W3 Activity: Koro (SouthEast Asia & China)

Koro is a psychiatric disorder where a person has anxiety that their penis is shrinking and retracting back into their body. Those who are diagnosed with Koro believe that when their penis ultimately reverts into their abdominal, they die. It’s common in places such as India, China, and Japan, although there are instances of it in the United States and Europe.  Koro is often observed as an epidemic, but sometimes specific individual cases can pop up as well. Koro is often accompanied by other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, hypochondria, schizophrenia and body dysmorphia.  Since there have been cases of Koro all over the globe, some suspect that it may not be a culturally specific psychiatric disorder, but it does show up mostly in the Southern part of China. It has shown up previously in women before, but it is much more common in young Chinese men. Although it can be hard to prove that Koro is a cultural phenomenon, the Chinese men relate Koro to losing their Qi.  Qi is spiritual health and energy in Chinese culture. Losing your Qi can result in death. This is the primary reason those who are diagnosed with Koro in the West are different than those who are Chinese patients. Chinese patients tend to believe that Koro will kill them after gradual loss of sexual power, energy and vitality.  Doctors have examined the disorder, and it is often void of any urinary underlying issue, which is why there is so much doubt of the existence of Koro. Researching the issue has made me realize there is so little known about the disorder, and there is much debate on its classification.

Note for instructor: (this post shows edits, because it signed out after submission which caused issues in the post.)

Citation: Edwards, James W. “Indigenous Koro, a Genital Retraction Syndrome of Insular Southeast Asia: A Critical Review.” The Culture-Bound Syndromes, 1983, 169-91. doi:10.1007/978-94-009-5251-5_17.

2 thoughts on “W3 Activity: Koro (SouthEast Asia & China)

  1. Culture to me concerns the ways in which people share meaning with each other. Meaning can be shared through language, dress, food, gestures, art, etc.. In that way, culture is the human sharing of meaning in particular ways by particular groups of people. Cultures, of course, are interwined/overlapped and so cannot easily be separated from one another. Nonetheless, humans group together specific practices of meaning sharing and label the groups as unique cultures.

    I think the disease should be considered a CDS. It seems to be bound by space and and confined to specific cultural groupings. It lacks, at least for now, an underlying biomedical explanation. Belief in a “Qi” may be an important part of what gives rise to the unique symptoms that characterize Koro. However, I think it would be interesting to know what sphere of medicine is usually resorted to in order to treat or address Koro and whether or not biomedical or western psychiatric interventions are useful in treating it at all.

    I think, in more western cultures, Koro might be explained as something coming from a mixture of psychological disturbances and specific cultural context. I imagine it would be taken as a legitimate problem, but it’s under lying causes would treated differently than perhaps they would in places where Koro is more frequently observed.

  2. Hello Imaan,

    I think culture, in the context of our course, can be interpreted as a way of life, shared among people from the same region, that includes music, art, religion, traditions, and customs. I think that Koro should certainly be regarded as a culture-bound syndrome. According to Imaan’s post, it is largely viewed as a psychological problem that has little foundation in biology. An advantage to Koro being regarded as a CBS is that it will perhaps be treated more accurately, such as by a psychologist, instead of a physician. This may help more men who suffer from Koro more accurately, as well. A downside to Koro being known as a CBS could cause men who suffer from Koro to be dismissed by healthcare providers, or not taken seriously. If a physician disregards a patient with Koro, they could also potentially miss a more serious physical ailment. In a different ethnomedical system, like the United States, for example, Koro may be more likely to be dismissed by physicians than it would in Asia, where the CBS originates. This could be a problem for asian immigrants, or people of asian descent that live in the United States.

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