Happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s hoping all your friends, lovers, and family members have a warm, cheery day free of colds, accidents and phobias – especially koro.
I first learned about koro from Omni magazine, a highly respected and forward-looking science publication which occasionally runs a small article on unusual phobias. There appeared a couple of paragraphs on the most bizarre phobia I have yet encountered. Psychiatrist Albert Gaw wants the American psychiatric Association to learn about the psychiatric malady koro. “Victims believe that their genitals, particularly the penis, our shrinking and that once retraction is complete, they will die.“ If they didn’t I imagine they would be in constant stress wondering what might shrink next into oblivion. I knew the world was becoming a smaller and smaller place, but I didn’t realize that some people were taking it personally.
Koro tends to occur in epidemics like the one that swept through Hainan Island, China in 1984 and 1985 affecting some 2000 men. Rumours had spread that spirits – obviously not any relation to Cupid – who in the folk belief inhabit or process individuals, were stealing organs from living Man and we’re not talking lungs here. Gaw cites photos of men who you string or clamps (padded I hope) or even their friends, to hold onto their supposedly retracting body parts. I suppose medical personnel could supplement their income is with a blackbird market business in retractors.
hat did the victims of this phobia say to their friends to get help? “Would you hold onto this for me? I need both hands free for a while.“ Would that be a friendship test or what? How many people do you know who would sacrifice their day securing your ordinary valuables for you let alone look after look after your special one? And what’s with the stealing spirits anyway? Are they jealous that the can living to do something that they can’t? Are they peeved off with men for indignities suffered when they were still living? Or are they just odd collectors?
Gaw says that koro is “for the most part unrecognized in the United States, even though Asian refugee, immigrant, and tourist populations are rising and we are seeing a few cases.“
How do the patients get to the psychiatrist office? Public transit? Wouldn’t that attract a lot of attention? Especially if they are using the buddy system? Do they pay the fare for their friend? I hope this doesn’t become too widespread in counter culture. Wild haircuts, pieces of metal through the skin, enormous tattoos, all seem pretty tame compared to a clamp on your shrinking body part. I would certainly hope that no husband or boyfriend asks for one for Valentine’s Day.
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News
February 14, 1993