Chemical castration for sex criminals; pros and cons


Ewha Law School

Jungwoo Kang

Chemical castration is castration via injection or tablets of hormonal drugs to reduce sexual activity, often used as a medical treatment of hormone-dependent cancers or punishment on sex offenders like rapists and pedophiles in return for reduced sentences. The advantage of using chemical castration over surgical one is that the effects are reversible when the person stops taking the drug.

The first case of chemical castration was in 1944, when diethylstilbestrol was used to lower the levels of testosterone. Ever since, different countries have legislated chemical castration as a way of treatment for certain types of sex crimes. For example, South Korea adopted it in July 2011 for sex offenders against minors aged less than sixteen. Subsequently, chemical castration was first used in May 2012 on a sex offender in the country.

It is known that using the hormonal drugs has a clear effect of reducing sex drive and decreasing re-offending. The average re-offending rate was below 5 percent comparable to 40 percent rate of the offenders without chemical castration. Chemical castration is often provided as an option, and offenders are often in favour of opting for undergoing chemical castration in return for discounted years in jail. When offenders are allowed to take it as an option, there is less room for undermining the offender’s human right.

However, there are side effects, and some are known to be irreversible. The person might suffer from osteoporosis, changes in cardiovascular health, increase of blood fat levels or blood pressure and decrease in bone density. Alan Turing experienced gynecomastia as a consequence of chemical castration. It is also not cost-effective as it costs 4,650 USD per person annually for medication and monitoring if injections are administered every 3 months. Considering of the side effects, using chemical castration against one’s will might result in violations of his/her human rights. Moreover, it is often argued sex offenses are driven by psychological pleasure that comes from physical dominance, which cannot be stopped by even physical castration.

Oklahoma is trying to pass its bill for chemical castration while it is still unclear the procedure is rarely used. Professor Zimring at University of California at Berkeley stated, “Chemical castration is half advertising slogan, half fantasy”. More scientific and ethical discussion is needed in this field.


Madison Park (2012) Using chemical castration to punish child sex crimes. CNN. Available at:

Joo Yong Lee & Kang Su Cho (2013) Chemical Castration for Sexual Offenders: Physicians’ Views. J Korean Med Sci. 28(2): 171-172

Oklahoma lawmaker pushes bill for ‘chemical castration’ of sex offenders. (2018) The Guardian.

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