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Testosterone and lifespan
September 26, 2012 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Korean eunuchs outlived uncastrated peers - "The average lifespan of eunuchs was 70.0 ± 1.76 years, which was 14.4–19.1 years longer than the lifespan of non-castrated men of similar socio-economic status." The study made use of the Yang-Se-Gye-Bo (養世系譜, 양세계보), a genealogy record of Korean eunuchs, and cross referenced the Annals of the Chosun Dynasty and Diary of the Royal Secretariat. The Annals and the Diary are official records of the daily activities of the Chosun government and the King.
posted by needled (81 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd rather have my apricots intact.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:20 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


These family jewels are staying their pouch.
posted by incandissonance at 1:22 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


* This study sponsored by Lord Varys.
posted by Forktine at 1:23 PM on September 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


Yeah, you live longer, but what's the point?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:24 PM on September 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's the life in your years...
posted by Mister_A at 1:25 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't the genealogical record of eunuchs be quite short.
posted by sixohsix at 1:30 PM on September 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


It seems like not having children (if that's true of the individuals in question) could have a big effect.
posted by XMLicious at 1:30 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


So being a eunuch, which was an administrative class in Korea, and not a common laborer like most males, is associated with living longer.

In other news, weight gain is associated with pregnancy. So if I drink a gallon of heavy cream every day, surely I'll have a baby.
posted by mullingitover at 1:30 PM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is it possible to have a eunuch of “equal socio-economic status” to a non-castrated male in that culture? Whereever you have castration as an institutional thing, it creates people who are literally a class apart, and, I'd imagine (though I'm not familiar with the Korean court in particular and the abstract doesn't address it), less prone to violent or “mysterious” death.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:31 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


They were comparing the eunuchs to other fairly wealthy men, not common laborers, so that part is corrected for.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:31 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, but what manner of person kept the records? It could be pro-eunuch propaganda.

This also allows me to post my favorite Dilbert cartoon:

Boss: I heard on the radio that we need more eunuch programmers.
Dilbert: UNIX programmers. You need more UNIX programmers.
Boss: Oh. If the nurse stops by, tell her I said "Never mind."
posted by BeeDo at 1:32 PM on September 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Ah, mea culpa:
To rule out the effects of cushy conditions on longevity, they compared the eunuchs' lifespans to those of uncastrated men of similar social status living at the same time.
I'm still skeptical.
posted by mullingitover at 1:33 PM on September 26, 2012


Ha, this is the same argument our local rescue uses to get people to neuter their pets.
posted by fshgrl at 1:33 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've lived. I've had sex. I prefer the latter to the former.
posted by tommasz at 1:33 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't this, like, a known thing? Don't neutered dogs tend to live longer?
posted by phunniemee at 1:33 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks BeeDo. I was a big Dilbert fan as a child (what child DOESN'T love office humor?) and I distinctly remember having no idea what that comic meant.

Now I get it. Haha.
posted by telegraph at 1:34 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


What mullingitover is trying to point out, I believe is: the group of uncastrated men also includes all the soldiers, many of whom would have been killed in combat. And this is skewing the statistics.

So the reason why castrated men were "tending to live longer" has nothing to do with the actual castration and everything to do with "them happening not to go to war".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2012


Amputation causes immediate and permanent weight loss, study finds
posted by theodolite at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Doesn't seem like there's much of a future in keeping genealogy records for eunuchs.
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Yeah, you live longer, but what's the point?

The great thing about this truism is that it applies to pretty much anything enjoyable; beer, red meat, cheese, smoking, having testicles...
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can we split the difference? I don't really need two.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:37 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not really sure what "cushy conditions" they're referring to.

Did eunuchs go to war? 'Cause, like, that would explain a lot.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2012


This doesn't seem that surprising. Don't most mammals live longer if they've been neutered? I don't see why it should be any different for humans. Still, I'd rather not, thanks.
posted by asnider at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Doesn't seem like there's much of a future in keeping genealogy records for eunuchs.

They could have been castrated after having kids, couldn't they?
posted by orrnyereg at 1:39 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


1 Weird Old Tip from a Joseon Chronicle
posted by theodolite at 1:40 PM on September 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this takes into account method of death. Not that there haven't been eunuch soldiers, most prominently Narses. Though I don't know if that applies to Korea.

