Singapore Was Once Gripped by a Genital Panic

by Vrinda Jain

Singapore Was Once Gripped by a Genital Panic

January 28, 2021

Singapore is one of the richest and most prosperous countries globally. Over the years, Singapore has modernized itself tremendously, but did you know Singapore was once hit by an epidemic that made men fear for their penises?

As bizarre as it may sound, it’s true that Singapore was once struck by an epidemic that made people believe that their penises were vanishing. This epidemic even had its name- Koro. The alleged “penis vanishing” epidemic made Singaporean males run towards the hospitals in 1967 with their penises in their hands.

Fear- their manhood was slowly vanishing into their bodies. Some of the men even arrived at the hospital with knobs twirled around chopsticks or secured with clothing. Others literally wrapped their parts in a red cord, as a kind of a watchful gaze against a supernatural shrinking.

People heard rumors that tainted pork—inoculated against swine fever—could cause koro.

Koro: the Penis Shrinking Epidemic!

For days in October and November of 1967, an unsettling rumour went viral— one that said ‘Koro’ was caused by consuming the flesh of pigs recently vaccinated in a mass effort to fight the swine fever. The rumour spiralled out of control to the point that pork sales in shops, stalls, and restaurants halted.

General practitioners, typically limited to seeing only one or two such cases in their lifetime, were now recording an average of 70 to 80 patients every day. Dozens of them arrived, carrying their penises with their hands, rubber bands, strings, and other household appliances.

Exorcism treatment of koro attack during epidemic in South China, 1985. Extracting the possessing female fox spirit from the middle finger of the koro patient.

Was Koro Actually Real?

Koro, a name generated in Asia, was simply called the genital retraction syndrome in the west and is also defined as a cultural specific syndrome. The syndrome is not permanent; it is more like a sudden episode of anxiety that the penis will disappear into the body and potentially cause death.

Along with mainly subsisting in African and European countries, Koro is also widespread in Southeast Asia, mostly among the Chinese people. But of course, it’s all in the brain. Those infected with Koro may not necessarily have noticeable biological changes in their genitalia.

Still, victims can have a sense of retraction that could last from hours to days, and even to years. Asian men generally believe that not having a penis is deadly. And because of that, men in Singapore adopted brute force like clamping hard on their manhoods to the point of injury.

Koro can also occur to women. The female version includes women getting anxieties about disappearing vulva and nipples. Just like men, they act with brute force to avoid any form of shrinkage. Some cases involve women pushing iron pins into their nipples with no safety leading to a bloody mess to no avail.

Why Is Koro an Asian Thing?

It’s not clear where the initial belief in disappearing genitalia came from. But, it does seem to have its roots in the East Asian culture. The word ‘Koro’ is thought to have been derived from the Malay word ‘Kura-Kura’, which means turtle. A crude but fitting analogy—retracting penises in contrast to just how turtles withdraw their heads into their shells. Among the Chinese, this phenomenon is widely known as ‘Shook Yong,’ simply meaning ‘penis shrinkage’.

Since news of the phenomenon originated in the Western Hemisphere, Koro cases have sometimes been recorded in places like Canada, Jordan, France, Britain, and even Nigeria, where people were murdered on the accusation of using magic to make penises vanish.

Though it is not clear, for some reason, Koro is more widespread in South East Asia, where many of its victims tend to be of Chinese descent, even in places like Malaysia or Indonesia. It may indeed be only folktales, but no-one can figure out what precisely people have been telling their children to make them fear this.


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