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Science Explains: Are R. Kelly’s Anti-Libido Shots Actually aThing?

The singer may have received hormonal injections to curb his urges, but scientists are skeptical of this treatment in the long-term.

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R. Kelly denies that he sexually abused underaged girls for decades, a claim that has been given new legs by the damning Lifetime series Surviving R. KellyHis former lawyer tells a different story. “He was guilty as hell,” retired criminal defense attorney Ed Genson, told the Chicago Sun Times, but no longer dangerous, due to a miracle drug. “I don’t think he’s done anything inappropriate for years,” Genson said. “I’ll tell you a secret: I had him go to a doctor to get shots, libido-killing shots. That’s why he didn’t get arrested for anything else.”

But while anti-libido shots, often referred to as chemical castration, are well-tested and effective, experts are far less confident that libidinal injections can stop criminals from committing sex crimes in the long term. 

“The interventions are not experimental, they have been around a long time, extensively tested, and are generally effective at curbing sexual urges,” neuroscientist Nicole Prause told Fatherly. At the same time, “they come with a wide variety of often intense unplanned effects, so people will struggle to take them long-term.” And even men who do stick with it may not stop harming others. “On average, sex offenders do not actually have higher libidos than non sex offenders,” Prause says. “So these interventions are not necessarily even useful for most offenders.”

Medroxyprogesterone acetate, or Depo-provera, is the most common anti-libido medication. The drug is actually a form of female birth control, but also significantly reduces testosterone levels in men. One side effect of this is that the drug curbs their sex drives, and studies have shown that Depo-rovera injections can reduce recidivism rates among certain populations of sex offenders. But other side effects include excessive weight gain and development of breast tissue, osteoporosis, infertility, migraines, low energy, and overall feminization of the body.

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When there’s a court order to take these drugs, men might be compelled to stick with it. But men who take them voluntarily are likely to stop after a short time, due to these unpleasant side effects. Suffice to say it is unlikely that R. Kelly has been voluntarily taking pills that kill his good time and his good looks for more than a decade.

And even if he did take these anti-libido shots, and stuck with it for years on his own initiative, it is unlikely that a man who allegedly abused children for years could curb the desire to do so with medication. Studies have shown that most pedophiles who engage in “sexual abusive behavior” (as opposed to mere fantasies) are no more likely than the general population to have high sex drives. Which means that tamping down their libidos won’t help. Most pedophiles do not rape because of hypersexuality, but due to deep-seated psychological challenges.

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“Therapists have been attempting to turn pedophiles into non-pedophiles for a very long time, but no one has presented any objective evidence of any enduring change in sexual interests,” James Cantor, an expert on pedophilia at the University of Toronto, told The Atlantic in 2013.People can learn self-control, people can take sex-drive-reducing medications, and people can learn how to live more healthy and productive lives.”

“But we do not appear to be able to change the pedophilia itself.”