It is instead more proof that testosterone is slowly killing us. Considering the alternative, I am ok with that.
posted by BeeDo at 1:40 PM on September 26, 2012


From the scientific article being referenced:
Eunuchs of the Chosun Dynasty lived with privileges: Korean eunuchs were conferred with official ranks and were legally allowed to marry ... In addition, married couples were also entitled to have children by adopting castrated boys or normal girls. The boys lost their reproductive organs in accidents, or they underwent deliberate castration to gain access to the palace before becoming a teenager. Although the family of a eunuch was composed of non blood-related members, the bonding in these families is believed to have been as strong as that in traditional blood-related families.
posted by needled at 1:42 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Do you fear my gash?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:48 PM on September 26, 2012


They could have been castrated after having kids, couldn't they?

Eunuchs were typically castrated before puberty. One of the main points was to do it early enough that they wouldn't experience the same hormonal changes as other males.
posted by asnider at 1:48 PM on September 26, 2012


Chosun Dynasty

Maybe I've watched too much Korean televisual drama, but weren't those with testicles fighting each other fairly often during the time period listed in the Science article, even (or especially) if in royal circles? That might have an effect on average longevity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:50 PM on September 26, 2012


Men without balls can still make the nasty with your harem lovelies, so I think we're looking at men missing, ahem, significantly more of their anatomy than is being suggested. And it's not like they had advanced surgical procedures that could support the kinds of recreational amputations that we all are able to enjoy today. Some historians say they used dull butter knives or tied the unwanted bits to dogsleds.

So what kind of life expectancy do we get when we include the (majority?) who bled to death or died of infection from having some vital and delicate body parts removed? And should we assume those who lived had no more ability to withstand major health complications than those who failed to withstand a major health complication?
posted by dgaicun at 1:52 PM on September 26, 2012


What if your wife just keeps them for you, does that count?
posted by resurrexit at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good point. And the article notes that the eunuch class included the victims of accidental castrations, so that's a further culling of people who, for whatever reason, wouldn't survive a serious injury.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2012


Man, I love how MeFi instantly knows better than any researcher who ever comes out with a study. "I'll bet they didn't take into account this totally obvious thing!"
posted by adamdschneider at 2:02 PM on September 26, 2012 [22 favorites]


I thought neutered pets lived longer because they weren't constantly digging out from under the fence to go in search of lady dogs. My dad refused to neuter the male dogs we had, and they'd only last about 4 years until they got out and got run over or possibly couldn't find their way back. My favorite dog sired at least 3 litters in a 5 mile radius and once came back with a nasty barbed wired wound on his belly. Male cats get into much the same trouble.

Whereas my neutered male cat goes outside,shrugs, eats some grass, comes back in and throws it up on the rug. He doesn't know what he's missing, but he's getting on in years now.
posted by emjaybee at 2:06 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


From what I've read, castration only extends life expectancy if it happens before puberty; any time after that, and any salutary effects are negligible. So, it appears, you can't have your cake and eat it.
posted by acb at 2:18 PM on September 26, 2012


Man, I love how MeFi instantly knows better than any researcher who ever comes out with a study. "I'll bet they didn't take into account this totally obvious thing!"

Only for social science studies, although from now on I'm going to rush into any astronomy thread pointing out that Actually, Venus is not a star, but a planet
posted by theodolite at 2:19 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Only for social science studies, although from now on I'm going to rush into any astronomy thread pointing out that Actually, Venus is not a star, but a planet

Citation, please.
posted by Atreides at 2:24 PM on September 26, 2012


Man, I love how MeFi instantly knows better than any researcher who ever comes out with a study. "I'll bet they didn't take into account this totally obvious thing!"

You'd be surprised what researchers miss.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:25 PM on September 26, 2012


IMO the things you do to laid are statistically likely to shorten your life; like jumping out of windows to avoid husbands, or impressing girls with your cliff-diving chops.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:26 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


(missing a "get" in there somewhere)
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:28 PM on September 26, 2012


Men without balls can still make the nasty with your harem lovelies, so I think we're looking at men missing, ahem, significantly more of their anatomy than is being suggested.

