Making up Koro: Multiplicity, Psychiatry, Culture and Penis-Shrinking Anxieties

Ivan Crozier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Koro is a syndrome in which the penis (or sometimes the nipples or vulva) is retracting, with deleterious effects for the sufferer. In modern psychiatry, it is considered a culture-bound syndrome (CBS). This paper considers the formation and development of psychiatric conceptions of koro and related genital retraction syndromes from the 1890s to the present. It does so by examining the different explanations of koro based on shifting conceptions of mental illness, and considers the increased recognition of the role culture has to play in psychiatric concepts. Conceptions of culture (deriving from colonial psychiatry as well as from anthropology) actively shaped the ways in which psychiatrists conceptualized koro. Cases under consideration, additional to the first Dutch descriptions of koro, include the ways in which koro was identified in white western cases, and the 1967 Singaporean koro epidemic. Following a number of psychiatrists and psychologists who have addressed the same material, attention is also paid to the recent genital-theft panics in sub-Saharan Africa, considering the implications of the differences between koro and other genital-theft panics. Finally, the paper addresses the role played by koro in the development of the concept of CBSs, which was first presented in the DSM IV in 1994. This is explored against the backdrop of emerging ideas about culture and psychiatry from the late colonial period, especially in Africa, which are central to modern ideas about transcultural psychiatry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-70
JournalJournal of the History of Medicine And Allied Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Koro
  • culture-bound syndromes
  • transcultural psychiatry
  • colonial psychiatry
  • African psychiatry
  • penis


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