Koro in China

I have reviewed the article “Making Up Koro: Multiplicity, Psychiatry, Culture, and Penis-Shrinking Anxieties”, written by Ivan Crozier. Koro is a syndrome in which adults delusion their penis or vulva of the vagina are retracting up into one’s body. It is considered a CBS. Crozier’s article’s man point is to ” examine the different explanations of koro based on shifting conceptions of mental illness, while considering the increased recognition of the role culture has to play in psychiatric concepts.” Psychiatric analysis of koro usually focuses on the male cases rather than the female case. Koro is the Malay word for head of the turtle, implying the retraction of the penis. Koro has caused many epidemics in many different countries: including, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, and China. Each country displays a different understanding of the disease, however each focus on the anxiety of a shrinking sexual organ. The article shows briefly the history of how Koro came to be; believed to be seen in both ancient Chinese culture as deceased spirits wanted to take a living person’s sex organs to use. It was thought then that Koro was caused by eating pork and addictions that cause sexual impotence. The article specifically discusses a 24 year old male who heavily abused alcohol and because of his addition was unable to preform sexually, further leading to the idea that his penis was shrinking and  no longer useful. The patients who develop this penis shrinking anxiety usually develop other co-morbidities such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In China, biologically, koro is seen to be caused by addiction. The most common addictions noted were narcotic, alcohol, and cannabis. Scientifically and biologically speaking, addiction is seen to cause sexual impotence. Also, since 2004, “there has been a call to physicians to make sure koro cases are not a result of schizophrenia”, as with schizophrenia hallucinations can take place. Many males in China are more susceptible to addiction because of the stresses in Chinese culture to be a man and provide for one’s family. When men are unable to meet this cultural standard, they can turn to addiction to numb the pain. Also culturally, in ancient China, as discussed above, spirits are known to want to steal a man’s sexual organs to use himself, that is the spirit wants his manhood and ability to provide for family back. In this, the penis is stolen slowly, as it retracts from the body, for magical purposes, and therefore, becomes no longer useful for sexual reproduction. Individually, koro has been observed to be cause by racial inequalities and failure in the family. Koro has also been exhibited in homosexual Chinese men, in which, homosexuality in the Chinese culture is a sin and is greatly looked down upon.

Koro is treated in the Chinese culture by placing a wooden box used to hold jewelry around the penis and extending the penis with a string tied to the head to the bottom of the box. The string is red in color because the Chinese see red as a color that wards off evil. This is the treatment for traditional Chinese healers, the original Chinese doctors. In China today, there also is treatment for the disease by psychiatrists. Patients are given penis enlargement pills and penile stretches to increase blood flow and sperm production. Usually the disease is evaluated by the patient expressing a concern that his penis is shrinking or that he is unable to produce sperm/ have children.


Crozier, I. (2012, January 1). Making Up Koro: Multiplicity, Psychiatry, Culture, and Penis-Shrinking Anxieties. In Project Muse.     Retrieved July 16, 2014, from http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/journals/journal_of_the_history_of_medicine_and_allied_sciences/v067/67.1.crozier.html

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Carrie Blackwell says:

    Culture is a very hard word to define because there are so many elements to someone practicing a culture. In my own words, culture can be defined as beliefs, traditions, values, and customs a group of people associate and practice.
    After reading your summation regarding the culture- bound syndrome identified as Koro, I believe that the illness should continue to be regarded as a culture-bound syndrome. The reasoning I present towards this is because there is not much evidence of the illness in many other cultures. It sounds as if it is predominantly found in Chinese culture. The disadvantage to it continuously being identified as a culture-bound syndrome is that it will only be researched mainly in the area where most patients are affected. This means that the treatment may not be more advanced.

    According to what you have stated, the ethnomedical sector that Koro is treated with is pertains more to the folk sector. There are nontraditional ways to deal with the illness such as the box and the red string, which is believed to ward off evil spirits. If Koro was treated in a professional sector, such as ones found in a culture such as America, there would be more doctors and therapy for the patient. There would be better diagnoses of the mental problem and maybe an underlying psychosis disorder could be found and treated.

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