That's possible, I suppose, but eunuchs were generally castrated while they were pre-pubescent. The idea being that they would perpetually be boys rather than men with sex drives. They wouldn't want to have sex with the women in the harem (that was the idea, at least).
posted by asnider at 2:29 PM on September 26, 2012


Men without balls can still make the nasty with your harem lovelies, so I think we're looking at men missing, ahem, significantly more of their anatomy than is being suggested.

Not really. Or at least they wouldn't make a habit out of it. Maybe I don't understand what you're saying here?

And it's not like they had advanced surgical procedures that could support the kinds of recreational amputations that we all are able to enjoy today. Some historians say they used dull butter knives or tied the unwanted bits to dogsleds.

Probably just tied 'em off like we've been doing with livestock for thousands of years.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:31 PM on September 26, 2012


Tangentially related, when did the era of great castrati vocalists end? I've read they were around until the last 19th century but that seems really late to me. Now that'd be something to hear, although obviously not worth the price.
posted by Justinian at 2:46 PM on September 26, 2012


(until the LATE 19th century... last century was the 20th, of course)
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on September 26, 2012


It isn't over until the contratenor sings.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:49 PM on September 26, 2012


Were all of these eunichs lacking only their testicles? Ancient Egypt additionally featured eunuchs lacking both penis and testicles, as well as eunuchs lacking only their penis. The latter were reputed to be more effective warriors.
posted by fredludd at 2:54 PM on September 26, 2012


Life Enlargement - It's finally a proven theory! Click here for 3 amazing ways to enlarge your expectancy!! No need to dream...you can now expand your life upto 3 years GUARANTEED! She won't believe how LONG you live! Doctor's have been working years to create such a product and have finally come up with a method guaranteed to work!!! Outlast her!
posted by nathancaswell at 3:10 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


IIRC there was a pretty awesome castrati post here a few years ago.
posted by elizardbits at 3:17 PM on September 26, 2012


eunuchs lacking only their penis

This sounds like the worst thing ever.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:26 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Could this be because infant mortality of eunuchs is nonexistent? Wouldn't that skew the numbers?

If you're looking at men or women as groups then there are certainly men and women who died as infants or young children (bringing the average lifespan down); there are no eunuch children dying (since they become eunuchs later).

The high number of centenarians is interesting, though.
posted by mangasm at 3:37 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, I love how MeFi instantly knows better than any researcher who ever comes out with a study. "I'll bet they didn't take into account this totally obvious thing!"

If it's not explicitly stated that they did take that obvious thing into account, it's better to err on the critical side than to take the sexy headline-making results as fact.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:21 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


There have been American findings with the same results--looking at prisoners and inmates at mental institutions who were castrated (not sure if it was physical or chemical). They tended to outlive their non-castrated peers by 14 years or longer.
LINK
posted by whatgorilla at 4:25 PM on September 26, 2012


To be castrati one has to survive to the age of castration, so their survival could be biased upward. The childhood mortality in those pre-vaccination, pre-antibiotic days was very high, and may represent as much as 40% of the population (ref), so the bias could be considerable. Although I could find no mention in the article of removing from the non-castrati sample those who died prior to the age at which castration would have taken place, the text gives the range of life-spans that exceeds 13 for all groups and exceeds 27 for the eunuchs. It is likely that the authors did exclude early deaths, but the lower ends of the ranges for non-castrati groups look strange (13, 15, and 20), so it doesn't look like systematic exclusions was made based on a fixed minimum age.

Furthermore, it is likely that eunuchs were selected from available children and that sickly children were probably passed over. I suspect the survival advantage of eunuchs is somewhat overstated by the estimates here, but by how much is difficult to determine.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:26 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


One other thought. It is possible that castration led to early deaths from the operation itself and that these boys were never registered as eunuchs. The high lower end of survival for them (27) suggests that there may have been a tendency to not count them until they were well into adulthood, but that's speculation on my part. It certainly is true that any hormonal advantage would not kick in until much later in life than teenhood or early adulthood.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:35 PM on September 26, 2012


Justinian -- You could listen to Alessandro Moreschi (d. 1922), the only castrato to be recorded.

