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Genital retraction syndrome (GRS), generally considered a culture-specific syndrome, is a condition in which an individual is overcome with the belief that his/her external genitals—or also, in females, breasts—are retracting into the body, shrinking, or in some male cases, may be imminently removed or disappear. A penis panic is a mass hysteria event or panic in which male members of a population suddenly experience this belief.

Penis panics have occurred around the world, most notably in Africa and Asia. Local beliefs in many instances assert that such physical changes are often fatal.

In cases where the fear of the penis being retracted is secondary to other conditions, psychological diagnosis and treatments are under development. It is becoming increasingly clear that these forms of mass hysteria are more common than previously thought.

The phenomenon is often, but not always, associated with occult belief, such as witchcraft. These panics frequently, but not exclusively, occur in places where access to education—particularly in science and human biology—is limited, or otherwise restricted (for example, when government policies restrict such education). Others have been reported under the influence of drug use. (Compare with castration anxiety.)

Contents

Southeast Asia: Koro

Penis panics in southeast Asia have become known under the term "Koro" (which means "head of the turtle" in Malay). Some psychiatrists [1] have referred to Koro as a culture-bound syndrome, but it is phenomenologically related, if not identical, to penis panics in various cultures. For example, typical Koro-like symptoms have been reported in Caucasian subjects in Western countries (Berrios & Morley, 1984).[2] Koro most commonly describes the extreme fear that the penis is retracting into the body, including the idea that such retraction will bring about death. It can also refer to beliefs of "genital theft" or some kind of sorcery which has resulted in the loss of the penis. Sometimes the testicles are also believed to be affected.

In Chinese, the term used for the condition is shook yang (suo yang, 縮陽). Outbreaks of Koro in China were reported in 1948, 1955, 1966, 1974, 1984, and 1985, although none have been reported in the 20 or so years since (Tseng 2006).

A condition called "Bang-utot", which carries symptoms of both bangungot and koro, is a repeated theme in William S. Burroughs' book Naked Lunch.

Although Koro goes back to ancient times, beliefs have evolved to better suit modernity. Whereas in the past the causes were usually identified as supernatural, e.g. sorcery, a recent Koro episode in Northern Thailand placed the blame on Vietnamese Communist agents who supposedly put chemicals in the water supply.[3]

Sufferers may resort to extreme physical measures to prevent the believed retraction of the penis. As well as affecting individuals, Koro-like syndromes can often occur in an outbreak of mass hysteria.

Koro most commonly strikes men, but rare cases are known to involve women and the fear that either their external genitals or nipples are retracting into the body.

Aside from the emotional distress, Koro by itself is not physically harmful, and no actual retraction takes place. Injuries have occurred when stricken men have resorted to apparatus such as needles, hooks, fishing line, and shoe strings, to prevent the disappearance of their penises.

An epidemic struck Singapore in 1967, resulting in thousands of reported cases. Government and medical officials alleviated the outbreak only by a massive campaign to reassure men of the anatomical impossibility of retraction together with a media blackout on the spread of the condition.

Koro has been successfully treated with a course of alprazolam and imipramine (which are psychiatric medications, the former used to treat anxiety disorders).

Africa

The belief has triggered waves of panic in Senegal, Benin, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sudan and Congo-Kinshasa at various times in the last decade.[4]

Benin

On November, 2001, in the commercial capital of Cotonou, Benin, authorities ordered security forces to curb violence, following the deaths of five people by vigilantes. There were reports of at least 10 such attacks. Four of those who died were burned, another man was hacked to death. Correspondents reported that mobs attacked individuals accused of using magic to steal men's penises.[5]

Congo-Kinshasa

On April, 2008, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, the police arrested 14 suspected victims (of penis snatching) and sorcerers accused of using black magic or witchcraft to steal (make disappear) or shrink men's penises to extort cash for cure, amid a wave of panic. Arrests were made in an effort to avoid bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when 12 alleged penis snatchers were beaten to death by mobs.[6][7]

Sudan

In September 2003, the Middle East Media Research Institute reported a hysteria in Khartoum, capital of Sudan.[8]

Sudanese victims were made to believe by force of suggestion that their penises would melt away after they shook hands, shared a comb, or received a verbal curse. The so-called "penis-melting" has been blamed on Zionists trying to wipe out the Sudanese people by making their men unable to reproduce.[9]

The hysterical reports were spread throughout Sudan by means of cell phone text-messaging.

Sudanese police investigated the claims and have found no evidence of anything supernatural, and that it is likely a hoax which victims believed through the power of suggestion. Mr. Abul-Gasim Mohamed Ibrahim, Sudan's Minister of Health, issued official statements to calm the public's fears.

Local media also contributed to the idea's spread. The Sudanese columnist Ja'far Abbas (a satirical writer) has warned visitors to avoid shaking hands with "a dark-skinned man". In reference to the electronic comb which was supposed to have caused one man's penis to disappear, Abbas writes, "No doubt, this comb was a laser-controlled surgical cyborg that penetrates the skull, [passes] to the lower body and emasculates a man!!"

Medical viewpoints

Documented cases have not typically indicated actual instances of penis shrinkage or retraction. Any actual injury or damage that occurs to individuals usually arises from overly zealous attempts at preventing retraction. Medical response generally consists of informing patients that the genitals anatomically cannot retract or shrink in the manner typically feared.

As one academic work states, GRS seems to be similar in many ways to the Western category of panic attack, with sexual elaborations. It seems probable that, in a culture where sexual anxiety is high and stories exist of death by genital retraction, a man in the right frame of mind could panic at the observation that his genitals are shrinking in response to cold or anxiety.

See also

References

  1. ^ Pow Meng Yap (1965) Koro—A Culture-Bound Depersonalization Syndrome British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. III, pp. 45-50.
  2. ^ Berrios G E & Morley S (1984) Koro-like Symptoms in Non-Chinese Subjects. British Journal of Psychiatry 145: 331-334
  3. ^ Mass-hysteria with Koro-symptoms in Thailand, Schweiz Arch Neurol Neurochir Psychiatr. 1977;120(2):257-9
  4. ^ Attack of the Penis Shrinkers!, David Emery, About.com, August 17, 1997
  5. ^ BBC News | AFRICA | Benin alert over 'penis theft' panic
  6. ^ Lynchings in Congo as penis theft panic hits capital, Reuters, April 23, 2008.
  7. ^ 7 killed in Ghana over 'penis-snatching' episodes, CNN, January 18, 1997.
  8. ^ Panic in Khartoum: Foreigners Shake Hands, Make Penises Disappear
  9. ^ Panic in Khartoum: Foreigners Shake Hands, Make Penises Disappear

Further reading

  • Cheng, S.T., A Critical Review of Chinese Koro. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. 1996 20:67-82
  • Tseng, W.S., From Peculiar Psychiatric Disorders through Culture-bound Syndromes to Culture-related Specific Syndromes. Transcultural Psychiatry. 2006 43(4):554-576
  • Michael W. Passer & Ronald E. Smith. "Sociocultural factors for Anxiety disorder". Psychology - The science of mind and behaviour (3rd ed.). p. 542.  
  • Ang, PC; Weller, MPI (09-01-1984). "Koro and psychosis". The British Journal of Psychiatry (Royal Medico-psychological Association) 145 (3): 335. doi:10.1192/bjp.145.3.335. ISSN 0007-1250. PMID 6478130. http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/pdf_extract/145/3/335.  

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