What is Castration?

Tara Barnett

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.

A castrated male horse is called a gelding.
A castrated male horse is called a gelding.

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.

Castration can be achieved by removing the testicles.
Castration can be achieved by removing the testicles.

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.

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Veterinarians often provide castration services for pets.
Veterinarians often provide castration services for pets.

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.

Castration is common for livestock.
Castration is common for livestock.

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.

A bull may be castrated to intentionally modify its temperament.
A bull may be castrated to intentionally modify its temperament.

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.

A castrated woman has had her ovaries removed.
A castrated woman has had her ovaries removed.
Castration is commonly done on pet cats and dogs.
Castration is commonly done on pet cats and dogs.

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Discussion Comments

Inaventu

I actually met a man who was castrated after a rape conviction. He told me it probably saved lives, because he knew he wouldn't stop his criminal behavior on his own. He said his sex drive now was practically zero, but before the operation he couldn't look at any female without feeling the compulsion to commit a sex crime.

Phaedrus

I used to read articles about convicted child molesters or serial rapists being chemically (or even physically) castrated, but I don't think the courts order that sort of thing these days. I believe that sexual predators are controlled by a lot of other factors, not just the hormones created in their testicles. Castration only solves a few problems, but probably creates even more complicated legal ones.

We had a case in our city where a school janitor ran a sex ring involving underage students. He would befriend children who seemed especially vulnerable, then offer them money or other things in exchange for sex. He had been doing it for ten years before a victim finally reported him. The judge seriously considered chemical castration, because it was obvious this man was mentally ill and obsessed with sex in general.

The judge finally ordered him into intensive counseling and ten years in prison. He wasn't convinced that castration alone would make the man less of a risk to society.

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