What is dhat syndrome?
Men with dhat syndrome experience physical and emotional distress linked to perceived semen loss and/or a fear of semen loss. In the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Om Prakash describes dhat syndrome as “‘semen loss’-related psychological distress.”
In some cultures, semen is considered a highly valuable substance. In these belief systems, losing semen contributes to physical and psychological illnesses and sexual problems.
- In the case of dhat syndrome, men become anxious about losing semen. They may worry that semen is being passed through their urine or that they are losing semen through masturbation or nocturnal emissions (“wet dreams”).
- Other symptoms of dhat syndrome can include fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, concentration difficulties, feelings of shame or guilt, and sexual dysfunction (such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and low libido).
Experts believe that dhat syndrome is a culture bound syndrome, defined by the American Psychological Association as “a pattern of mental illness and abnormal behavior that is unique to a specific ethnic or cultural population and does not conform to standard classifications of psychiatric disorders.”
Researchers have reported that dhat syndrome tends to affect men who live on the Indian subcontinent. However, similar conditions have been found in other areas of the world, including China, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas.
In the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Om Prakash describes the origin of the term dhat syndrome in this way:
- The word ‘Dhat’ derives from the Sanskrit language (the mother of Indo-Aryan languages) word dhatu, meaning ‘metal,’ ‘elixir’ or ‘constituent part of the body’ which is considered to be ‘the most concentrated, perfect and powerful bodily substance, and its preservation guarantees health and longevity.’ The disorder related to this dhatu, i.e., semen, is mentioned in ancient treatise “Susruta Samhita” as shukrameha (shukra = sperm; + meha = passage in urine).
A prevalent myth on the Indian subcontinent describes a hierarchy of bodily substances in which semen resides at the top. According to this myth, it takes 40 days for 40 drops of food to be turned into one drop of blood, and 40 drops of blood to be turned into one drop of bone marrow, and 40 drops of bone marrow to be turned into one drop of semen.
In some cultures, preserving dhat leads to good health and a long life. Consequently, the idea of losing dhat can be stressful.
This line of thinking is believed to come from sexual myths passed through generations. Researchers report that men with dhat syndrome tend to be young and live in rural areas with conservative views of sex. Men with dhat syndrome also tend to have lower levels of education and a lower socioeconomic status than other men, according to researchers.
For some men with dhat syndrome, symptoms last a few months. Other men may experience symptoms for years.
Treatment often includes medications (such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs), sexual education, and culturally-appropriate counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Some men seek help from indigenous healers, who might recommend certain herbs or dietary changes.
- American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology - “Culture-bound syndrome”
- Indian Journal of Psychiatry via U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health - “Lessons for postgraduate trainees about Dhat syndrome”
(Full-text. Published: July-September 2007)
- Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine via U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health - “Dhat Syndrome: A Review of the World Literature”
Deb, Koushik Sinha and Yatan Pal Singh Balhara
(Full-text. Published: October-December 2013)
- Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences via U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health - “Dhat syndrome: Evolution of concept, current understanding, and need of an integrated approach”
Kar, Sujita Kumar and Siddharth Sarkar
(Full-text. July-September 2015)
- Psychology Today - “Dhat Syndrome Explained”
Griffiths, Mark D., PhD
(October 22, 2015)
- Psychosomatics via Science Direct -“Dhat Syndrome: A Systematic Review”
Udina, Marc, MD, et al.
(Abstract. Published: May-June 2013)