Can a sex offender still have sex after he's been castrated?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Dec. 6 2007 6:53 PM

Castration Anxiety

Can a sex offender still have sex after surgery?

Mike Huckabee. Click image to expand.
Wayne Dumond was paroled when Mike Huckabee was Arkansas' governor

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is under the spotlight this week for helping grant parole to Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist who had been castrated more than a decade earlier in what he claimed was a violent attack. * After Dumond was released from prison in 1999, he went on to rape and murder at least one woman, and maybe two. How can someone who's been castrated still commit rape?

He can still have an erection. In general, castrated men experience a much-diminished sex drive, because their bodies have very low levels of the male hormone testosterone. This lowers the frequency, strength, and duration of erections, and can cause hot flashes, vertigo, loss of body hair, and breast growth. But depending on the individual, it may be possible for him to become aroused and even to ejaculate, although his erection may be modest and there won't be any sperm in his semen. Even if a castrated man can't maintain an erection, he can temporarily reverse the effect by taking testosterone. Also, rapists aren't necessarily driven by sexual desire; a lower sex drive won't prevent attacks that are motivated by a desire for power.

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Surgical castration, also called orchiectomy, involves the physical removal of the testicles, which produce 95 percent of a man's testosterone. However, the small amount still produced by the adrenal glands could be enough to allow some sexual function to remain. According to one study from the 1960s of about 1,000 German sex offenders who had been castrated, 65 percent men immediately felt their libido plummet, but 18 percent were able to have sex 20 years later. Based on the small amount of data that exist on this subject, it appears between zero and 10 percent of sexual offenders who are surgically castrated repeat their crime.

Since the 1960s, psychiatrists in the United States have used drugs to treat sex offenders, and today, chemical castration is slightly more common than surgery. Depo-Provera, a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone, doesn't prevent the testicles from producing testosterone, but it does counteract the effect of the male hormone in the blood. Drugs like Lupron or Zoladex achieve similar results by tricking the pituitary gland into producing less of the hormone that controls testosterone production in the testicles. The drugs can't negate the sex drive completely, though. When these and other similar drugs are prescribed to retard the growth of tumors in male patients, about 10 percent can still have sex.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Gordon Cappelletty of North Carolina's Catawba County Department of Social Services, Mario Dennis of the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation, Park Dietz of Park Dietz & Associates, and Patrick Walsh of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Correction, Dec. 11, 2007:The original story said Wayne Dumond was castrated in a violent attack. That was Dumond's claim, but the police were never able to determine exactly what happened. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Michelle Tsai is a Beijing-based writer working on a book about Chinatowns on six continents. She blogs at ChinatownStories.com.

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