effects from castration when properly managed, there are many castrated people who feel very differently. In fact, removal of these important organs can affect hormone levels to such a degree that some castrated people feel out of touch with reality, distant in relationships, suicidal, and completely violated by the people who castrated them. Other side effects such as weight gain, heart problems, and bowel problems may also occur. Not everyone experiences castration negatively, but it is still very important to assess all possible options when looking into being castrated for medical reasons or otherwise and to develop a healthy support network if it is absolutely necessary.
Besides humans, other animals may also be altered to prevent reproduction. This may be performed to intentionally modify temperament, such as with bulls or horses. It may also be used as a form of population control for domestic animals. Dogs and cats are commonly castrated to prevent rampant breeding and overwhelmed animal shelters. Some animal rights groups oppose spaying and neutering pets, but it is generally thought that the need to prevent overpopulation makes castrating animals a necessity.
Reproductive functions are seen by many as an integral part of the human experience. Even among those who do not value reproduction, the hormonal functions of the reproductive organs still play a part in a person's quality of life. For both psychological and physical reasons, castrating any animal or human is a complex and contentious issue. It is clear that all animals deserve to have their reproductive and physical needs weighed seriously, even when the ultimate decision is in favor of castration.