When I was working as a junior resident in psychiatry at my mother institution in Kolkata, I had a chance to learn about a large number of interesting ‘cases’. One group of cases was related to nocturnal seminal discharge. Most such patients would say something like this: “Doctor, I am getting weaker day by day. I have lost my appetite, am losing weight, and my sleep is often disturbed. All this has started ever since I developed the bad habit of masturbation. Well, now I have stopped this bad habit. But a new problem has started ever since. My dhat (semen) is flowing out spontaneously, even without any sexual thoughts. Nightfalls have become more frequent. Even when I pass urine, dhat flows out. As a result I am losing weight and developing weakness. Please help.”
Semen has always been viewed as something precious, a single drop of which has been equated with a thousand drops of blood in some ancient literatures. No wonder this formed a belief in many cultures that ‘wasting’ semen by masturbation was immoral or unjust, and that the ‘use’ of semen (dhatu,beerja or veerya) should be only for procreation.
Popular sub-cultures also promote this notion adding to the worry of a young man who would otherwise love to masturbate. It is difficult not to notice the herbal remedy-men flooding the streets of Esplanade in Kolkata with dhat-control pills and potions!
Let us now analyse the problems stated at the start of this article. Even as a person stops masturbating, the normal production of semen continues. The produced semen is stored in the testes until their volume falls short. It is then that the semen flows out spontaneously, or during sleep or urination. Compare this with an overflowing bucket with the tap turned on.
As the person is primed with the notion that loss of semen means loss of energy or blood, this creates an obvious anxiety. That the person once masturbated adds to the guilt (masturbatory guilt). In our society, this anxious, guilty fellow finds his peer group to be the only place to confide. Most of them, equally primed by the ‘dhat theory’ reinforce his fear and guilt-system. The result is an anxiety disorder that causes reduced sleep and appetite, palpitations, and in the long run weight loss and weakness.
Now the question is what exactly causes the weakness – the flow of semen, or the wrong notions that cause severe anxiety and guilt? Answering this question forms the foundation of solving his problem.
Semen is formed by the male sexual organs to be secreted. Storing semen is not physiological, and even a sperm bank will pay no interest for that!
The only way this ‘dhat syndrome’ can be solved is by educating people about the ‘normality’ of semen discharge. Psychotherapy or counselling is the best way to prevent and treat this non-disease. Drugs to treat anxiety related to semen discharge are rarely needed unless the person has other spectrum of anxiety related disorders.
I hope our Ministry of Human Resource Development reads this and considers sex education (in whatever name you call or hide it) a necessity!
This post was first published under the title The ‘dhat’ syndrome in Varta– a blog that aims to promote dialogue and understanding on gender and sexuality as issues intimate and integral to human development in India.