"Ave Maria"
"Crucifixus"
posted by dhens at 5:20 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Eunuchs were typically castrated before puberty. One of the main points was to do it early enough that they wouldn't experience the same hormonal changes as other males.

I can't speak for Korea, but, in China, this was not really true, at least in the last couple of dynasties. There are plenty of examples of men who were castrated after fathering children to advance their political careers. Essentially there were two streams of government struggling with each other -- the Confucian scholar-officials, who held most important offices, and the Eunuchs, who had access to the Emperor's person. Savvy emperors played the groups off against each other, less savvy emperors let them run riot trying to do dirt to each other.

Most eunuchs, however, were poor and rather badly treated, as far as I can tell, not even taking into account the entrance qualification. Since Korea borrowed an awful lot from China, I would not be surprised to see similar structures there, although, as I said, I don't have specific knowledge about Korean practices.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:58 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if detachable testicles would count. Someone get to work on that.
posted by homunculus at 6:43 PM on September 26, 2012


There are plenty of examples of men who were castrated after fathering children to advance their political careers.

Modern job seekers are clearly much less motivated.
posted by Forktine at 7:23 PM on September 26, 2012


It is very difficult in this context not to read the first part of the post as "Korean eunuchs outlived uncastrated pee-ers"
posted by srboisvert at 7:26 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


What mullingitover is trying to point out, I believe is: the group of uncastrated men also includes all the soldiers, many of whom would have been killed in combat. And this is skewing the statistics.

So the reason why castrated men were "tending to live longer" has nothing to do with the actual castration and everything to do with "them happening not to go to war".


Also, they probably had fewer STDs. That would've made a difference, too.
posted by limeonaire at 8:24 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just looked up how they performed castrations in Korea during that time. "Early on, castration consisted of daubing a boy's genitals with human feces and having a dog bite them off. During the Yuan Dynasty, eunuchs became a desirable commodity for tributes, and dog bites were replaced by more sophisticated surgical techniques."

And that part about the dogs has a citation from a book -- currently in the "bargain price" category on Amazon -- titled Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male Is Not the Man He Used to Be.

That's a lot to take in, isn't it?
posted by Houstonian at 9:03 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is very difficult in this context not to read the first part of the post as "Korean eunuchs outlived uncastrated pee-ers"--posted by srboisvert

You'd be surprised how my mind parsed this sentence:
but weren't those with testicles fighting each other fairly often during the time period listed in the Science article...?
posted by eye of newt at 9:15 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Native Lakotans have men that are called winkte [pdf]. I am not entirely sure if they were gay or bi-sexual or bi-gendered, but they were often asked to give names to children for the child's good luck.

They were considered lucky because they generally lived longer. But they also didn't go to war.
posted by Monday at 12:57 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


STDs may have played a role as well.
posted by delmoi at 3:02 AM on September 27, 2012


Early on, castration consisted of daubing a boy's genitals with human feces and having a dog bite them off.

I assume this is a joke, because people have been castrating animals (including dogs, for that matter) for many thousands of years and have known how to do it relatively safely and quickly, though not always very painlessly. Using your own teeth to castrate sheep is still a technique some old-school guys use, and I could imagine that easily being used on boys, too -- but that's a human doing the biting, not a dog.
posted by Forktine at 3:37 AM on September 27, 2012


Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "going to the dogs".

If the report of the method is true, I'm not surprised that Korean castrates lived longer lives. Any that survived the initiation would be hardy.
posted by likeso at 4:13 AM on September 27, 2012


I'm not joking. And, it's in the cited book.
posted by Houstonian at 4:14 AM on September 27, 2012


I know you aren't joking. But it's honestly hard to believe when there are so many time-tested and effective ways to castrate dogs, sheep, goats, etc, that should work fine on humans. The claimed method is basically a guarantee of blood loss and infection (feces plus dog bite), and isn't going to give you the control that having a human doing the biting would give you. My money is on the details being a bit different than the book claims, but I'm not a eunuch expert, so what do I know?

