June 23, 2024

Whether it is the fountain of youth or the elixir of life, men have traveled the world in search of the key to increasing their longevity.

They should look a little closer to home, according to one leading researcher – although after them they may well take the years God intended for them.

When it comes to increasing the lifespan of any male mammal, “there is one way you can intervene”: castration.

Cat Bohannon, the celebrated author of Eve: How the Female Body Driven 200 Million Years of Human Evolutionsaid men went through life “smuggling two little death shells”, with research suggesting an orchiectomy could add a few precious years.

Talk to the Hay festival Bohannon said on Friday that castration is a “way to make mammals live longer”. This effect was observed in mid-20th century American men who were institutionalized, usually due to mental illness, and castrated, and in Korean eunuchs. The castrated men lived longer than their “regularly impaled peers”.

“You can castrate it. Cut off his balls. Don’t try this at home,” added Bohannon, a researcher with a PhD from Columbia University in the evolution of narrative and cognition.

While the average lifespan discrepancy was previously thought to be behavioral — “dumb boys doing dumb boy things” — it actually appears to be “something to do with the immune system and cellular repair,” she said. Men “get more infections” over their lifetime and “more cancer, and the prognosis tends to be a little worse in many cases”.

A 2012 study published in Current Biology found that the average lifespan of 81 eunuchs born between 1556 and 1861 was 70 years, which was 14.4–19.1 years longer than the lifespan of non-castrated men of similar socioeconomic status. Researchers concluded that the study “supports the idea that male sex hormones reduce the lifespan of men”.

“So why is that? Why are so many men smuggling two little dead lumps?” Bohannon said. “I’m afraid we don’t really know. A lot of good science is being done in this space.”

Bohannon said that after discussing “killer balls” on The Daily Show with Sarah Silverman, she got “very intimate” questions from men about their “testicular situation.” “I’m a ball chick now, it seems,” she said.

Bohannon also told a Hay audience that “one day we’re going to have an artificial womb”, though it may not be for hundreds of years, and that this would raise ethical questions.

“Let’s be really utopian about this shit, OK. Let’s say it’s available to everyone, it’s not just a rich woman thing, it’s not just a white woman thing – whatever that means for hundreds of years – then is it ever ethical to have a person with a uterus to conceive if it can be done outside a body?”

The technology will take a long time to develop, she said, because “it’s not just a bag in which you have a baby, it’s an entire female body. Whenever a mammal is pregnant, that whole body is pregnant.

“There are interactions throughout the system, many of which have long evolved to influence what goes on in that womb – immunological agents that cross the placental barrier and so on. So that means we need to know a lot more about female bodies to try to build a fake one.”

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