S’porean men panicked in 1967 over strange case of shrinking genitals known as “Koro”
It came so quickly.
It was 5 November 1967 and this strange article appeared in The Sunday Times.
The ‘malady’ in question was a mass psychologically-induced panic – called Koro – where hundreds of Singaporean men found that their genitals were shrinking into their abdomens. At the peak of the ‘epidemic’, the Singapore General Hospital was seeing 70 to 80 cases a week.
Rumour has it that it had to do with inoculated pigs
Weeks earlier, rumours began spreading in Singapore that eating pork that had been inoculated against the swine flu would cause your genitals to shrink – a condition known as Koro, suo yang (缩阳), or shook yong.
A study conducted in 1969 suggested the following:
“[There] was concern about chickens being injected with oestrogen to increase their growth. Some men were afraid that the oestrogen in the chicken would cause gynaecomastia and avoided chicken meat. At about the same time, there was a rumour that contaminated pork was being sold on the market and that diseased pigs were being inoculated against swine fever. This triggered off the epidemic and a possible explanation of the outbreak is that the inoculation of the pigs was seen to be similar to the injection of chickens with oestrogen.”
Genital panic all around
Soon, desperate Singaporean men all over the island were rushing to doctors, holding on to their disappearing genitals with all sorts of objects including “rubber-bands, strings, clamps, chopsticks, clothes-pegs, etc”, such as the one below.
While public records of such a strange condition was not available, there were plenty of personal anecdotes. Here are a couple of cases found in a 9 March 1968 article published in the British Medical Journal:
Of course, the rumour of disease-carrying pork caused the sale of pork to plummet. An announcement by the government that swine fever and its vaccine were harmless to people only caused the people to panic even more. Sale of pork went south as housewives and diners boycotted the ‘tainted’ meat.
All in the mind
The ‘epidemic’ disappeared as quickly as it arrived. During an emergency televised press conference, the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) assured the public that the causes of Koro were ‘fear and rumours’ and nothing more, effectively saying that the sickness was all in peoples minds:
The physiological causes of the retraction of the male organ are cold weather, getting into bed and, especially, anxiety.
Similarly, the Chinese Physician Association informed the public that shook yong was a result of “fear, rumor mongering, climatic conditions, and imbalance between heart and kidneys”.
As soon as the SMA and Health ministry made announcements, the number of people who reported having Koro declined sharply. Within a month, there were no more Koro cases reported. In the end there were over 460 Koro cases that were officially reported in the hospitals.
Of course, people soon went back to eating pork again, and over time, the memory of the absurd ‘epidemic’ faded from peoples’ minds and memories.