My actual guess is that the claimed method, feces plus dog, is a torture or execution technique, since having your junk chewed off by a pariah dog would be a terrible way to go, and that boys were castrated in more normal ways.
posted by Forktine at 4:30 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do I get bonus life points for clicking on this post while listening to Joe Rogan discuss it on the JRE?
posted by wannabepre at 6:05 AM on September 27, 2012


You get penalized 25 points for listening to Joe Rogan.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:37 AM on September 27, 2012


Early on, castration consisted of daubing a boy's genitals with human feces and having a dog bite them off.

I did some looking around in Korean sources and there is no corroboration of the above. It is suggested it was the kind of story told by family members as to why somebody had ended up castrated - according to historians, there was a tendency to come up with an outrageous story when people did not want to admit the truth. So instead of saying they castrated one of their sons so the son would be adopted into a wealthy eunuch household, the parents would say, oh, the kid was taking a dump, and then a dog came by and bit him.

According to Korean sources, at least by the time of the Chosun dynasty, there were medics specializing in castration, who commanded high fees, and survival rates were quite high.
posted by needled at 7:54 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is suggested it was the kind of story told by family members as to why somebody had ended up castrated - according to historians, there was a tendency to come up with an outrageous story when people did not want to admit the truth. So instead of saying they castrated one of their sons so the son would be adopted into a wealthy eunuch household, the parents would say, oh, the kid was taking a dump, and then a dog came by and bit him.

That sounds like something a music historian once told me about castrati; technically, in the Middle Ages, it was considered immoral to castrate a young boy on purpose solely for "oh he's got such a lovely voice he'd make a wonderful castrati" purposes. So instead, "there were a lot of 'goose attacks'," she said.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of examples of men who were castrated after fathering children to advance their political careers.

Interesting. What would be the point of castration at this point, though? My understanding of eunuchs (which, admittedly, is limited) is that it was typically done to either kill the sex drive (for guarding harems) or for castrati singers. Was there something going on in Chinese and, possibly, Korean culture in this era that I'm missing?
posted by asnider at 8:40 AM on September 27, 2012


My understanding (just from reading Western historical fiction) is that during some eras of Chinese history what we might think of as the Chinese Imperial eunuch harem guards managed to incrementally pull off a sort of coup d'etat where they became a supreme government bureaucracy, closest to the Emperor, which supplanted and pushed aside the nobility and mandarinate.
posted by XMLicious at 9:52 AM on September 27, 2012


My understanding (just from reading Western historical fiction) is that during some eras of Chinese history what we might think of as the Chinese Imperial eunuch harem guards managed to incrementally pull off a sort of coup d'etat where they became a supreme government bureaucracy, closest to the Emperor, which supplanted and pushed aside the nobility and mandarinate.

And then, to protect their power, all future members of their "guild" had to also become eunuchs?
posted by asnider at 10:09 AM on September 27, 2012


That's how it was depicted in the fiction I read.
posted by XMLicious at 10:17 AM on September 27, 2012


Wikipedia:Eunuch#China (NSFW)
posted by XMLicious at 10:27 AM on September 27, 2012


tommasz: I've lived. I've had sex. I prefer the latter to the former.
Myself, I prefer to mix the two.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:26 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


asnider: There are plenty of examples of men who were castrated after fathering children to advance their political careers.

Interesting. What would be the point of castration at this point, though? My understanding of eunuchs (which, admittedly, is limited) is that it was typically done to either kill the sex drive (for guarding harems) or for castrati singers. Was there something going on in Chinese and, possibly, Korean culture in this era that I'm missing?
Since they cannot have sons to pass their wordly goods onto, they were believed to be more loyal to their king (undivided loyalties). See also: Catholic priests.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:40 AM on September 27, 2012


Interesting. What would be the point of castration at this point, though? My understanding of eunuchs (which, admittedly, is limited) is that it was typically done to either kill the sex drive (for guarding harems) or for castrati singers. Was there something going on in Chinese and, possibly, Korean culture in this era that I'm missing?
Punishment for various crimes and/or pissing off the wrong people.
posted by delmoi at 1:58 PM on September 27, 2012


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