Castration is the surgical removal of the testes through an incision in the scrotum; the penis is not removed. Castration has been suggested—and has been used—as a treatment for sex offenders, such as pedophiles. The testes are the major source of testosterone production in men, and testosterone is a hormone that plays a significant role in the male sex drive. Thus, the argument in favor of castration is that by reducing sexual desire, castration lowers the motivation of some sex offenders to offend, making it a useful treatment for those individuals who have tremendous difficulty resisting their sexual impulses even when punished or treated with intensive counseling. Studies that have compared recidivism among surgically castrated sex offenders with recidivism among sex offenders who have not been castrated show that the former have recidivism rates ranging from 1.3% to 5.8%, while the latter’s recidivism rate may be as high as 52%.
Testosterone production may also be reduced using drugs, instead of surgery, in a treatment called chemical castration. The most common drugs used for this purpose are Depo-Provera and Depo-Lupron. Both are injected intramuscularly, usually once a week. As of 2006, eight states, including Texas (where surgical castration is also permitted), Florida, and California, allow chemical castration for sex offenders. In fact, in Florida it is a mandatory part of the sentence for certain repeat sex offenders. Nevertheless, there is disagreement over the effectiveness of castration for preventing recidivism in sex offenders as well as concern over the side effects of the drugs used for this purpose. For one thing, it is not clear what specific sex offenders may be helped by castration. Most of the studies have focused on only one type of offender, the pedophile, but there are many other sex offenders, such as the serial rapist of adult women, who have not been extensively studied in castration research. Critics of castration also point out that while it does significantly lower sexual drive, it does not completely eliminate sexual arousal or sexual function. Some of the side effects of the drugs used for chemical castration are weight gain, hypertension, mild lethargy, cold sweats, nightmares, hot flashes, and muscle aches. While there is no evidence to date that these drugs increase men’s risk of cancer, the long-term effects of the drugs are still not known.
- Berlin, F. S. (2000). The etiology and treatment of sexual offending. In D. H. Fishbein (Ed.), The science, treatment, and prevention of antisocial behaviors (pp. 21-1–21-15). Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.
- Freund, K. (1980). Therapeutic sex drive reduction. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia, 287, 1–39.
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