No sex please – we’re eunuchs
Published 03/04/2007 | 16:09
What does it take for a healthy man to choose to have his testicles removed? Roger Davies is one of a surprising number who have found salvation in castration.
Like many sensitive teenagers, Roger Davies felt different from his peers. He wasn’t into sport and abhorred the aggression he saw in other boys. When, at the age of 22, he still hadn’t grown out of his sense of isolation, he took radical action: he travelled to America and underwent castration.
“I’m really happy with who I am now,” says the 25-year-old cleaner and caterer from Southport. “I don’t have any desire to be accepted as a woman or change genders. I just didn’t like my masculinity.”
Roger is not the only British eunuch. He knows around a dozen other men who have also had the operation, and estimates that there are hundreds of others in the UK. According to a Channel 4 documentary to be shown tonight, every year thousands of men across Europe and the US seek out castration.
Last month three men in America who were accused of operating what police described as a sadomasochistic dungeon – where activities included castrations – were sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. But Roger wasn’t seeking a sexual thrill. Quite the opposite. He wanted to dampen down the normal sexual urges that started in puberty. He says he always stood out for being “soft-hearted” and was repeatedly bullied. He was also different in another way – he has never been able to bring himself to stand up while urinating. “It doesn’t feel right. I did try when I first started at primary school, but I couldn’t,” he admits.
He started to resent his testicles, which he refers to as “that part of my body”. “I didn’t like the way it made me feel. It was-n’t me and the feeling escalated with puberty. I really hated the urges to have sex. I didn’t like the idea of going bald or having facial hair either.”
His feelings about his sexuality are ambivalent. “I have cross-dressed a couple of times, but I think gender is a lot more complex than a bipolar idea that society would prescribe. I don’t like to think of myself as a guy and I don’t like to think of myself as a girl either.”
At 16 he discovered an online eunuch community, and learnt of an operation to remove his testicles. A year later, he went to see his GP. “I said I didn’t like that part of my body and I wanted to have it taken away. He said it was a job for a psychiatrist’s couch, not for a surgeon’s table. He implied that I was crazy, and it was really quite hurtful. He probably saw me as a raving lunatic.”
A bilateral orchidectomy [removal of the testicles] is only performed on the NHS for strict medical reasons – cancer (testicular and prostate) and some cases of gender reassignment, which is a recognised medical disorder. Private doctors are governed by the same rules. According to Professor Mayur Lakhani, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, anyone wanting to have their testicles removed for psychological reasons such as Roger’s would automatically be turned down. “We would not support that request because there is no medical indication for it. We must resist this.”
Roger was referred to a psychiatrist, who asked him whether he was hearing voices urging him to do things. He was then referred to a counsellor for behavioural therapy as he was self-harming, much to the alarm of his parents. As soon as the therapy had finished, he started maiming himself again.
Roger eventually found an American doctor, Murray Kim-mel in Philadelphia, who was prepared to do the operation. “He sees a lot of people from our community because he doesn’t require any referral from a psychiatrist,” he says.
Roger’s parents were strongly opposed to him undergoing the procedure. “Things were difficult. They tried to persuade me in any way they could not to go.” But he had the support of his then girlfriend, whom he had met through the online eunuch community. He saved for the £2,000 operation from his Tesco salary, and took out an overdraft.
Before the operation he had a half-hour consultation with the surgeon about why he wanted to be castrated. “At the time I didn’t know why I wanted to have it done,” Roger admits. “I just knew I wanted it. He wanted to make sure that it was the right decision to make. I had to sign a waiver so that I couldn’t sue him for any kind of negligence. He gave me all the opportunities to back out of it.”
The operation took about 40 minutes under local anaesthetic. An incision was made in the centre of the scrotum, the testicles were removed and the incision was sewn up again.
So what effect has it had? “It makes me calmer,” says Roger. “It takes away a lot of the feelings that weren’t me – the sexual urges and things. I’ve become really, really happy with who I am and feel much more comfortable in this body. I feel much more like me.”
He has had a mixed reaction from other people. “All my close friends have been nice about it. I have relationship problems with my parents. From my point of view it does put a strain on the relationship, but we’re working through it.” Indeed, Roger breaks down when he talks about his parents on the Channel 4 documentary. “I’m still alone,” he says. “Castration has-n’t changed anything.”
Currently single, he hopes to one day get married. He recog-nises there will be a number of hurdles to get over. “I think a lot of women will probably want to have children. I guess it’s going to be a difficult one because you can’t wait until a couple of years into the marriage to tell someone, but you can’t really tell someone on the first meeting in case you put them off. The right person probably will accept me for me and it shouldn’t be an issue.” Equally, he may settle down with a man. “I don’t mind if I’m with a guy or a girl, it’s not a problem. I think when I meet the right person I’ll know. I don’t have regrets about the operation, but I do wonder if things could have been different if I had been born a really, really heterosexual guy. Life could have been so much easier.”
The documentary also follows Zachary Arnold, 20, from Washington, who had the operation last October. He proudly shows the results to the camera. “I knew it would be the best option for me,” he says. “I had always felt that there was something wrong with the way that I was put together. I wanted to alleviate a certain portion of that. I never felt that [my testicles] were meant to be there. I always felt they were a distraction or unwanted baggage. My mind was always on that portion of my body. I felt that was a defining portion of my body which made me characteristically male. I was never satisfied with that. I never wanted to fit into the category. The surgery has helped me become more of the person I wanted to be. I’m comfortable with my body.”
How would he describe his sexuality? “I consider myself open to all possibilities. For a while I considered myself more asexual or more bisexual. I’m definitely not attracted to only one gender.”
He slipped into depression immediately after the operation, but now thinks it is the best thing he has ever done. While his sex drive is reduced, he says his sex life has greatly improved. “I’m a lot happier now. I’m a much more outgoing person. I’m also much calmer. I still have a very pleasurable sexual experience just with myself. It’s more so.”
‘Eunuchs’ is on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm
Talking balls: castrati down the ages
Castratos – Italian male singers whose high voices had been preserved since boyhood via castration – were much in demand for male and female roles in 17th- and 18th-century operas. To ease the pain of severing the spermatic duct to the testis, “surgeons” often drugged the pre-pubescent boys with opium and had them soak in a bath of warm milk.
First noticed by Hippocrates, in 1995 researchers at Duke University of North Carolina confirmed that castration was the only permanent solution to male hair loss.
Sun Yaoting (1902–1996) was the last imperial eunuch of Chinese history.
In the past, eunuchs enjoyed the patronage of Hindu kings in whose courts they would sing and dance to ward off evil spirits. Today they play on the deep superstitions of Indian families, threatening the families of male new-borns and brides with the “Evil Eye”. Most of India’s 800,000 eunuchs are castrated as children to make them appear more like females.
Chemical treatment for sex offenders has already been used successfully in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the United States.
Offenders are given regular injections of leuproreline, a prostate cancer drug, or Depo-Provera, which act as a temporary castration by reducing testosterone levels.