Dhat Syndrome in the Indian Subcontinent

In this article, the authors hypothesized that when analyzing culturally diverse clinical populations suffering from dhat syndrome or “semen-loss anxiety” and the associated symptoms of anxiety the results would show that this syndrome and its symptoms would be found across many different cultures. Thus, disproving the concept that dhat syndrome is culturally bound. This syndrome, “semen-loss anxiety” was analyzed among clinical populations from the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, China, and Western countries. “Semen-loss anxiety” and its correlating symptoms of anxiety, depression, etc. were found among all of these populations suggesting that dhat syndrome or “semen-loss anxiety” is not culturally bound. It was also mentioned that this syndrome seemed to be historically/economically related because it was found to be diminishing in Western countries that were becoming more and more industrialized/urbanized.

The naming of dhat syndrome came from the Indian culture, more specifically the Sanskrit word, “dhatu” which meant  ‘elixir’ or ‘constituent of the body.’ Men suffering from dhat syndrome experience symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, anxiety, loss of appetite, and sexual dysfunction. In the Indian culture, these symptoms were thought to be due to the loss of semen either from masturbation, nocturnal emissions, or urination. The Indian culture believed that semen originated through a chain of conversions starting from the consumption of food. It was believed that food was converted into blood and that blood was converted into flesh and that flesh was converted into marrow and that marrow was converted into semen. Thus an imbalance in semen seemed to be due to an imbalance in any of the essential bodily constituents which were believed to cause the significant somatic symptoms mentioned previously. To lose semen would mean to lose the essential balance of the body. This is where the dhat related symptoms of anxiety and depression stem from. As a result, an individual’s state of health, biological, physical and/or psychological, can be damaged from these dhat related symptoms.

When evaluating a clinical population of men from Sri Lanka who suffered from sexual dysfunction attributed to “anxiety-loss syndrome”, the men were clinically diagnosed with significant somatic symptoms such as anxiety, hypochondriasis, or stress reaction. Thus, although not exclusively stated in this article some forms of possible medical treatment for these men could be to alleviate these psychological symptoms.

A. Sumathipala, S. H. Siribaddana and Dinesh Bhugra. Culture-bound syndromes: The story of dhat syndrome. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2004. 184:200-209.

2 thoughts on “Dhat Syndrome in the Indian Subcontinent

  1. Because Dhat syndrome is found across many cultures, it classifies with one of the popular problems with culture bound syndromes in that it occurs in many unrelated cultures, which appear to be local variations of the same condition. By definition, a culture bound syndrome observes recurrent and specific patterns of local illnesses or afflictions among an indigenous people. The symptoms of this semen-loss anxiety however were observed in numerous populations, so I would not consider Dhat a CBS. An advantage of Dhat not being categorized as a CBS could be the spread of information on the disease to different cultures to prevent further occurrences and medical models for treatment of Dhat could be used across cultures while an obvious disadvantage would be not being able to convince these populations that they may be more susceptible to such a disease and having the proper resources and knowledge to treat it. In Indian culture, Dhat was thought to be the result of any off balance bodily fluids through the conversion of food to blood to flesh to marrow and finally semen that would essentially result in imbalance of the entire body, but in a culture ethnomedically different such as the U.S., this semen loss would probably be explained more biologically as a form of sexual dysfunction and would be treated with medication. However, our culture would probably view the consequential anxiety and fatigue of the semen loss in the same light as the Indian culture, although medications may also be prescribed for these resultant psychological symptoms.

  2. I agree that Dhat would not be classified as a culture bound syndrome. Since it does not recurrently occur with the same patterns of illness or affliction within the same indigenous people. With this syndrome affecting many other cultures, a big advantage would be prevention. This could be talking with each other and sharing information with each that could lead to a possible cure to this syndrome. A disadvantage could be that since there are so many different cultures affected by this there could be conflicting views on what it is, as you have stated, and how they should go about finding a cure. This could cause tension which could lead to a costly delay in finding that cure. If this syndrome were to be a problem in our western culture we would not say that there is a chain of events that links everything together like the Indians did when they thought that food was converted to blood then to flesh to marrow then to semen. In our culture we would run tests to find out exactly what is wrong, and from there we would prescribe medication to take. Maybe in a shamanistic culture like the one in Mongolia from the movie “the Horse Boy” they would see this as something else entirely, and a shaman would have to perform a special ritual to try and rid what ever is within the body that is causing this ailment.

Leave a Reply